Black Mirror series 2 episode 3: The Waldo Moment spoiler-filled review

Review Ryan Lambie 26 Feb 2013 - 10:19

The current series of Black Mirror comes to a close with The Waldo Moment. Here's Ryan's spoiler-filled review of episode three...

Warning: the following contains paragraphs of a spoiler-filled nature. Reader discretion advised.

After the understated melancholy of Be Right Back, and the aggressive aural assault of White Bear, we were wondering where the third and final Black Mirror episode might take us. Somewhere in the middle is the answer, with a dystopian political satire told with bleak humour, yet lacking either the emotional tug of the first episode, or the second's palpable sense of outrage.

The Waldo Moment begins with two intertwining stories. In one, we meet Gwendolyn Harris (Chloe Pirrie), a young woman on the cusp of a new career in politics, having scraped into the role of a local Labour MP in spite of a less than stellar job interview ("I did commit a series of murders in Huddersfield between 1999 and 2003"). Gwendolyn sees the position as little more than a first rung on a long career ladder, and seems resigned to the likelihood that her Tory opponent Liam Monroe (Tobias Menzies) will beat her in a forthcoming by-election.

In the second story strand, there's Jamie (Daniel Rigby), a 30-something comedian behind the popular television character, Waldo. A blue computer-animated bear with a voice remarkably like that of BBC Three's Lee Nelson, Waldo amuses audiences with his foul-mouthed chatter on topical TV show Tonight For One Week Only.

Although Jamie has no interest in politics, a vulgar interview between Waldo and Munroe (the Tory MP mentioned earlier) impresses viewers and producers alike, and the blue bear's popularity hastens the planning of the creature's own solo TV show.  Spurred on by that first televised encounter, producer Jack Napier (Jason Flemyng) and his underlings devise a high-tech means of having Waldo follow Munroe around on his by-election campaign, which involves a van kitted out with a huge LED screen and some obnoxiously loud speakers. With his protests falling on deaf ears ("I'm not dumb or clever enough to be political!"), Jamie's soon despatched in the Waldo van, shadowing Munroe and drowning out his political messages with puerile jokes.

Jamie and Gwendolyn eventually meet in a hotel bar, and in spite of their different backgrounds, they find a common ground; neither truly believes in what they're doing, and both hope their current jobs will soon lead to something better. This particular plot point has an impact later on, as a spurned (or so he thinks) Jamie uses his insider knowledge of Gwendolyn's apathy to wreck her career on live television, and further Waldo's status as an icon of disenfranchisement.

In the episode's second half, Jamie can only look on helplessly as Waldo's fame continues to grow, with a YouTube hit video attracting American corporate interest, and the bear surfing a wave of cynicism to a second-place win at the local by-election.

Like every episode of Black Mirror, The Waldo Moment addresses a particular current concern - this time about apathy and distrust in British politics. There's still undoubtedly a technological thread in this episode, with Waldo operated like a virtual puppet with futuristic gloves, and all the chatter of social media and iPhone apps, but this is arguably detachable from the central argument: that self-absorption will be the death of politics. This point was rammed home in a rather abrupt coda, where a destitute Jamie, now cut off from his monstrous creation, literally wakes up in a dystopian police state governed by Waldo's leering face. It's such a sudden, on-the-nose image that it's more blackly amusing than shocking - like one of those public safety commercials from the 1970s ("Remember, kids: don't take the democratic process for granted...").

The episode makes valid points about self-interested politicians being as poisonous to democracy as apathetic voters and cynical telly producers, but it's hard not to sit through The Waldo Moment and feel a little dissatisfied with the stark, undisguised presentation of its underlying message. It's as well-acted and well-shot as we've come to expect from Black Mirror, but neither its characters nor its plot felt as engaging as Be Right Back - nor did its events feel as horribly compelling as an earlier brush with politics, season one's gut-wrenching National Anthem.

With its message so prominently in place by the midpoint, The Waldo Moment leaves little else for us to discover; protagonist Jamie is powerless to stop the media juggernaut he's set in motion, and with her brief career in tatters, Gwendolyn eventually shuffles out of the narrative with nothing more to do.

This was a lesser episode of Black Mirror, then, but that's partly because the quality of other entries has been so high. The Waldo Moment was still full of keenly observed scenes (the toe-curling job interview was one highlight, and the gleeful demolition of a disgraced MP on a topical comedy feels like a pointed jab at the humour in his own current affairs show, 10 O'Clock Live), and Bryn Higgins provided some solid direction.

