Continuing the reviews of Black Mirror is what I would say is my favourite episode from series 1, 15 Million Merits. Even put against the bizarre brilliance of The National Anthem and the emotional power of The Entire History Of You, I find the world created in this episode, along with the characters and writing, to push this one over the edge. It's not my favourite episode of Black Mirror, that honour goes to Be Right Back, but it is a close second.
The plot revolves around a world in which the population has to peddle exercise bikes constantly in order to generate the power. Whilst doing this, they receive entertainment in the form of pornography, game shows abusing the overweight etc, the main one though is a variant of The X Factor called Hot Shots. In this world we find Bing, who one day sees Abi, a new arrival to his area and, after hearing her sing, wants her to go on Hot Shots, offering to pay the 15 million merit (merits being the currency in this world) fee. During the show, Abi ends up being pressured into becoming a porn star, greatly upsetting Bing who makes plans to get even. The world this episode creates is one that, while rooted in sci-fi, is not outside the realm of possibility. With the omnipresence smartphones and Microsoft creating the Kinect, many of the technologies in the episode are within grasp. The abuse that is leveled towards the overweight is also something we see today from people like the vile Katie Hopkins, and the stuff in this episode is just an extension of that. There's also a lot of intrigue surrounding the world itself, the fact that it only seems to be people in their 20's who are on the bikes, what the world outside is like, whether the bikes actually generating power, it's all really intriguing stuff, with all of this being aided by the production design and direction that creates this really clinical, enclosed environment. The stuff with Hot Shots meanwhile is brilliantly handled, with the co-writer of the episode Konnie Huq (who also happens to be Charlie Brooker's wife) putting her experience of the behind the scenes details of The X Factor to good use, showing the lack of care given to the participants and the pressure that are placed under to accept any offer they are given. The ending meanwhile is incredibly disturbing, having a lot of shades of Network in there, which helps bring the central point regarding the influence of the media home.
The acting also helps to bring the themes across really well. Daniel Kaluuya as Bing and Jessica Brown Findlay as Abi are excellent. Kaluuya brilliantly shows the boredom over his situation and how mundane it is and when Abi comes in, we see his love for her shine through. When Abi chooses to become a porn star, the anger he shows comes across brilliantly and his acting at the end of the episode perfectly sums up the themes of the episode. Findlay meanwhile provides a bright spark in an incredibly mundane world, the main theme regarding her character, and her singing voice is really good, which puts us in the mindset of Bing that her singing should be heard. She also gives an indication that she doesn't want to go on the show and is only doing so to please Bing. When it comes to the decision regarding becoming a porn star, we see Abi being a drug called Cuppliance before she went on stage and her performance makes it unclear whether she made the choice of her own free will or whether it was the result of the drug. There are also entertaining performances from Rupert Everett, Julia Davis and Ashley Thomas as the talent show judges, with Everett's performance in particular being a pretty severe takedown of Simon Cowell. Their performances are just the right level of over-the-top, indicating a lack of empathy with the people on stage, which is especially prominent at the ending of the episode.
Overall, 15 Million Merits is one of my favourite episodes of Black Mirror, although that isn't really saying much considering how brilliant every episode is. The world this episode creates is unique yet has a strong basis in today's world, the acting is excellent and the ending of the episode has this great message regarding the influence of the media on the ideas of the individual.
My Rating: 5/5