Worth the Watch – Black Mirror

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Halloween is at our doorstep. Growing up in Sweden, where Halloween is not a big thing, I often found the selection of scary stuff to watch on TV rather lacking. With today’s streaming options, bringing us stuff from all over the world, that is no longer a problem. One such selection that Netflix thought I should watch, based on other things I’m interested in is Black Mirror, put fittingly in the Horror category. But is it worth the watch?

The pilot episode, titled The National Anthem, starts with British Prime Minister Michael Callow being woken up and called into office. Once there, he is presented with a video of Princess Susannah, taken hostage by an unknown kidnapper, reading a preposterous demand.

As I wish to keep this as spoiler free as possible, I won’t disclose the demand here, but once you see what it is, it seems almost prophetic, considering the episode came out in 2011. Something in the demand was something that supposedly happened to a British Prime Minister, but that was not revealed until 2015. Some of you may already have figured out what that is.

The nature of the demand adds a sense of humour to the already tense, dark atmosphere, without disrupting it, in that way that only the British seem to be able to do. The conversation right after enhances both aspects.

It turns out that the video was not sent to the Prime Minister’s office, but was uploaded to a popular video sharing site. Though the Office managed to remove the video, it was too late and the Internet does what the Internet does. Trending on social media, shared far and wide and with the news networks holding copies, it would be impossible to contain this.

This is when I noticed the slight jab at the British government’s IT policies, which has been called antiquated by many experts. As the PM asks his advisor what to do, the advisor basically admits there are no policies or procedures in place for this kind of event.

The second jab comes right after, when people start asking why they can obviously see the video online, but the news are completely quiet about it, running other news as if they hope nobody will notice. Something several British news channels have been accused of many times.

We don’t just get to see the public’s reaction, we spend a great deal following news crews trying to find ways to justify releasing the story, despite a DA-notice (Defence Advisory Notice, asking news networks not to publish a story due to national security). We follow families of the affected people, as they struggle with the moral dilemma and what ultimately will have to be the Prime Minister’s choice of sacrificing his own career and the dignity of the entire government to save a member of the royal family.

Then we get to what this show is all about, the technology. The shows premise, as outlined by the description, is somewhere between science fiction and reality, using technology that doesn’t really exist, but it just as well might have. Using such technology, an expert is hired to try and find a way around the dilemma.

Several years ahead of time, they predicted that Police would be equipped with cameras (though in their helmets instead of on their vests), that government security agencies would have access to every Internet log in the UK and several other technological points currently available 5 years later.

As I was wondering why this was put in the Horror section, right around the 20 minute mark, the show took yet another turn. This time it’s shocking, gruesome and right out terrifying. The dark tone that has been playing over the whole episode is still there, but suddenly all sense of humour is gone. It’s a jarring and very effective twist that made my stomach turn, despite me being rather strong stomached when it comes to shows like this.

We see the fear fill several of the people involved and this fear makes several people in key positions make very bad decisions, with dire consequences. As we are following several people at once, but focusing on the PM, there’s an aura of hope filling us up and then being flushed away without a moment’s notice, over and over again, until we’re left with a feeling of hopelessness instead.

And hopelessness turns into dread, as we see several angles of the same events at the same time. We as an audience can see what is about to go wrong, and all we can do is watch as it unfolds. This sense of dread follows into the next few scenes, where what would have been funny in any other show, is suddenly something you start to fear. The realization hits the PM, as it hits the audience and we follow him closely, watching his anxiety about what is about to happen… and you get the same feeling that Cowley displays on the screen.

Pure fear of what is about to happen!

It’s not hard horror, the likes of slasher or monster films, but it’s a good episode to start out your Halloween line-up with, to get you into the right mood for the rest of the evening.

Black Mirror is an anthology series, meaning we won’t be following the same characters in the rest of the series. But if the pilot episode, The National Anthem, is anything to go by, I would say this is definitely worth the watch.

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