Over the course of three disparate dramas, the Black Mirror series has explored the relationship between society and technology as the two become steadily more intertwined. In the first, The National Anthem, we were presented with a distorted view of present day London, as a British leader is psychologically bullied into an act of public humiliation by a fickle online public.
In last week’s 15 Million Merits, we were presented with a motion-sensitive future where citizens are literally imprisoned by entertainment. And in this final episode, The Entire History Of You, we’re introduced to the most intimate form of technology yet seen – a tiny computer that sits behind the ear, silently recording our memories like an internal Tivo. These memories can then be searched and reviewed like videoclips on an iPod; anything we’ve ever experienced can be called up and watched again and again.
Where 15 Million Merits offered up a claustophobic, Stanley Kubrick-inspired possible future, The Entire History Of You is set against a landscape apparently designed by Kevin McCloud – its small huddle of well-off, young and pretty characters live in airy, wide-open houses of glass and polished bamboo flooring, their shelves littered with expensive trinkets from gap year holidays.
All the cutting-edge architecture and technology in this future world can’t paper over the neurotic cracks beginning to appear in the mind of protagonist Liam (Toby Kebbell). Already on edge after a frosty appraisal meeting at work, he begins to suspect that his partner Ffion (Jodie Whittaker) may still hold a secret affection for cocky, successful ex-boyfriend Jonas (Tom Cullen).
Ffi insists that her fling with Jonas is ancient history, but Liam begins to obsess over his memories, searching through them for evidence of an affair – the bat of a loving eyelid towards Jonas, perhaps, or the unintentionally enthusiastic laugh over a lame joke. Liam’s memory recorder allows him to scratch an itch that, for the rest of us, is thankfully out of reach.
As is often the case in science fiction, The Entire History Of You explores the pitfalls of future technology. Given our current appetite for sharing carefully selected chunks of our personal lives on the Internet, the idea of people in the future recording and sharing memories isn’t too much of a stretch, and the way the episode depicts it is quite convincing, and extremely eerie.
If we had access to the same perfect catalogue of memories, wouldn’t we end up just as paranoid as Liam? As useful as it would be to have instant recall over things like where we parked the car after a busy shopping trip, or the exact date the battle of Stalingrad ended for a history exam, the way our memories fade over time may, in some cases, be a good thing.
It’s not clear, you could argue, why Ffion didn’t delete the parts of her memory in which Jonas appeared (it’s made clear elsewhere in the episode that it’s possible to do this) – it’s likely, I suppose, that she cherished those memories too much to get rid of them.
Given that The Entire History Of You was written by Peepshow co-writer Jessie Armstrong, it’s perhaps a little surprising that this episode is almost entirely devoid of humour – instead, it’s stark, simple and thought-provoking, helped along by some great acting from its small cast.
If I had one criticism of the episode, it’s that I wish it could have been a little longer. For one thing, I’d have loved to have seen how the memory recall tech has affected the outside world besides its three central characters – there’s a tiny hint, early on, that it’s used to combat terrorism, with airport security staff asking passengers to provide access to the last few days’ memories before they’re allowed to board. If citizens have no privacy over the memories, what does this mean for criminals?
Small though the episode’s canvas was, and despite the minor flaws in its plot (Liam and Ffion come home from a party in a taxi, and seconds later, tell the babysitter that she’ll have to wait 40 minutes for a cab), this was an appropriately bleak concluding episode of Black Mirror. As social media allows us to look back over our own timelines, and take the occasional peek into other people’s lives, its themes are particularly relevant.
Charlie Brooker once described his creation as a kind of Twilight Zone for the Facebook age, a meditation on contemporary fears filtered through the lenses of sci-fi and satire. Although not always perfect, the Black Mirror series has consistently offered up a grim reflection of modern society, and every episode has proved to be irresistably watchable.
More please, Mister Brooker.
You can read our review of Black Mirror episode two here.