Black Mirror: White Christmas

I realise I am coming to this very late with a sort of review of the Christmas special, but Charlie Brooker’s weird “mind f*ck” series, of which there have been two seasons of three episodes each, led into what was one of the best pieces of television of Christmas 2014.

Series like this really get under my skin, picking away at my brain and lingering there for me to mull over time and time again. It’s usually heavy concept and visceral stuff that does it to me, which is why I tend to get really caught up in the universe of Bioshock every time I play it.

White Christmas was marketed as a Christmas special, but looking at the 4oD archive, it’s presently tagged as the first episode of season 3. Before I offer my thoughts, I’m going to look briefly at the previous six episodes – mostly because they are relevant to White Christmas and there are references to each one within it (though I did not spot all of them).

  • The National Anthem sees the abduction of a minor royal. The abductor demands a most unusual ransom – the Prime Minister must have sex with a pig live on national television. Despite stipulating that the reason for this is not broadcast, the story breaks into the world’s media. It’s a race against time to rescue the royal before the live broadcast
  • Fifteen Million Merits is a future world where people are compelled to cycle all day of every day in order to power the country. For this, people earn credits they may spend on food, clothes, and entertainment. Boy meets girl and he uses his credit for girl to go on a talent show. But the judges rope her into becoming an adult star, leaving the boy heartbroken and determined to work hard to get 15m credits so he can get on the show and save her
  • The Entire History of You shows a future where implants allows us to record and replay the events of our lives. All our happy memories and crap memories are recorded to re-live at any time. When the husband suspects his wife is having an affair, he incessantly goes over his memories looking for scraps, torn between believing himself a paranoid bag of nerves and feeling there’s something more going on and she’s not being entirely honest with him, he finally discovers the truth
  • Be Right Back shows us what can happen when we find it hard to let go when a loved one is tragically taken from us. The service offers in the form of their voice on the end of a phone, emails, Skype sessions and more all recreated from their real interactions; eventually for the right price, an automaton to fill the physical space they left behind. What happens when we really can’t let go?
  • White Bear is quite possibly the most visceral episode so far (until White Christmas). Lenora Crichlow (of Being Human) wakes up in her bed, goes outside and sees that people are glued to their phones and taking pictures of her, following her wherever she goes. She finds other people not afflicted by the condition, people who tell her of the mysterious data invasion and how they recently heard of the mysterious White Bear facility.
  • The Waldo Moment for me, was the weakest which was a shame because in many ways it was a clever satire on both disillusionment with established party systems and the curious British habit of protest voting for the utterly ridiculous (if my American readers have not heard of The Monster Raving Loony Party, then go and check them out). Waldo is a satirical figure mocking politics and politicians on his late night show – that is until people decide to vote for him after he puts himself up for a by-election. Yet when he realises the damage he causes, he tries to dissuade people from voting – but his popularity only grows
Source: Radiotimes.com
Source: Radiotimes.com (link)

White Christmas

And so we come to the Christmas episode that combines elements from each of those six episodes, some are minor and insignificant and others are a little more important to the overall story arc. I will try not to give too much away, but I will say that the story is broken into an introduction, three distinct parts and then a conclusion. Both the introduction and the conclusion reference the three main story bodies.

In the first section, we learn about social media implants (similar to the implants in The Entire History of You) that allow people to communicate directly. There is a form of instant messaging, audio and video communication and even blocking. A Pick Up Artist helps a man meet a woman in a bar, talking him through the process of the chat up.

In part two, the story moves to a woman going into hospital for a minor operation. When she comes to, she is told it is a success. This is a world where we can copy our personalities into a small computer that controls all the electronic functions of our home. The man in charge of the technology can manipulate the copied personality (which believes it is the actual person and not an electronic representation of her) and eventually coaxes it to do the tasks it is supposed to do.

Black Mirror White Christmas
Source: Radiotimes.com

In part 3, we meet a young couple as their relationship first blossoms and then breaks down when the female partner announces that she’s pregnant but says she doesn’t want to keep it. In a strange over-reaction, she blocks him (see above image). This means that though he can see the outline of her image, he can’t speak to her or hear her and cannot track her. She then disappears from his life with no other explanation and he is determined to track her down to find out what happened.

The finale brings all of these story threads together. You may – as I did when I watched it with my partner – have that penny drop moment right before the big reveal. It’s dark, it’s harrowing and it’s one of the cleverest and most thought-provoking endings I have seen in a long time.

Did anybody else see it? What did you think?

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4 thoughts on “Black Mirror: White Christmas

  1. I saw it and loved it. Not only was it a great story, it had some fantastic ideas in it too (I especially loved the personalty copies to control our environment – I wish I’d thought of it). I think Charlie Brooker is one of the best writers out there at the moment. He not only understands technology but the culture around technology. Very, very good.

    1. Yes! You’re absolutely right – he treats the technology as if it is an everyday thing rather than a novelty to shove in our faces. There’s also rarely any morality play about it, which is another thing that bugs me sometimes.

      In that way, whatever technology he is presenting is always a great plot device.

  2. I saw it and loved it too. Brilliant storytelling and a great payoff that i too, spotted just moments before the reveal. I realised from your summary that ive seen a few of these Charlie Brooker pieces before, but not connected them. I will look out for future productions – their brutal ‘take-it-to-the-limit’ approach to technonogy, and the harsh extremes of humanity, is intriguing.

    1. It’s something we’ve lost in television story tellng, isn’t it – that visceral style that doesn’t sugar coat anything. There’s only one other director I can think of that does that today, and that’s Danny Boyle.

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