Black Mirror: White Bear

With two very distinct points of view, this episode served as an unsettling example of psychological horror, and as a bleak commentary on the dark side of society.

Starting out, it felt a like a B-grade horror movie, with an absurd apocalypse that wasn't remotely believable. The only way it worked was by pushing the tension up almost immediately. That first moment of creepiness, with all those people in the apartments holding up camera phones, set the tone. Then we got the masked Hunters, chasing after Victoria like she was the fox in a bizarre hunting party.

Then Jem enters the game, and from that point on she controls the action. She literally drags Victoria through the events, and seems like a begrudging savior. Yet on occasion she gives Victoria these brief but significant looks of disdain, like she was disgusted with how Victoria was coping with things. The details didn't add up, which made me feel as if nothing was quite right, and at that point I just wanted answers.

When the duo got to the end of their journey, we were told that the woman we've been following is not only a monster, but that this is her punishment. That this live horror performance happens every day. Even worse, it is an 'eye for an eye' punishment. Because Victoria stood by and filmed the murder of a little girl by her fiancé, she deserves to be publicly shamed, humiliated, and basically tortured.

What are the moral and ethical issues surrounding this kind of punishment? In a way it feels almost fitting. But the problems come when we think about the central character. Victoria has no real memory of what she did, or even who she is. How much of Victoria is left? Can she be held responsible for her actions anymore? It was as if she had become nothing more than a prop for this daily show.

Even though it might be satisfying to watch her suffer, the prolonged state of that punishment is unconscionable. What was the justification for her punishment? What were the circumstances behind Victoria's involvement in the original crime? Was she telling the truth that she couldn't act because she was under her fiancé's spell? When someone commits that kind of crime, should they be stripped of their rights and even their humanity?

What was the goal of the punishment? Satisfaction for the public? A slow death sentence, using stress and malnutrition as the method of her execution? Was she just getting that single glass of water and maybe some food during that short break in the tension before Baxter pulls out the shotgun, the equivalent of bread and water as another form of torture? Or was this all a way of rehabilitating her involving a memory wipe? What was the whole meaning behind the calendar? Does it mean her time at the park ends in November? Or does it mean that she'll be released? I almost wish we'd gotten more answers, but then that would've undercut the ambiguity of the episode.


I keep thinking about the Onlookers, and how they could be so gleeful in watching her suffer. Perhaps it was the trappings of the horror setting that took away from the reality of what was happening.

On a similar note, how did the actors feel? Was this just a job for them, or were they as ambivalent as they seemed in that closing montage?

I'm curious about the acting choices here, too. Crichlow was kind of annoying with her constant crying. Was this an intentional choice? Most times in this kind of horror movie, the heroine has to learn to cope very quickly or die. The fact that her emotions were so on the surface made me feel sympathy for her, but I didn't particularly like her.

And Pieces:

When does she use the bathroom or bathe?  Maybe they take a break on the weekends and fix her up.

When the doors opened and the reveal began, there was a small moment where it felt almost like a reality show and she had won something. Then it all turned horrible.

When she was being paraded past the mass of Onlookers, there was a table set up with 'Blood Sponges $2' for sale.

The other main character Jem was named for Jemima, the girl who was killed.

The sign for White Bear Justice Park showed the cost of all day parking. Are there other attractions? Or is she the only one?

The whole reveal makes a repeated viewing rewarding.

What was this episode's message? Was it about capital punishment, the disturbing nature of voyeurism, or the value of human life? We aren't given easy answers, and like every other episode of the series we are left with a question that we have to answer for ourselves.

3 1/2 out of 4 Masked killers with carving knives.

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related. He reviews Arrow and Farscape and cool new movies that strike his fancy.

1 comment:

Billie Doux said...

This episode made me think about when we hear about some criminal's terrible crime or crimes and we say something like, if there was real justice in the world, he'd be tortured just like his victim. But we only get the lopsided view here -- of Victoria's punishment, and I'm sure that was deliberate. We don't even learn if it was truly deserved, if maybe Victoria was a victim of her dead boyfriend, too, not a participant in the crime. And Victoria's constant whining, screaming and crying didn't make me feel sorry for her. I mostly just wanted her to shut the hell up. (Interesting that they made a beautiful actress look so terrible, too.)

So they certainly made some interesting choices about how to talk about capital punishment, and people (like the tourists in the park) who approve and take pleasure in it. I think they were also saying that if we condone capital punishment, we ought to be up close and personal looking at what it does. And of course, that treating Victoria the way they did was as evil as what she did to supposedly deserve it.

I thought this one was as unpleasant and unfun to watch as "The Entire History of You". And this comment is pretty much all over the place, so maybe I'll just stop now.