Black Mirror series 2 episode 2: White Bear spoiler-filled review

Review Ryan Lambie 19 Feb 2013 - 07:34

Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror takes a nightmarish turn in its second episode. Here's Ryan's spoiler-filled review of White Bear...

Warning: the following contains spoilers.

"I think, with a lot of dramas, people come back to them hoping to see the same characters, and be assured by the same characters every week. You know what you're getting most of the time when you tune into a drama. What we always hoped with Black Mirror is that you don't know what you're getting..."

So said writer and series creator Charlie Brooker in a recent BAFTA Q&A, which took place after a private screening of series two's opening episode, Be Right Back. Of all the Black Mirror episodes we've seen so far, White Bear fulfilled that remit outlined above; its horror-infused drama leaves us unsure whom we can trust or what will happen next, and its last act is truly gut-wrenching.

Like protagonist Victoria (Lenora Crichlow), we're left bewildered by the episode's assaultive opening. Waking up in a chair to the hiss of TV static, Victoria finds herself in an apparently ordinary house. Her wrists have been bandaged, possibly from a self-inflicted wound; a little sprinkling of pills lies at her feet.

Confused, Victoria ventures outside, emerging into the autumn gloom of a British housing estate. Its residents stand eerily silent behind plastic double glazing, recording Victoria's every movement on their mobile phones. We're barely given more than a few seconds to ponder the meaning of all this before a blue car pulls up, a masked man exits, withdraws a shotgun from the boot, and takes careful aim at Victoria's head.

Just as Be Right Back appeared to mark a growing confidence in Charlie Brooker's writing, with its subtle approach giving the events and performances greater impact, so White Bear sees Brooker pare back his use of dialogue to an extent rarely seen in television drama. These opening scenes, which are almost bereft of chatter other than Victoria's plaintive "Can you help me? I can't remember who I am," are all the more effective for their economy, and the subsequent chase, which begins with that masked figure pulling a gun from his car, is truly the stuff of nightmares - like Kafka with added mobile phone cameras.

Admittedly, the use of amnesia isn't the most original of plot devices, but the fearsome pace director Carl Tibbetts brings to the story's first act gives us little time to reflect on this. Before we know it, Victoria's survived a Dawn Of The Dead-like encounter at a petrol station, and teamed up with Jem (Tuppence Middleton), a feisty young woman who has a much stronger handle on the situation. The population, she tells us, has been enslaved by subliminal messages on TVs and mobile phones. While most have become zombie-like voyeurs, one in ten have devolved into hunters, like the one with the mask and the shotgun. "They seemed normal," Jem explains, "but then they realised they could do what they like. And now they've got an audience."

As a helpful rescuer (played by Kill List's Michael Smiley) turns out to be another vicious hunter, the sense of horror keeps building; the use of woodland settings, crucified bodies and the gleeful waving around of power tools evokes the memory of a legion 70s exploitation movies, helped along by Crichlow's uncanny ability to emit blood-curdling screams.

If there's a criticism to be levelled at the first two-thirds of White Bear, it's that Victoria's carried helplessly along by events. It's only at the end of the second act that Victoria stops crying and finally takes control, and pulls the trigger on a shotgun herself - and that sputtering blast signals the plot's icily abrupt left turn.

As what turns out to be a television set parts to reveal a baying studio audience, it briefly seems as though Victoria has been involved in some sort of Derren Brown-style hypnotic experiment - like last year's Apocalypse, perhaps, where a lazy young man was prodded out of inactivity by being fooled into thinking he was trapped in the middle of a zombie armageddon.

Instead, the truth is revealed to be much, much darker: Victoria is a criminal, convicted for her part in the brutal killing of a young girl. As punishment, she's subjected to the repeated physical and psychological torture of Whitebear Justice Park, an enclosed space where the public can observe and record her daily suffering, like a cross between Michael Crichton's West World and Woburn Safari Park.

