Black Mirror: White Christmas

“All lives end. All hearts are broken. Caring is not an advantage.”

Sherlock

There’s some serious mind-effery going on here, guys.

But, after all, what else would you expect from the latest instalment in Charlie Brooker’s on-and-off media-dystopia-horror-thriller series Black Mirror?

Some context: Black Mirror is a Channel 4 series (sort of) that extrapolates current trends in technology into a highly disturbing, but very near, future. So, for instance, this so-called Christmas special (anything less Christmassy is difficult to imagine) asks: what if you could block someone in real life like you do on Facebook? What if you could watch a livestream of what someone is seeing through their actual eyeballs? What if you could download someone’s personality – their memories, their hopes, their emotions – into a computer chip? What would that do to a person? Any of those people?

White Christmas was particularly interesting because it’s structured almost like a short story collection, with two guys in a room telling each other tales of their mistakes and miseries – and this, incidentally, is arguably the best thing about Black Mirror: it takes the technology almost for granted and tells us about the people instead. Anyway, each story deals with a separate technology, and each seems disparate, as if you’re watching something like The Twilight Zone, until all the stories finally line up in a way which is extremely satisfying. It’s almost like a puzzle, and watching the pieces slowly clunk into place as you understand more and more about this dystopic world is simply fantastic.

There are a couple of plot points that maybe didn’t quite make sense – why would you want a mini version of yourself running your house when you could more safely programme a computer to do it for you? – and I think Brooker’s treatment of the female characters here is a little problematic (the episode doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, which isn’t always a good signal for misogyny, but it’s worth noting). But I will give it kudos for being at least intelligent in its (male) character development, as well as its superbly stifling sense of claustrophobia. Rafe Spall and Jon Hamm as the two main characters are excellent and rather disturbing in their own ways, too. White Christmas may not be perfect, and is certainly not unproblematic, but it’s the kind of thing that starts meaningful conversations about the future of technology, and is definitely more interesting than the latest ten-part crime drama about Cornwall.

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