Dark Reflexions

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This post is about two weeks late. I happened to first write it on the one day that the autosave feature didn’t work as expected, and I lost the whole thing minutes after completing it. It is extremely depressing and not motivating to have the write the same thing for the second time, especially when you know it won’t be exactly the same and will never know if the first version would have been better, so I put it off.

I recently watched the last episode of the show. Even though there are a few very weak episodes, especially in season 1, the whole is an extremely good serie, which is both short enough to not scare away new viewers, yet long enough so that seduced viewers won’t be left hoping for more after a few hours. This post will not spoil the show, but will discuss some of its themes and techs. You don’t need to have watched it to understand, but it would certainly make it more enjoyable.

Every episode is completely detached from the others, except for the occasional easter egg or reference, and is like a standalone short movie. This means that entirely skipping a weak season like the first one is perfectly acceptable and will not affect your ability to understand the rest.

For those of you that don’t know, Black Mirror is a serie much like the older The Twilight Zone, which is sometimes scary, sometimes just weird. The main difference is that unlike TTZ, Black Mirror is not about real people who encounter supernatural situations, but about real people who have to deal with a futuristic tech, usually ending up pretty badly either for them or for everyone around. It can range from almost today tech, which would be completely believable if it was released to the masses today, to far future tech, which we don’t have a clue how to do yet as a society, but is still somewhat believable.

One of those more futuristic tech is the cookies. A cookie is a complete in-depth digital copy of a human mind that is then put inside a computer for some purpose. It includes personality, memories, emotions, etc. As you could expect, the cookie is convinced that it is the real person, because of those memories. To them, they are a person who have somehow been trapped Inside of a computer, but the original is actually still a flesh human walking around.

A recurring theme in Black Mirror is how humans can be very evil towards those who can’t defend themselves and when it can easily be rationalized somehow. As you would expect, people are dicks to cookies. After all, they are just a bunch of code in a computer. Just like it doesn’t matter when you murder characters in The Sims, it doesn’t matter if you torture cookies for your own benefit.

Of course, this is all shown in a very dark and disturbing way. The entire show is about making us think and reflect on how easy it would be to take advantage and do bad things with those technologies. You could see it as some sort of warning sign. “This is the worst case scenario, try to never let it get that bad.”

It is usually very realistic in its own universe. You don’t have any problem believing how the characters act. That, in itself, is part of the scary aspect, and of course the appeal of the show.

But what really hit me the hardest is when I looked at discussion forums after watching the episodes, especially the cookie ones. There were always a substancial number of people, who not only did not get it, but acted exactly as the characters did. They would criticize the episode, saying it is weak and ridiculous, because it implies that torturing computer code is bad. Even in a sci-fi universe, where it is explicitly shown that this code is as self aware as the real people, and can suffer just as much, those people decided that it was “too impossible” and therefore not worthy of their time. The whole point of sci-fi is to write stories that are realistic provided a few technological advances as a premise, yet the idea that a computer could perfectly simulate consciousness is too unbelievable for sci-fi to them.

Ironically, this is literal proof that the episodes were extremely realistic, because those “evil” characters do exist in real life, and will do the same provided the chance. That thought itself is much scarier than anything the episodes themselves could have shown. In some way, I assume that this is the exact same mindset that allowed slavery. If you refuse to believe that those people with a noticeable physical difference are humans like you, you can torture them all you want and not feel guilty.

For those of you who would be interested in starting the series, here is a quick list of the episodes ranked by quality according to my tastes. Within a tier, they are in order from best to worst, but it’s usually a very close call. Season number is in parentheses

Diamond tier (literal masterpieces)

  • White Christmas (Special between season 2 and 3)
  • Black Museum (4, would recommend not watching this one early since it has lots of references. It won’t affect the story though)

Gold tier (very good and thought-provoking)

  • White Bear (2)
  • San Junipero (3)
  • Hated in the nation (3)
  • Arkangel (4)

Silver tier (interesting ideas and good execution)

  • Hang the DJ (4)
  • USS Callister (4)
  • Men against fire (3)
  • Playtest (3)
  • Nosedive (3)
  • The Entire History of you (1)

Bronze tier (had potential, but could have been done much better)

  • Be Right Back (2)
  • Shut up and dance (3)
  • MetalHead (4)
  • Fifteen Million Merits (1)
  • The Waldo Moment (2)

Cardboard tier (Weak idea and boring execution, negative experience. Not Worth watching)

  • Crocodile (4)
  • The National Anthem (1)
  • Kingfisher

    Shows and stories like this are interesting in the way they reflect the darker (an intentional metaphor I’m sure) parts of ourselves. Specifically, they reveal our anxieties. But do these stories provide catharsis for our nightmares, or do they induce them? Or both?

    A prevalent anxiety today (but one that has always been) is about identity. We fear losing our grip on who we are. What, after all, is a zombie but a person stripped of identity? Identity has been the most common theme of all sorts of media lately, which I take as evidence that we, as a society, are suffering from a collective ‘identity crisis’ at the moment.

    The strength of this particular show isn’t that the technology is near-future plausible (though that is an element). It is that it reflects the fears of the world we live in right now. The way it has chosen to do this is to place most of the stories in a world that is unnervingly similar to the one we live in. Much like The Twilight Zone, it shows a world that is only subtly ‘wrong’, before erupting into a nightmare dimension.

    The fear is that these nightmares are there, right beneath the paper-thin surface of our own reality. That the monster is hiding beneath your perfectly ordinary bed.