The final act is powerful for several reasons. While the rug-pull turn of events is a great one for those who didn't expect it, the truth of Victoria's past is more shocking still. The similarities between real-life murderers - Ian Huntley and Maxine Carr, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley - are obvious, the prolonged scenes of Michael Smiley's master tormentor and his enraged crowd disquieting; there are several visual and thematic parallels to The Wicker Man and Kill List, in which Smiley also starred.

Nasty though White Bear is, with its allusions to real-life witch hunts often led by red-top newspapers, it's more than mere attention-seeking: there's a certain sense of morality underlying this episode, as there so often is in Black Mirror. White Bear explores how human empathy breaks down when individuals are reduced to an image on a screen, and concludes, quite rightly, that whether it's directed at the innocent or the guilty, cruelty is still cruelty.

Once again, strong ideas, intelligent writing and great direction came together to create a disturbing reflection of the present.

You can read our review of Black Mirror series 2 episode 1, Be Right Back, here.

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It was, for me, a lot more interesting than last week (which was very well written, but was essentially 'Truly, Madly, Deeply' for the 21st Century). This was more original in the moral quandary, and well realised. But I couldn't watch it again. The constant screaming and wailing drove me demented! It was a good story, and I guess in her predicament it was understandable, but, purely for this reason (my intolerance of the moaning) I think I would have preferred it as a written story.

Comparisons with Derren Brown's Apocalypse aside, the first half reminded me of Stephen King's Cell.

Love Black Mirror and the three week episode cycle is perfect, but perhaps have a year between each series instead of two?

I agree with RobotChubby - really enjoyed it but the constant whimpering, moaning, groaning, weeping, screaming, blubbing etc made it a little of an ordeal to watch. And I know that was sort of the point but not sure it was necessary to be so sonically aggressive. I just felt for the actress who must have found the shoot exhausting! Very very good though.

Agreed, however the final scene of her screaming her head of was very disturbing and rightly induced an element of pity for her.

The constant screaming didn't bother me- Victoria was reduced to a whimpering child, just like her victim was. Her childlike sobbing when watching her crime play out...kudos to Lenora for a brilliant performance.

White Bear was one of the bleakest, darkest, most disturbing hours of tv. Genius.

Another good episode. It was a shame that it was all too easy workout that this was a take on reality shows.

I really think Lenora Crichlow is lousy, in pretty much everything she's in. Her lack of activity in this episode actually meant that the action was being driven by the other characters, so it was generally brilliant. I was watching the first half and thinking a) it's very, very Dollhouse, and b) I don't buy it, if the 'hunters' are just people freed from inhibitions (it'd mean that essentially they were normal, and if 10% of society were normal, surely there'd still be 10% of, say, police officers?). Fortunately the reveal (which was stunningly well done) sorted both of those issues out. Fantastic, utterly traumatising episode.

yeah, i agree that it was better than last week's. the concept feels like it could sync into neil gibson's twisted dark comic book series. cross-over?

Is anyone else just not buying it at all? I mean, they're interesting ideas on the very surface but the worlds and the very ideas just don't make sense to me if you scratch just a little bit under the surface. For example, its really obvious that as a punishment that would count as torture and cruel and unusual punishments are already illegal in our society so its only really saying something we already know. I didnt buy the world building in the first one as if there was sufficiently advanced tech for the third version of the husband that would such an advanced technological society it should significantly more different to our own world than it does, not only that for someone to be able to sign you up with no permission from you so that suddenlly you recieve a fake message from your dead husband would instantly get the company sued. I just can't suspend my disbelief watching these. They seem a triumph of direction and acting, but the underlying themes just dont work for me. Am I on my own here?

I pretty much agree with the review- but Maxine Carr didn't murder anyone guys- that was Ian Huntley on his own. She was found guilty of giving him a false alibi, she had nothing to do with the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.

