Review: Black Mirror- 'The Waldo Moment'
|REVIEWS - TV|
Art imitating life? Or vice versa? Where's Waldo?...
Episode Three - The Waldo Moment
Okay, full disclosure. While I found myself more than capable to talk about speculative technology in 'Be Right Back' or about ideas behind the horror-film aspects of 'White Bear', the main subject matter in 'The Waldo Effect' has me at a disadvantage.
It's about politics. Not that I'm anti-politics or anything so foolish, it's just a topic where I know less than I probably should. In a way, that's fine - The Waldo Effect is a tale aimed squarely at people like me. Or at least close to it.
Jamie Slater (Daniel Rigby) is the voice and puppet master of Waldo the Bear, a popular TV comedy feature who interviews (and mocks) politicians who are foolish enough to mistake Waldo for children's programming. After getting great ratings by getting under the skin of a Conservative candidate Liam Monroe (Tobias Menzies), Jamie's manager wants to push the Waldo brand further, by competing in local elections - in a district where Monroe is running, no less.
At first Jamie is reluctant to go through with it, but he is quickly peer-pressured into getting involved. On-the-road stalking of Monroe escalates to Waldo being invited to politics debates and even national television. But it all starts to go off the deep end once Jamie is pushed into actually voicing his own nihilistic political opinions...
Daniel Rigby was an incredible fit for the role. He has some really defined and expressive eyebrows that he works to maximum potential, as well as a great comedic deadpan. But even when his actions aren't meant to be amusing, he carries off this perfect neurotically hopeless awkwardness, and you can't help but feel for him as his manager (then political parties and worse) continue to mess him around. He is, without a doubt meant to be the target viewing audience – socially awkward 18-30somethings of the Internet Age who have a distrust of the political system, but not a complete grasp of how it works.
The technology behind Waldo isn't even actually speculative ! Real-time CG animation is something that's been around for a while; and the animators on for this episode, Passion Pictures, have done work for Gorillaz in the past.
A Political Fable
As for the show’s main idea, it’s actually something covered in 'The National Anthem' and 'White Bear' already, but it’s represented differently here.
The message of ‘the public can’t be responsible for high politics, even though they think they can’ is not a simple ‘everyone is sheeple’ accusation; it’s more that politics requires a finer understanding and manipulation of sociology, and economics than the average person is going to understand. That's not a problem in itself, until the faceless general public are no longer having their democracy refined by someone who understands things better than they do.
There are a lot of little cues that add up to this idea. Jamie’s boss suggesting that Waldo should start backing policies decided entirely by internet vote. That, after a while, people will unhesitatingly do something Waldo says, because it mocks another authority figure (or a dissenter). The repeated mention of Waldo’s popularity in the virtual space rather in the physical space, which then results in Waldo gaining traction politically.
Unusually for Black Mirror, there was no severe dark twist to the story. I can see fans of previous episodes finding this as a negative point; but that the episode escalates so believably is rather horrifying in itself. Where in previous episodes the twists have resulted in the story ruining my suspension of disbelief, here it stayed gloriously intact. And it continued right on into the next day, where I read in the news about how elections in Italy were ground to a halt by a comedian running for a position, and getting an overwhelming number of protest votes.
While none of the episodes in this series of Black Mirror have quite met up to the quality of 'The Entire History of You', the series as a whole has been better than the last. Brooker has found his comfort zone in using technology as trappings of the tale, rather than the core.
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