Black Mirror 2.02 "White Bear" TV REVIEW
Writer: Charlie Brooker
DIrector: Carl Tibbetts
THE ONE WHERE A woman wakes up with no memory of who she is, and finds that everybody else is much more interested in filming her predicament on their mobile phones than helping out.
VERDICT The second of this year's Black Mirror offerings is an almost unrelentingly bleak parable about the desensitising effects of mobile phones, the masses' appetite for public humiliation, and the rehabilitation/punishment of criminals. It's also a compelling and thought-provoking drama that keeps your sympathies shifting constantly as you try to work out what the hell's going on.
The twist at the story's centre is genuinely ingenious, a completely unexpected bolt out of the blue so WTF that it initially feels like a misstep. Then you realise that the avenues it opens up are even more intriguing than the premise set up in the first half of the story – effectively the reverse of last week's "Be Right Back" . Best of all, Charlie Brooker's script manages to tell two distinct tales, without feeling like anything other than a coherent whole.
"White Bear" is driven by a tour de force performance from former Being Human housemate Lenora Crichlow as Victoria. It's an excellent, convincing portrayal of a frightened, confused woman who's found herself in a strange place with no idea how she got there or who she is, and is then thrust into a world where a mysterious "signal" has turned 90% of the population into mindless zombies who only care about filming video on their phones – in their way, they're every bit as scary as The Walking Dead 's more conventional undead.
As she subsequently encounters a resistance movement and then a psycho with a penchant for torture and crucifixion, you share her disorientation all the way. That's helped by some brilliant direction and editing that makes great use of weird subliminal flashes, flashbacks to her previous life, and an unpleasant atonal score straight out of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre . (Indeed, the influence of Tobe Hooper's classic is clear throughout, in the general atmosphere of unease that pervades the episode, and in the depiction of the ghoulish masked maniacs mindlessly chasing Victoria around with kitchen appliances.)
And then, surprisingly early – there's still a third of the tale left to play – comes that bombshell. That everything about the "signal", the mobile phone zombies, the resistance movement destroying the transmitter is just an elaborate construct designed to repeatedly torture Victoria as a barbaric punishment for her role in a child's kidnapping and subsequent murder. It's a genuinely chilling and morally complex idea. Whatever someone's done, do they deserve to spend their lives living through a hell like every day? Wisely, Brooker doesn't come down on either side of the fence, leaving you to make up your own mind with writing so clever that it leaves you sympathising with the accomplice of such a reprehensible crime.
A clever coda simultaneously takes the story forward while transporting you back to the events before the episode started, as Victoria's daily mind-wipe is juxtaposed with scenes of a new group of punters arriving for a brand new season of audience-friendly torture. It sets up a Groundhog Day that's unlikely to ever have a happy ending. How long will her punishment last? Will they just go on until she breaks completely? You'll have to come to your own conclusions, but you will be thinking about what you've just seen. Disturbing but brilliant.
IT'S WOTSISNAME Spaced fans should recognise master of ceremonies Baxter as Michael Smiley, who played raving bike courier Tyres in both series of the show.
Baxter: "My weaknesses? I'll show you if you want. You want to see it? Wait there, don't move. You'll like this, not a lot."
Jem: "This better not be naturism."
Baxter: " Yeah, in your dreams. "
Black Mirror airs on Channel 4 on Monday nights.