I think so, yeah.
Try thinking more 'sci-fi' when you watch it.
Like obviously these things are completely ridiculous, but the concepts generally stem from over-reliance on technology.
It's not saying 'this will happen if we get too dependent on phones', but 'imagine if this could be a possibility'.
It's less a literal warning than a bit of a dystopia.

IMHO these programmes are based in alternate realities. Close enough to our own to be recognisable, but obviously not. Take even S1 EP1 with it's different TV channel names.

This episode made me think of the Jamie Bulger case. I wondered, if you gave the public the option of this scenario as punishment for the killers, would they would have accepted? For me it also drew on - and I seriously loath this term - torture porn. I'm thinking of Viktoria's screaming the entire way through, particularly in the drill scene.* The audience inside and outside the story (i.e., us) is compelled to above all enjoy themselves watching this psychological torture. Didn't you? So what's the difference between the killers and the audience? I'm not sure that there's a moral. BM simply points out the sickness of the human spirit.

* Also, the idea of eternal punishment is essentially Hell. I've always been sickened by the delight of religious fundamentalists enjoying the thought of others in eternal pain and suffering

But thats why I have problems with it, the whole 'imagine if this could be a possibility', that's not what the world would look like if it were.

I would love LOVE to bang that Leonora woman.

So. Who exactly did Maxine Carr kill?

Stick to watching Hollyoakes, you complete dullard.

"For example, its really obvious that as a punishment that would count as torture and cruel and unusual punishments are already illegal in our society so its only really saying something we already know."

But there's the rub, I've read comments on other reviews of this episode stating they agreed with this type of punishment for someone who kills children. This kind of knee-jerk, emotional response to brutal crimes wouldn't exactly be too hard to imagine right? He who fights monsters is destined to become one.

I mean our society already revels in the misery of other, less deserving people (i.e. those in the spotlight).

I agree it doesn't stand up to a deep analysis but it holds together as a drama, What would have made it more interesting moral question if there was anyone putting an alternate point of view by trying to stand up for the criminal.

Making her amnesiac all the way through the story was a cop out it basically makes her an innocent throughtout the story. after everything was revealed it would have been good to see the real criminal, was she sorry? was she still making excuses? how did she react to her crime? her situation? If she had no recollection of her crime then they were tortoring a blank slate. esentailly an innocent, so much easier to feel sorry for but this wasnt explored in any depth. Great ideas and certainly wouldnt see anything like this on any other channel. can't wait for next weeks story.

I was reasonably entertained and engaged during most of this episode, however the final reveal took me right out of it. It was totally unbelievable and ridiculous, especially coming after the superb first ep.

Yes, I get the premise behind the series, but gratuitous and repeated torture inflicted on any individual as a theme park enjoyment for the masses is just too unbelievable, especially since the rest of the 'real' world appears to be bog-standard contemporary normal. Had the setting been made more exotic or just different/unfamiliar, then perhaps I might have swallowed the premise more readily. As it was, while executed competently, it was a major flop.

I think there was much, much more being said here. You should think again!

Watched this last night and I really like the themes Mr Brooker is exploring here in his Black Mirror! Good to see it promoting such discussion and thought!

As well as targeting our voyeuristic tendencies, it seems to say something a bit deeper about our sense of justice, entitlement, and our collective tendency to witch hunt. Obviously this is an alternate reality where the themes are exaggerated to make the point, but it won't take a long search of the internet to find a video of someone filming a real world event - where they should be helping.

After reading many comments about this, I think there's something a bit clever hidden in the detail too. All we know is that she filmed the torture. And the assumption is that she did a bad thing on purpose. Whereas the circumstances of the event or her relationship with the man are not made clear - she may have had no choice (People who torture children tend not to be too nice to anyone.) But the real world audience were very quick to simply accept the fact she was evil with very little evidence to go on - hardly any - and so the nature of the debate was more about cruelty to the cruel. Very much reminded me of a Yahoo/TheSun message board.

