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Review: Black Mirror - 'White Bear'


Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who's the most hunted of them all...

black mirror 2-2 montage

Episode Two: White Bear

This week on Black Mirror, there's been a heavy shift in storytelling. While the last episode, 'Be Right Back', was effectively emotional; I found that, for Speculative Fiction, it didn't really explore its own ideas very well.

White Bear says “Screw that!” and focuses on giving an intense, crazy story that only has the light trappings of technology, and a heavy dollop of commentary about the evil that men do.

And it works all the better for it, honestly.

Victoria (Lenora Crichlow, Being Human) wakes up to find she's lost her memory. There's the remains of an implied suicide attempt, a photograph of an implied daughter, and a very much actual harsh electronic buzz in the air. Outside, the streets seem empty, until she sees the people standing silently, watching through their smartphones. Voyeurs. Once she's been spotted, it's not long until a man in a balaclava pulls up, with a shotgun pointed straight at her. A Hunter. This is not the life Victoria remembers.

black mirror 2-2 shotgunFor the first two acts of 'White Bear', things play out like a startlingly effective zombie film (With the zombies replaced by these 'dumb voyeurs'. Such symbolism!) Cinematography-wise, it matches the genre cue for cue - with washed-out colour balancing, claustrophobic closeups, and clever placement of the Vouyeurs, so it feels like they're everywhere. The soundtrack makes use of a tense electronic whine that did wonders for Serial Experiments Lain and does likewise here.

The parallels with zombie flicks continue in the plot, also. Victoria runs into Jem (Tuppence Middleton, Chatroom), who says that broadcasting towers are brainwashing most of the population, and she's planning to go to the nearest station, White Bear, in order to take it out; giving them sanctuary. All the while, Hunters and Vouyeurs hound them.

And then comes the Black Mirror Big Twist. With 'Be Right Back', I glossed over its twist in order to avoid spoilers, but the main point that White Bear tries to make requires a discussion of this twist. So please be warned that EPISODE SPOILERS FOLLOW.

Spoilers Ahead!

At the White Bear broadcasting station, it's revealed that Victoria is actually in a planned charade. What she thought was her daughter is actually the child of someone else, that had been kidnapped by Victoria and her fiancé. The fiancé had killed the child, while Victoria watched passively, filming it on her phone. While she pleaded to being psychologically influenced by her boyfriend, the judge decides upon her guilt. The fiancé commits suicide before his punishment can be exacted, leaving the judge to hand down the 'most suitable' punishment for Victoria.

What follows is a public parading of Victoria as a ferociously vilified sub-human (To cries of "Burn the witch!" no less) before being painfully stripped of her memory of the event, and made to go through the day's events again. And again.

Thinking about it, 'White Bear' has some pretty big plot similarities with Cabin in the Woods, regarding the setup and the twist. Like with Cabin, I was left wondering why anyone would go to such effort and expense for something obviously and inarguably amoral, but unlike Cabin, an answer isn't really given. What happens to all the other criminals out there? Do they get their own private Perpetual Torture Estates? Who would fund that?

Okay, that's over-thinking it, I'll admit. But what the episode wants you to take away from this (I assume), is that there's a moral quandary regarding the punishment of 'irredeemable' criminals, and that putting the overly emotional, black-and-white morality perspective of the general public into a governmental position is rather stupid.

And that's fine, really. It's a solid point to make. Except it's been done before - in Black Mirror no less. The first episode of the first series, 'The National Anthem', already explores this idea. Plus, I find it really hard to see a 'moral quandary' in this episode's setup, mostly because there's no real evidence that Victoria was anything other than a heavily-pressured passive accomplice. Maybe that's the point.

All in all I enjoyed 'White Bear', and it’s definitely better than 'Be Right Back', especially in how there’s a good deal of well-written tension and emotion (and screaming. And torture. There's a lot of both). But like most of Black Mirror, in the name of giving a shocking twist, it ends up not making as much sense as it could.


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