This summer, I was fortunate enough to learn of the existence of Black Mirror, a British television programme (that's how they spell it over there!), thanks to a friend who tends to be plugged into that sort of thing. Naturally I swam over to England and gobbled it up as fast as I could (may or may not have happened, you'll never know!). The series comes from insane genius Charlie Brooker, the same man who gave us the incredibly fun and brutal Dead Set, a zombie series told from the perspective of a Big Brother-style TV show. Dead Set was laced with Brooker's trademark chomping satire, and it impaled reality television and the spectacle that surrounded it.
Brooker's newer series, the six-part Black Mirror (it's technically two seasons of three episodes each), is even better. Delving further into intellectual and bizarre satire, Black Mirror makes us face the literal "black mirrors" we stare into for 12 hours or more each day: our computer, smartphone, and television screens. The anthology is part Twilight e-Zone and part Tales from the Gigacrypt, presenting various scenarios in which technology and society intersect, typically in horrible ways. Black Mirror is a warning of sorts, showing us what could happen if we get too addicted to apps or lose our sense of self and decency through anonymity over the internet.
Most of you Americans in the crowd probably haven't seen Black Mirror, and chances are you never will, even though DirecTV recently started airing the series exclusively for its subscribers. But you should make an effort to seek it out. And if/when you do, be sure not to miss last night's episode, "15 Million Merits"; it's one of the most beautiful and haunting hours of science-fiction television you'll (n)ever see.
The episode follows a drone named Bing who—like many other members of the young, fit workforce of whenever the show takes place—spends his days riding an exercise bike and ingesting various forms of media to earn credits. (There is a class system, and less-attractive and unfit people wander the grounds playing janitor; those who can't hack the exercise bike are shipped off.) There's a break for lunch, there's some free time after the work-cycling is done, and there's not much else. Bing lives a mundane existence. And for Nihilists, this world is a mirror image of today's office bees, who punch in and punch out each day to make just enough money to order some pay-per-view, play a first-person shooter, and squeeze out a gob of toothpaste, then wake up the next morning and do it all over again.
There is a way out of all this monotony, however, and like the dream of so many of today's millions of dead-enders, it's through a televised singing competition that feels like a more punishing and gladiatorial version of American Idol. The rewards are great, the costs greater. And Bing's quiet life is shaken up by a beautiful woman, who compels him to spend 15 million merits—nearly all his funds—on an entry ticket into the competition for her. It's a hyper-real look forward into our celebrity-obsessed culture, and how the fame machine chews up and spits out attention-starved starlets who are looking for anything more than a normal life. It's frightening, to say the least.
Brimming with gorgeous visuals, a moving score, and a fully realized future that might not be too far off, there's never a moment where "15 Million Merits" is anything less than gripping, scary, and thought-provoking. It may make you want to hang yourself, it may make you want to throw your computer out of the window, it may make you want to quit your job, it may make you ponder the meaning of life, but its goal is simply to make you aware of such things so that we may avoid such an awful future. "15 Million Merits" wants you to look in the mirror and do something about it.