And while the episode's story was rather overwrought in the final analysis, it's still the case that, right now, there's nothing else on television remotely like Black Mirror. More please, Mr Brooker.

You can read our review of the previous episode, White Bear, here.

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Felt a bit like half an episode for me - by the second ad break I was thinking that it really ought to have been further along at that point; by the end I was wondering where the rest of it was. It had some good ideas but didn't really seem to expand on any of them. By far the most disappointing of the lot; that said, MORE please Mr Brooker!!

What the hell was that? I watch Black Mirror for the tales of the unexpected, not for the tales of the ridiculous!

And f-ing a pig live on TV isn't riduculous?!

Not my favourite, but still miles better than most of the crap on the TV at the moment.

To be fair, this episode was more about how the whole realm of entertaining ourselves has diluted any public political discourse that the medium of television allows, rather than the disenfranchisement of British politics. Just read Neil Postman's 'Amusing Ourselves To Death' and it's all there.

It was. Two wrongs don't make a right.

Mission accomplished then. I watch these types of shows to escape the dross of everyday life and to pique my intellectual curiosity, not to be fed the same nonsense I can see every day in real life. The quality of the second series has been declining since the first (excellent) episode, unfortunately. Hope the next one is better.

Go look at what happened in Italy's last election. They just had a waldo moment.

There's actualy a lot of good things on TV worldwide right now...

The treatment of Jamie's "depression" was a bit ham fisted, his character didn't really ring true

i didnt enjoy this as much as the previous two episodes, although it was an interesting story. the main problem i had though was when *spoilers* the girl refused to tell the guy why she couldnt see him (resulting in him publicly destroying her) and then later on she said that she would have called him after the election. erm, why not just tell hin that at the time then? i mean if she felt that strongly about him just saying - sorry cant see you now, been told not to by my boss, lets hook up after the election (in like about 2 days or something). instead she says nothing, and rightly gives him the impression she doesnt care about him. so its a very badly exectuted macguffin really which i found to be a poor bit of writing as its just so implausable. also the whole waldo thing, erm, why didnt they just arrest the guy doing it? i mean he starts a disturbance by getting someone to throw a shoe and given the current police state we live in, people have been arrested for much much less. the whole episode felt a bit rushed really and not as well thought out as the previous 2 episodes. with the exception of episode 2, this series hasnt caught my attention or made me think anywhere near as much as series 1 did, which is a shame as i was really looking forward to the return of black mirror but just feel that this series has not been as good. Saying that however its 500 times better than most of the drivel currently on the goggle box.

The problem i had with it was just that Waldo wasn't likeable or funny really. And the main guy was annoying and lacked imagination.

I'm not sure why people seem to comment on Jamie not being likeable like it's a problem, of course he isn't likeable, he plays a blue bear that makes bad jokes, look at RayWilliamJohnson of Youtube, commenting on viral videos / pop culture full with dick and ass "jokes", with millions of views every week, for all I know if he goes into politics there are probably enough idiots to vote for him to get him noticed.

A bit of pedantry from me: the review mentions "a young woman on the cusp of a new career in politics, having scraped into the role of a local Labour MP" and "... opponent Liam Monroe (Tobias Menzies) ... (the Tory MP mentioned earlier)". When the story begins, neither are MPs (Members of Parliament) - both are prospective parliamentary candidates. Otherwise they would have to stay out of the by-election storyline.

In USA we have so many "self-interested politicians/apathetic voters/cynical telly producers" in real life that we don't need shows about 'em.

I wonder whether the reason many viewers find the scenario presented in The Waldo Moment more ridiculous and less effective than previous episodes of BM is because it is so identifiably close to our immediate reality. Initially I was confused because the world presented in this episode seemed so familiar. I was constantly searching for a crazy technological advance to be revealed. The use of familiar, existant tech - social media - to bring about dystopic devolution was, to me, eerily logical and plausible. I found The Waldo Moment to be the most frightening episode of Black Mirror because of this.

That being said, I actually find it difficult to compare any of the episodes in terms of quality. Primarily this is because they are so all different that each feels like a separate, brief film, although all bare the unmistakeable hallmark of Brooker's direction.

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