Review: Black Mirror – 'Be Right Back'
|REVIEWS - TV|
It's a black mirror, but what are our reflections?...
I am oh-so-slightly wary of Charlie Brooker. Aside from a general pathological fear of columnists, it's because I had watched the three-episode series, Black Mirror, that aired last year.
They each followed a general concept of 'Speculative Fiction with a Dark Side'. And the results were... mixed. While they all had excellent production values and were far more thought-provoking than most of Channel 4's content, the actual quality of writing between episodes varied heavily. One was incredible; One was painfully 'edgy', but only okay; and one was trite and unpleasantly 'rapey'. But I still went into the new series of Black Mirror with a bolstered heart. All of the previous series managed to do some interesting exploration of their themes, even if the whole wasn't perfect.
As it turns out, Be Right Back fixes some of my issues with the previous series, and manages to forget exploring its themes in the process.
Ash and Martha are a typical couple of the near future. Their love is genuine, but marred with the faint annoyances they cause each other. She's always distant, he's always on his smart phone. Their purchase of a remote country house goes well, until Ash perishes in a car accident.
Martha is understandably distraught, but at the funeral she is introduced to some intriguing software. It promises to let you 'speak with the dead', collating all the internet posts a person made before they perished, and feeding it to an AI who can imitate them. It doesn't take long for Martha to become enamoured with the idea, but before long the AshBot suggests she pay for a synthetic body...
A lot of roads not taken
Before I continue with plot synopsis, let's have a look at some of the ideas that could be explored here, hmm? This is speculative fiction, after all.
Okay, so being able to improve AIs through dialogue submitted by people is nothing new . Not even to mimic people posthumously, funnily enough. But there's a catch - very few people use the same identity and writing style online as they do in real life. An AI programmed with my articles and essays would be a lot more aggressive than myself (and possibly sexier). The episode doesn't address this, but that's most likely for the sake of plot. I'm sure Martha would prefer to talk to the real Ash, rather than @ash_da_poon_destroyer.
The idea of companies being entirely willing to extort the memories of the dead for cash is also an incredibly interesting theme... that isn't touched upon here at all. This surprises me, actually. It's not even mentioned how much this synthetic body costs, other than 'a lot'. Much of Charlie Brooker's shows and articles are heavily anti-capitalist in that easy to consume, safe-for-television kind of way; this would have been prime territory for him.
The events concerning the synthetic body I won't go into too much detail over, but anyone with any familiarity with how stories involving androids turn out could make some educated guesses. I will say that a lot of the drama that results is based around it never being mentioned how the android works or controls. When looked back in hindsight, very little of it seems sensible of believable.
Be not disheartened
Of course, the lack of exploration isn't the beginning and end of the show's worth. The production values are understandably top notch, the cinematography and acting excellent. But I struggle to care about that a whole lot.
Still, this episode is in isolation. The next two episodes will be entirely new stories; and will hopefully thing their own concepts through a little better. If you've already watched the episode, I do recommend watching the Q&A session held with Brooker about the episode . You're right, Brooker. You really don't know what you're getting with each episode.
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