Black Mirror's "15 Million Merits" Is One of TV's Best Sci-fi Episodes That You'll Probably Never See

Black Mirror S01E02: "15 Million Merits"

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. 


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Dec 04, 2014
I thought this was a fairly basic view of the 'office bee' culture. More like a vry good visual representation of a pretty standard conversation about the negativity of office life, rather than anything deeper.

It completed avoided the why, which is surely the question that needs to be asked.

I think we all see the comparison of the desperation for fame that X Factor and similar highlight. But this wasn't explored beyond the surface. The story of the girl was ruined by the implied suggestion of abuse (being duped, itentionally pressured and later apparently not in control).

Episode 1 was the same. Having everyong inside at the end was silly and missed the point of of this side of human behaviour.

I personaly don't imagine many finding Black Mirror's views of life deep, thought-provoking or particularly realistic if they are someone who already thinks about these things. What it misses are the reasons why people do these things. It is not because they are forced into it or 100% clueless which is the basic human assumption Black Mirror is making.

If you want an hour of TV that will leave you frustrated that the whole point was missed, watch it. If not, don't.
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Nov 23, 2013
uh oh. looks like Entertainment Weekly just hopped on this bus. EW puts Black Mirror in the second slot of its Must list in their 11-19 issue......
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Nov 22, 2013
Took you long enough. :)
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Nov 21, 2013
Great review, Tim. It's nice that you didn't offer any major spoilers, thus making the viewing of the episode an actual delight for those who haven't saw it prior to this article. I saw the series 6 months ago and it was pretty heartbreaking and mind-blowing, I couldn't watch more than one episode per day because each one made me feel all kinds of emotion at once, ranging from sadness and anger to amazement.
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Nov 21, 2013
Ugh, I hate this show. It reminds me of that old Nickelodeon show "Are You Afraid of the Dark," or something. I was gonna stop, but my sister forced me to watch White Bear, and it was the dumbest, most unoriginal thing ever. Not only is this series lame, it's a downer. Ok, BRB, gotta go do teh nasty with my cyborg bride.
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Nov 22, 2013
Gurl...you watch american Idol! That's why you hate the show. It's too smart for you!
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Dec 04, 2014
I would not call Black Mirror smart. It only looks at a few of the surface issues of human life and technilogy, nothing more. It has great visuals and interesting premises, but it doesn't go much deeper with regard to real human reaction.
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Nov 24, 2013
Um, what would suggest that I watch American Idol? The show isn't smart, it just recycles old plotlines from other shows/movies. And this is coming from someone who has to study plotline and story structure every day in college.
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Nov 24, 2013
Uhm...it's in your favourites! Obviously pretty much everything has been done in this day and age, it's more about how it is done. Out of curiosity then clever clogs, plotlines..from what other shows/movies excactly?
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Nov 24, 2013
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Nov 21, 2013
Amazing show. 15 Million Merits is probably my favorite one. It stays with you for days. All of the episodes are pretty brilliant, with the only weak spot being The Waldo Moment. Any news on a possible third season?
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Nov 21, 2013
Be Right Back was one favourite. Ah, and The Entire History Of You.So, I guess I have a tie.
Both episodes were memory-driven, in different ways. Like 15 Million Merits they spoke to our digital footprints.

BRB in a PS, I love you variety that meets Real Humans.

TEHOY was a lot like watching The Little Black Box by Philip K. Dick. Mood organs that you can set to how you want to feel. You can experience memories at a whim.

Jolly good show!

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Nov 21, 2013
Tim, you are going to lose your shit when you get to White Bear.
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Nov 21, 2013
I think my favourite is White Bear.
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Aug 12, 2014
I agree, with this episode being a close second.
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Nov 21, 2013
I absolutely agree with you, so worth the swim!
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Nov 21, 2013
What about the pig-f'er episode?! That was messed up!
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Nov 21, 2013
I saw that last year.
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Nov 21, 2013
ok, thanks for the tip! starting to swim direction the uk right now :)
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Nov 21, 2013
I had watched the first 3 quite a while back. I have the second three but haven't gotten around to watching them yet. I really thought the Prime Minister was quite good in that it made you think of what people are doing in the world. Watching this and the movie "They Live" gives you a low-budget showing of how bad our addictions can be to the boobtube.
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Nov 21, 2013
In Spain we had the incredible luck to see it in an open channel, I can´t forget this episode, it was so great, and makes you think a lot....Perfect!!!
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Nov 21, 2013
Thanks for the "heads up." I will order seasons 1 & 2 through AmazonUK.
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Nov 21, 2013
It's so weird to see a review of Black Mirror on this site!
Charlie Brooker is a pure genius and to see that for yourself besides Black Mirror you should check out A Touch Of Cloth, one of the funniest things you'll see on TV.

