Last week on The Weekly Set, we each acted as advocate for a series. The idea being that we would each watch the shows (at least 1 episode) advocated by the others. This week Kat, Edward, Will, and Tyson returned to talk about the shows we watched.
Caution, the following discussion contains spoilers.
Tyson: Okay, lets start,we’ll do the same order we did last week.
Will: Okay, cool.
Tyson: So last week, my pick was the Twilight Zone-esque Black Mirror, an anthology series from Charlie Brooker. In particular I recommend the series 2nd episode, 15 Million Merits. What did you all think?
Kat: I take it all episodes of the series are self-contained?
Tyson: Yes, it is an anthology series, each episode is like a short movie.
Will: What if Xbox Controlled the world.
Edward: Amazing. Like just perfect dystopian sci fi.
Tyson: That is what I thought when I first watched it. I was fully blown away.
Edward: And the ending was a real twist. Is it just me or did anyone else get the impression that he’s not really free, just in another prison.
Kat: Well, I thought the point was that even if you try to speak up against the system, you still somehow wind up a part of it, because no one really wants to leave it.
Tyson: Yeah, I debate with myself on whether or not the windows are just better monitors.
Will: Anyone else feel really claustrophobic watching it?
Tyson: That is definitely intentional.
Kat: I was really hoping that he was going to stab one of the judges – though I realize that kind of ending wouldn’t have managed to say what they were trying to say.
Edward: I actually thought that too….i thought he was gonna take out that judge who owned Wraith Babes.
Kat: I laughed out loud when, after his tirade, and then silence, the judges all lauded him for his passion and articulation.
Edward: Exactly. Like he’s speaking out and yet the system is paying him handsomely to speak out against them.
Tyson: It really put the cap on it.
Will: He just became Bill O’Reilly in the end.
Kat: And the system is so good at absorbing criticism and adapting, that it can make you – in whatever minor way you may be rebelling it – into a part of the system.
Tyson: The thing that blew me away the most was how you HAD to watch ads.
Kat: Ugh, that struck close to home.
Edward: And there was a penalty to skip them.
Tyson: But if you couldn’t afford to skip them, you had to watch, and couldn’t leave.
Will: Funny how they kept trying to shove porn down your throat.
Edward: Exactly. And in his case, it was torture.
Kat: The whole episode reminded me of a scene from Life of Brian where there’s a guy standing on a balcony, and he says to a crowd of people, “You are all individuals,” and the crowd says in unison, “We are all individuals.” And then one guy pipes up saying, “Well, I’m not.”
Edward: (Laughs) I kept thinking of the phrase “everyone has a price”
Will: Watching it made me feel so uncomfortable. Like everything was so claustrophobic, There were no windows, no sense of an actual outside world. Bing’s “home” Was just a small room. I’d go mad in that place. (Laughs)
Tyson: I love re-watching the episode and catching little details I missed, little foreshadowings.
Kat: Like what?
Tyson: When I first watched it, I didn’t know how he got away without using compliance (a drug the contestants are forced to ingest before performing), and then, re-watching, I noticed that Abi gave him her used compliance carton before she went on stage.
Kat: Oh, that makes sense. It wasn’t until the moment he pretended to have already drunk it that it clicked for me why she went along with the judges drafting her into the Wraith Bitches.
Tyson: Or the stuff the Hot Shot singer was saying at the beginning of the episode in her interview, like that her favorite thing is choosing her own clothes.
Kat: Also, how spot on was the cruelty of the judges – basically any singing/talent contest on TV – especially if there’s a British judge.
Edward: That third judge was totally channeling Simon Cowell.
Tyson: Yeah, haha.
Kat: I really liked the song that she sang.
Edward: It was a beautiful song.
Tyson: Yeah, I had that song in my head for like a year, her version of it in particular, she has a great voice.
Edward: Definitely. Her voice was incredible.
Kat: It’s like Jennifer Lawrence in Mockingjay – the fact that she’s not professionally trained actually made it more effective.
Tyson: Cruelty, was a big theme. The way fat people were treated, for example, being forced to clean up like slaves, or to be humiliated.
Edward: Yeah it definitely portrayed a class system of sorts. Fat people being humiliated for not being able to make a living. And everyone wanting to be rich and famous in a sense.
Tyson: The systems of control were subtle for the players but overt for the audience. Oh, and the microtransactions… ugh.
Tyson: Everything cost something, it was suffocating.
Edward: It seemed to me too that the shows they were watching had an appeal to keep everyone in line. Like Bing’s neighbour had a real problem with fat people so he kept watching the show where fat people were humiliated. Like he’s perfectly content doing that every day.
Kat: And I liked the different metaphors that the exercise bikes stand in for – both the cubicle mentality, as well as the notion of people exercising without ever actually bothering to go outside.
Tyson: Yeah, the themes were layered.
Kat: I thought some of it was too pointed in its cynicism about technology (which I tend to get defensive about) but the societal commentary was definitely interesting.
Tyson: The series creator, Charlie Brooker, is a big fan of technology as well, but being critical of what you love can bring the best results.
Will: I think pointed cynicism of tech is what the series is all about Kat.
Kat: I might have a hard time with it then – though I understand fear of technology is often a fundamental idea in science fiction.
Will: Yeah, The fundamental premise of Black Mirror is the dark side of tech and it’s capability to actually make our lives worse.
Edward: It raises valid concerns about the use of technology as a form of mind manipulation or control, but it’s definitely not condemning it as an evil.
Tyson: I think that it doesn’t portray tech in a negative light so much as where society could head with technology, in a negative light. As in, when we have this tech, how do we behave with it.
Kat: Hmm, I guess a lot of the stuff with utilizing it for day-to-day activities and replacing the buying of digital in place of buying real-life stuff was a bit too negative for me.
Will: Right Tyson, Tech all by itself can’t actually do anything. Kat, like I said when we started, it all seemed like a big send up of the Xbox.
Edward: It’s how it is used.
Tyson: This episode is the most far future of all of the Black Mirror stories, the rest all seem like they could happen in 5 years, or even now. The first episode could literally happen today, it is only our cultural mindset that keeps it from happening.
Edward: I understand that the first episode was super dark.
Tyson: It is, and very different from this episode.
Kat: Yeah, I saw EW responding to it.
Will: I heard the recently aired Christmas special is the darkest episode of the series yet.
Tyson: Haven’t seen it yet, but I have seen a big response to it. Did any of you watch (or do you plan to watch) more of Black Mirror?
Kat: I didn’t, no.
Edward: I do.
Will: I do plan on watching more, I was actually itching to watch another one right after. (Laughs)
Tyson: Anyways, 1 last thing about Black Mirror before we move on. Do any of you know what the series title refers to?
Tyson: It is actually kind of cool. Originally, I thought it was about how we can see ourselves in this darker light if we take a look in the mirror. But it actually refers to a screen that is turned off, dark and reflective, a black mirror.
Will: Oh ha ha.
Tyson: I just thought that was cool when I first heard it.
Edward: So basically a reflection of yourself through a piece of technology?
Edward: I like.
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