Here’s a true story for you. When I was young, I collected comics. Not that uncommon, to be sure, especially among kids in the late 80s and early 90s who had heard stories about the adults who paid off their homes by hanging on to comics and baseball cards and other collectables. So I didn’t just collect comics; I collected comics.
I loved many characters and series, but the one I enjoyed most –the one that I was buying when no one else I know was– was a series by Marvel called “What if…?”, in which a toga-clad all-seeing cosmic being related stories of the Marvel universe I knew and loved but with a single change. Imagine the butterfly effect at work: a butterfly flaps its wings in China, you get rain in Stanley Park; Peggy Carter doesn’t go up to the observation room as Steve Rogers is headed toward the experiment that would make him Captain America, and instead, we end up with Captain Carter. I loved it. I still do. And now they’ve made an animated series out of it.
The new Marvel TV series Agent Carter doesn’t début for some time yet by Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. starts up again soon and the première episode os going to feature a flashback to the 1940s/50s featuring Hayley Atwell as Agent Carter, Neal McDonough as Dum Dum Durgan, and Kenneth Choi as Jim Morita, all reprising their roles from Captain America: The First Avenger. There’s no word on McDonough or Choi joining the cast of Agent Carter just yet but I kind of hope they rope as many of The Howling Commandos in as they can as well as Tommy Lee Jones as General Tommy Lee Jones and Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark as much as possible.
Admittedly, these guys have careers, but hopefully they find some time.
Marvel is really kicking things into high gear. Their series of films basically already owns the box office at your local theatre and with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premiering next week they’re hoping to dominate the small screen as well. If that one takes off it looks like we may get another series starring Captain America’s girlfriend Peggy Carter.
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.
Good. Let’s begin then.
Be Right Back stars Hayley Atwell and Domhnall Gleeson as Martha and Ash, a young couple. He is clearly addicted to his phone and the internet, to the point where he doesn’t hear her offering him ridiculous things and she has to tell him to put his damn phone away and interact with her. We get just enough screen time with Ash to get a sense of who he is and who they are together and then he dies.
Wracked with grief Martha is signed up by a friend for a service that basically is an app that lets you speak to the dead. It scrapes data from your social media profiles, emails, videos, photos, anything you can feed it and comes up with an approximation of the person in question.
What follows is both an exploration of grief and anguish as well as the question of the human experiences. We follow Martha as she is emotionally laid low and then raised up again by speaking to this approximation almost non stop.
When she drops her phone the system offers her “the next step”, an artificial Ash with the personality profile uploaded.
I’d like to point out here that both Atwell and Gleeson are superb. Atwell has to run the gamut of human emotion and does so beautifully. Gleeson plays both the internet addicted boyfriend and the approximation thereof well, in particular the contradicting states the False Ash has to exist in.
At first Martha takes full advantage, and I mean full advantage, but it soon becomes apparent that all is not right. Her grief is both quelled and then returned with even greater power. False-Ash at first being a comfort comes to drive her to the edge of sanity because he’s just not Ash.
And therein lies the reflection in the black mirror. Slowly but surely we’re putting more of ourselves online and more people are interacting with facebook, twitter, and every other form of online communication you can think of, and many friendships are made and broken vie these methods. You come to feel like you know someone based on the things they put out there but through False-Ash we’re reminded that none of that can replace the human experience.
In the climax of the story False-Ash is driving Martha to the edge of her sanity because on the one hand he’s right there with her, but on the other he lacks all the mannerisms, all the little tics, and the emotions that aren’t registered online. When she orders him to jump off a cliff and he willingly goes she rails against his utter willingness and how he isn’t acting like Ash. He then takes that information and mimics Ash not out of some sense of preservation but because that’s what False-Ash thinks she wants.
Be Right Back is far more subtle than any of the previous episodes to date. Not hard when you consider that last series had a man fucking a pig, a man selling out, and a man relentlessly torturing himself with recordings of his life built into his brain. That doesn’t actually make it any less thought provoking though, in fact I’d say just the opposite. It’ll make you think about grief and the lengths you might go to, but also how you interact with your friends and family.
Black Mirror is about holding up ideas and showing us reflections that we haven’t considered, or maybe reflections we don’t want to consider about society and technology, and it’s off to a lovely start for this series.