P.S. If i had to choose my favorite episodes from the series it would be (in no specific order):
National Anthem
White Bear
Be right back
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Nov 21, 2013
One of the most harrowing pieces of TV I've ever seen. I always recommend it to fellow geeks. And I have never been able to look at X-factor the same way again. The entire episode is magnificent, a piece of sci-fi I would gladly go back to, it seems like he was only tipping the surface of that universe.
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Nov 21, 2013
I don't always agree with Tim, but I always listen to what he has to say. This sounded good and I was able to procure the whole thing and let's just leave it at that. I began at the beginning, as you do, and I was appalled. I was also enthralled as the first episode painted a picture that was all too real and plausible. It was touted as the first great art of the 21st century, and for all I know, that very well may be. Thanks again, Tim and keep those cards and letters coming. Oink!
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Nov 21, 2013
I liked this series a lot. All 3 episodes warn us of the worst case scenario, dystopian future brought on by the way we both depend on and how we are addicted to technology. I really felt the best episode of the bunch was #3 "The Entire History of You". A very haunting and interesting commentary on memory, how much we like to keep a record of what happens in our lives and how much we choose to share with others. #2 was too far in the future and too stylized to ring as true as the down-to-earth #3. At it's very heart #3 was just a love story told through a man who we believe is crazy and the crazier he gets, we start to believe him. #1 just felt like a throwaway joke that someone wanted to treat seriously and adapt to a drama.

I'm starting on the second series now and really look forward to it. Hope they commission a 3rd series.
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Nov 21, 2013
I think my favorite episode of this series is the second episode of season 2, White Bear. I sort of like the dark "twist" near the end. 15M Merits is my second favorite though. Too tragic.
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Nov 21, 2013
@Tim, why didný you link it to a community like The British TV community. We could use the posts and memebers.
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Nov 21, 2013
I have seen them all and they are highly recpmmended. You just have to make sure that you like dark storylines as they seldom come darker. The first episode was also a bit shocking/disturbing, but the seond completely different and dark in another way. You just ahve to stick around if the first one wasn't your cup of thee. Just finished the second series last week and I'm still thinking about Waldo.
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Nov 21, 2013
For anyone thinking about buying Google glas watch the next episode. That episode felt not as a possible future but an inevitable one. Very very scary.
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Nov 21, 2013
such a good series! i read a different thing on tv.com mentioning it, so i decided to check it out and it was awesome. too bad it was during my exam period when i started watching. it is definately a must watch!!!
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Nov 21, 2013
There are some other episode which are even better than this one, IMO! - So, guys, prepare yourselves for excitement, intelligent social comment, believable fiction and an overall perfect package. :) - This is how clever and sometimes deep television is done! - My personal favourites are episode 3 of season 1 and - even better, because very emotional - episode 1 of season 2. - Enjoy! :)
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Nov 21, 2013
Will watch.
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Nov 21, 2013
I have to admit to being absolutely in love with everything Charlie Brooker does. As well as Dead Set and Black Mirror some of you lovely people might want to check out his review shows to hear some of his amazing rants about pretty much everything.

Basically just search "Charlie Brooker" on Youtube and have a delightful evening yelling "yeah he's right this is all bullshit!" at the screen.
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Nov 21, 2013
Totally agree. If in America, youtube him, he does TV reviews, game reviews, social comment. There are a episodes of You Have Been Watching, Screenwipe etc where you can see his excellent, humourous and insightful rants firsthand.

He is a fan of TV and computer games etc, so he is not one of these people who just rejects modern culture out of hand, but gives fair comment.
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Nov 21, 2013
I agree this episode was absolutely amazing. I too swam across the pond to watch it and am certainly glad I did. I'm glad I stuck around after the first episode, which was absolutely horrifying.
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Nov 21, 2013
The entire series of Black Mirror is awesome! Doesn't anyone remember when Kiowa said something about DaVinci having the second best pig fucking scene....the best was in the first (I think it was the 1st) episode of Black Mirror.