Utterly bleak and hopeless. I loved it!!

Why is that not what the world would look like?
It could look like anything, it's an imagined world.
Like someone else said, it's like an alternate reality, so it's LIKE ours, but it ISN'T ours.
Buildings could get up off their foundations, sprout wings and fly away and that would still be fine, because it's not pretending to be actual reality.
It's... it's not the hardest concept to grasp.

Its whats called an 'Extended Metaphor'

can anyone tell me how long she's been punished? at the end he crosses out another date on the calendar showing october, so at least 2 weeks but maybe theres a clue somewhere to witch month her trial finished in. i looked but couldn't find one.

great episode. its about how our society still loves witch hunts. its implied she is mentally unstable and she is clearly easily led, hence the first 2 acts being on rails to the point of resembling a ghost train. i think its clear who the vilien is; the boyfriend who "escaped justices by hanging himself" (a twisted line of dialogue if ever i herd one). he manipulated a mentally incapable person into helping him toucher this little girl. when he died the nations thirst for blood still need to be satisfied hences this amusement/linching park.

'the boyfriend who "escaped justice by hanging himself" (a twisted line of dialogue if ever i herd one).'

but true to life, remember Fred West, he killed himself before the trial for the 11 murders he committed and there were lots of of similar statements in the press, same with Harold Shipman

Anyone else spot the US +and+ UK power sockets in the room? Presumably filmed on an unused US air base in the UK. (Well it IS den of geek!)
Must say the 'crosses on the calendar' gave it away right at the start, I mean I know it might have been an intentional early reveal, but I was just left thinking 'does anyone ACTUALLY do that?!' when I first saw it. Obviously it all made sense at the end.

Finally got around to watch this and found it horrific, and a work of genius. The treatment brought to mind the way baying internet mobs are so keen to convict and judge and the archaic sense of justice, and what judgement is. The scariest thing I found about this show (and all these in general) is just how close to the bone these explorations come - given the rage (rage seems to have been the theme this season) of the collective public in cases such as this fictional one, the April Jones case and others, you can fully imagine this being a dream in many angry minds.
And glad I finally know who Tuppence Middleton is!

White Bear was probably my least favorite episode of Black Mirror. The "explanation" given to Victoria at the beginning "conveniently" sounds like an episode of Black Mirror, itself, so as to simultaneously deceive both Victoria and the audience. If it had just been a straight-up post-apocalyptic setting the audience would have known a twist was in store, so instead we have to have people running around with cell phones. In other words, the story is heavily dictated by the format. Never a good thing.

And it wouldn't seem so stupid if it weren't so unnecessary. Why does the public need to be there in person? Why take the risk, either to them or to Victoria? Because then it wouldn't be Black Mirror, that's why.

After the big reveal, we see another "day in the life" for Victoria with some behind-the-scenes footage of the facility and cast. The problem is, we don't see anyone else being punished. The biggest pitfall of this form of punishment is that it's dependent on the viewer- whatever the viewer sees as adequate punishment, that's the punishment the victim receives. It's more entertainment than punitive.

The problem that I can see arising is what if the people being punished are batshit insane? A person might go through the exact same experience as Victoria with their memory wiped, and then burst out laughing at the reveal of the audience, begging to go again. We also don't get to see any due process, which would establish that, in the situation previously described, the sentence was passed permanently and couldn't be changed. Society could attempt to create hell for its worst members, and might accidentally create heaven for its sickest.

But we don't get to see any of that.

And so it's a dystopian story where we don't get to see really any dystopian aspects. As far as we can tell the punishment works gloriously- there's nothing dystopian about it if it works. So seriously, why am I not just marathoning the Saw/Hostel movies if all I want is torture porn with 0 discussion of society or morality? Aside from cell phone cameras and being "really dark," it just didn't seem like the Black Mirror I've come to expect.

imagine if they'd revealed that in-fact she was not guilt. food for thought would you not say?

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