Without a shadow of a doubt, Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror is one of the finest pieces of British television is some time. It may not be talked about or hyped as much as a Sherlock or Broadchurch, but Brooker’s delve into the dark recesses of science fiction writing is the sort of show that would make the likes of Rod Serling and Alfred Hitchcock stand up and applaud. And now we have a Christmas special, and it certainly will not put you in the festive mood…
Rather than have one long story for its extended runtime, Black Mirror: White Christmas is three stories tied together in the same world with Jon Hamm and Rafe Spall providing the bridges between each tale. It’s a smart move on the part of Brooker, who allows us to explore different avenues of a world he’s created specifically for this episode. Imagine if we could have had this for episodes like “Be Right Back” and you can see why this is an appealing idea.
The world in which we’re thrust into is that of a distant snowy landscape with Joe (Spall) waking up to find the irresistibly charming and irritatingly smug Matt (Hamm) cooking up Christmas dinner with Wizzard’s festive classic “I Wish it Could be Christmas Everyday” ringing in the background. With Joe not the talkative type, Matt coaxes a conversation out of him by telling him a story about a club he used to run, which is essentially being a pick-up artist – only with the artist able to see through your own eyes.
One of the brilliant elements of Black Mirror: White Christmas (and Black Mirror as a whole) is that it takes current technological advancements and moves them to the next level without stepping outside the realm of possibility. While fantastical, the idea of Google Glass being imported directly into your skin (so you don’t have to wear it as a fashion accessory) is not entirely implausible. Like the superb Her, Brooker gives us science fiction, but never pushes it too far. This comes into play again in the second story Matt tells, which sees a very well-off young woman named Greta (an underutilised Oona Chaplin) have an implanted subconscience removed and imported into an Amazon Echo-like device called a Cookie, that clearly took inspiration from 2001: A Space Odyssey if it had been designed by Apple. This device is designed to control her home to Greta’s liking – getting everything perfect because the device is essentially a part of her.
Like Her, this segment raises questions about the value we put on artificial intelligence, brilliantly displayed in the moments where Matt is effectively torturing the Cookie with solitary confinement. The way he talks about this is the same a field agent would a terrorist suspect they were torturing for information. In Matt’s mind, Greta’s Cookie is a load of code and nothing more. She may appear to have a personality and feelings but in reality, she is nothing but a load of ones and zeros. Its an interesting argument (though nothing new) and the way Hamm plays up his abusive role and Chaplin’s selling of the suffering really make you question the idea of Greta’s cookie being something more than string of numbers. It’s the sort of quandaries we will expect to facing with next year’s Chappie.
Also revealed in the interim of these two stories was Matt’s wife leaving him and ‘blocking’ him. Many who watch this show will probably have had experiences where an ex-partner has gone to great lengths to block you from their lives, but in Black Mirror: White Christmas you really do ‘block’ them for good. Extending the idea of blocking someone on social media, Brooker posits an idea that your blocked target just becomes a white noise shape that was once a person you interacted with. It’s one of the more shocking ideas of the episode and puts into mind the sort of scenario where you could possibly see these muffled shapes walking round your day to day life with nothing you can do about it.
But while all of these ideas may just seem like clever little scenarios in a science fiction show, what makes them great in Black Mirror: White Christmas is that they all play a role in the overall story. There are moments during Joe’s story of his girlfriend leaving him when she discovers she’s pregnant where the exposition is a little heavy handed, but Matt’s previous two stories allow for the twists and turns of the episode’s overall plot to occur naturally. Everything has a point and nothing in Black Mirror: White Christmas is superfluous – which is what makes it such a wonderful piece of television.
The show is far from perfect of course, but the only negatives of note are rather trivial. None of the performances are bad with Jon Hamm providing a brilliant turn as the instantly unlikeable Matt and Rafe Spall, while ropey at times, is blindingly good by the end of the proceedings. As previously mentioned, Oona Chaplin is great in her brief role and there’s even a small part for Robin Weaver (Simon’s mum from The Inbetweeners, better known as Clara from fellow festive outing The Muppet Christmas Carol). Those with a keen ear and eye will most likely spot the big twists of the first and third segments, but the episode still carries them effortlessly that there is still a large amount of joy to be had. In fact, the only real negative of Black Mirror: White Christmas is actually down to Channel 4 and their need for constant advert breaks. Television, like all businesses, is a money making one – but the tension and drama of the show is often let down because we have to see what Sainsburys have on offer to make your Christmas dinner better. In short, Black Mirror: White Christmas will certainly benefit from a DVD and streaming release.
Like The League of Gentleman, the idea of Black Mirror doing a Christmas show seems like a joke unto itself. And true to its nature, Black Mirror: White Christmas is pretty bloody bleak and won’t leave you feeling too festive – even if you will have Wizzard stuck in your head for the rest of the day. With that said, Black Mirror: White Christmas is a truly remarkable and enthralling piece of television and will likely be one of the better Christmas specials released this year. It would have benefited from less ad breaks, but you can’t put that blame on Brooker. Perhaps there will be an episode about in the next series…
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.