Black Mirror Review Season 2 Episode 1: Be Right Back

Black Mirror Review Season 2 Episode 1: Be Right Back

Black Mirror shocked viewers in its first season, with perceptively designed dystopia’s that seemed distantly, but at the same time easily conceivable. In this first episode of the second season, Charlie Brooker’s eerily realistic future world features a woman who has recently lost her husband. Succumbing to a new kind of technology, artificial intelligence which mimics the deceased by using data left behind on social media accounts and emails, things soon take a predictably nasty turn.

The opening of this episode is slow paced, following the polite bickering of a married couple for the first few minutes. Fortunately, this mundane footage is masterfully played by the gorgeous Haley Atwell (Captain America, The Duchess) and the slightly less attractive Domhnall Gleeson (Anna Karenina). The happy but threadbare incidents in the couple’s lives are acted out with uninteresting subtlety, leaving the feeling of standing on a precipice before the fall.

A fall which soon comes, as the husband Ash is killed in a car accident (no spoilers there). After a briefly visited funeral, we find Martha (Atwell) alone at home, isolated in what looks like a country house. After finding out that she is pregnant, Martha cannot help but speak to the AI Ash (or, AI-sh, if you like). She soon becomes irrecoverably attached. She feeds the machine more information about Ash: videos, voice recordings, pictures and private emails. Soon AI-sh suggests another, ‘creepier’ level. It’s a robotic model of the deceased, with added sexual proficiency.

Turning to social media in the absence of a partner will seem familiar to those who have gone through a breakup, perhaps. Facebook and Twitter stalking, though counterproductive in terms of letting go, provide a link to that person where there is no longer an intimate attachment. Brooker has here taken this concept to the next level, applying it to someone deceased. We see Martha go mad as she realises that the ‘Ash’ projected onto the internet was only a shadow of the real person.

In this first episode, Brooker makes an intelligent, perceptive comment on social media. What happens to all our information online after we die? Do we genuinely leave a kind of personality behind, what would that person be like? The modern individual creates tonnes of online residue during their lives, leaving swathes of personal information in their wake. Certainly the average pubescent teenager will have at least a chapter to write about their life out of just one day’s Facebook statuses. There will never be another Shakespearean enigma with historians searching fruitlessly for information on our lives; it’s all here on the internet.

Some have questioned whether Brooker has ‘lost his touch’ after succumbing to the oppressive institutions of marriage and parenthood. I would argue the opposite: that his attachments have added a depth to his writing. Be Right Back is as cynical and perceptive of the wider social context of our age as it is about how relationships work. Martha is frustrated in the way that Ash is entirely compliant when she tells him to leave their room. ‘Ash would have argued’ she says. AI-sh is the ‘best-face’ social media post, the inoffensive text, the smiley face incrusted email. Social media simply can’t deliver the entire person, and, while I’m sure most of us know this already, Brooker’s Black Mirror is a warning for to us savvy modernists not to lose touch with real humanity.

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