The episode reviewed about was another of my favorites (I liked all of them in different ways) and I often think about it especially with all the continued advances in technology and various aspects of American (I live in America) life that I see reflected in this episode.

AWESOME series and I highly recommend it to everyone who likes "dark" shows. It kind of reminds me of a updated modern twisted twilight zone....

I've been away from playing on line so I need to see if there is a generic community where we can post about genres of shows or non-usa shows. I've received numerous recommendations of non-us shows from people living in non-us countries and have found some of my favorite shows that way.
Black Mirror
Utopia
Broadchurch (before it was shown here in the USA)
Luther
The Thick of It
and so many more....
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Nov 21, 2013
Dont forget Mad Dogs, Outcasts, Kidnap and Ransom and the excellent The Good Cop.
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Nov 21, 2013
aww someone remembers me :). It might have taken a year but at least this site got around to watching the show...
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Nov 21, 2013
Utopia was a great show. The art direction was just beautiful, it actually looked like a graphic novel on your tv screen.
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Nov 21, 2013
I'm British and haven't see Utopia or Broadchurch. Heard very good things but never got round to them.

Both Luther and The Thick of It are both top notch television. The later of which is, I assume, probably almost unknown in the USA.
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Nov 21, 2013
One of the many reasons I love this site is all the excellent recommendations for non-USA shows. I live in the USA but thanks to the internet and this site I have heard of and watched some great non-usa shows. I also liked Rakes (I think it is Australian), Mad Dogs, Bedlam, Whitechapel, Misfits, In the Flesh, Durham County, Red Cap, and Cracker (all non-usa shows).
In the Thick of It is one of the funniest shows I have watched....the character Malcolm Tucker had the best dialogue (I could listen to him cuss/swear all day long).
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Nov 21, 2013
If you haven't seen it, there was also a film made of The Thick Of It, its called In The Loop and features Tucker and his abusive rants heavily
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Nov 21, 2013
I'm trying to catch up on it as well. "The National Anthem", although not particularly scifi or fantasy, certainly has a lot to say about the Internet and voyeurism.
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Nov 21, 2013
Any other obscure British shows (particularly scifi or horror) you can recommend? Thanks!
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Nov 21, 2013
"Obscure?" For whom? LOL
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Nov 21, 2013
Obscure for Americans. Though I have seen Misfits and The Fades.
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Nov 21, 2013
The Fades was great but was on a BBC cable channel and not many episodes made. Misfits from Channel 4 is highly rated over here.

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Nov 21, 2013
The Fades, In the Flesh...
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Nov 21, 2013
Oh i loved the Fades, i was so upset when it was cancelled. The main reason i watch Agents of Shield is because the kid from The Fades is in it!
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Nov 21, 2013
Anyway to Watch online? Of so please do tell.
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Nov 21, 2013
It might be available on 4od. Thats the channel 4 on demand site.
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Nov 21, 2013
I have Verizon Goody friend
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Nov 22, 2013
Sorry, I don't know what that means... Is your internet shit?
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Nov 22, 2013
Is there anywhere online I can watch the show?
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Nov 21, 2013
I loved Dead Set! Thanks for the heads up Tim, I'll be sure to add it to my list.
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Nov 21, 2013
If you are on this website there is a good chance you like TV.... a lot. Watch Black Mirror, you won't be disappointed.
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Nov 21, 2013
I should add that each episode is individual

If the first episode (which is pretty full on darkness) isn't quite your cup of tea just continue on, the others are even better and different from one another.
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Nov 21, 2013
The Black Mirror: proof that anthology horror can be relevant. I was blown away by this series. There are SO MANY ways a show like this could be trite, precious or preachy, but Charlie Brooker has out done any of his previous work with the Black Mirror. I almost expect him to come out smoking a cigarette for an intro speech like the Rod Serling.
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Nov 21, 2013
Black Mirror is probably one of the best scifi series ever made. It's off the wall amazing. Sheer critical genius. It's scifi that makes you ask the bigger questions. Something you rarely see in a show anymore.
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Nov 21, 2013
Considering that the last time Tim asked us to watch an underappreciated sci-fi show I ended up binge-watching Orphan Black, I think I might check this out.
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Nov 21, 2013
Oh, Orphan Black <3
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