Review: Black Mirror, Series Two Episode Three, “The Waldo Moment”

Black Mirror

Charlie Brooker is back again folks. Three more extreme but within-the-realm-of-possible stories to get us thinking about ourselves.

I’m going to warn you right now that this will contain spoilers. I am going to do my best to keep them to a minimum however I can’t talk about everything I want to talk about without including a few so I highly recommend that if you haven’t seen this episode yet you’d best bookmark this, go watch, and come back. There will also be some spoilers for series one of Black Mirror. Normally I’d consider a previous series fair game, but spoiling some of this stuff would be like spoiling who Kaiser Soze is, so seriously: go watch and then come back. You’ve been warned.

The last episode of this series concerns a down on his luck, already self loathing failed comedian Jamie and his creation Waldo.

Jamie hasn’t had any success, although it’s implied his friends all have, on his own but he has created a computer animated character called Waldo. Waldo is controlled and voiced by Jamie so that when they spring him on unsuspecting guests on the television program he’s a part of he reacts in real time and generally just takes the piss out of whoever he is talking to, and in particular a new conservative politician played by Tobias Menzies (late of Rome) called Liam Monroe.

There is also Gwendolyn. She’s running for the labour party in the same by election, but she has no qualms about what’s happening. It’s a safe seat for the conservatives and she’s just trying to raise her profile.

Things get a bit crazy when, after he’s had a surge in popularity, Jamies producer starts talking Waldo spin off and having Waldo stand in the by election that Monroe is running in.

They set about having Waldo follow Monroe around and in doing so steadily gains popularity. At the same time Jamie meets Gwendolyn and they hit it off and have a splendid night together but then she blows him off so she can focus on the campaign. Jamie does not take this well.

At the all candidates debate Waldo is doing his schtick when Monroe attacks Jamie directly and he has a moment that, to be honest, I think a lot of people would. He tells of Monroe for being a phoney, claiming to represent the regular folk of his constituency but actually holding himself above them and toeing party lines and when Gwendolyn chimes in she barely gets a word in edgewise before he outs her and just trying to get a bit of face time.

And that’s when things go off the rails for Jamie and for us.

As Waldo gains popularity Jamie slowly goes a bit mad as while he’s controlling Waldo, everyone else is controlling him, particularly his smarmy producer Jack (played by Jason Flemyng) who threatens to take Waldo out of his hands since Jamie created Waldo but doesn’t own the rights.

They both recognize the potential for Waldo to be influential but where Jack revels in it, Jamie is repulsed by the things they are proposing he do. They even are approached by “the agency” to take Waldo worldwide as a mouthpiece to control the masses.

When Jamie finally snaps and start telling people not to vote for him, he’s ousted and Jack takes over and immediately incites a crowd to attack him. When Waldo takes second place in the election, Jack incites the crowd to riot.

This episode isn’t subtle. The black mirror shows us not only how tired people are of the system, but how easily they can be manipulated just by something that’s new and different, not just spouting the same old bullshit. It makes a mockery not so much of the system itself but how the people in it operate.

Further, when Jack takes over and Waldo takes a turn for the darker, how easily all that good will and attention gained by that moment of pure and honest outrage can be used to manipulate people into kind of terrible things.

Monroe has one great line as well when asked about Waldo he says “If that thing is the main opposition then the whole system looks absurd –which it may well be– but it built these roads” That is to say, we may not like them or the system, but it’s what we’ve got to work with.

Basically the black mirror here shows us how, in our apathy, we can be controlled pretty much because we let ourselves be.

THis episode wasn’t as good as the rest because it’s bit, well, obvious. There aren’t as many big ideas as there are in [White Bear][wb] and the ideas aren’t as affecting as those explored in [Be Right Back][brb], Some of the ideas were also explored better in last years episode “15 Million Merits” in which a man is ripped out of complacency in his life in a dystopian future.

It’s still a solid outing, but because of all that I think it might be my least favourite to date even if the ideas it explores might be the most relevant to us today.

[wb]: “Review: Black Mirror, Series Two, Episode Two, ‘White Bear'”

[brb]: “Review: Black Mirror, Series Two, Episode One, ‘Be Right Back'”