Damn. I thought I knew where this episode was going but then that ending came. This is why I like Charlie Brooker's writing so much, just when you think you know what is going to happen, the exact opposite happens. It worked wonders last week with Be Right Back and it's work brilliantly again with White Bear. Now in order for me to give my full thoughts on this episode I will need to spoil the ending. For warning, the first two paragraphs will talk about the episode prior to the ending and there will be a nice long gap before I talk about the ending. That said, if you don't want this episode spoilt for you I suggest you go and watch this episode as soon as possible, although that may take a while if you're not British. With that set up, here's my review of White Bear.
Firstly, the premise of the episode is incredible. A woman wakes up with no memory to see the majority of people filming her and a few trying to either kill or help her every since the mysterious White Bear signal appeared on everything with a screen in the UK, possibly the world. Right away this sets up some really frightening stuff that could happen, which Brooker does with gusto. I have a feeling that he was inspired by all the stories from the 2011 London Riots which talked about how people just filmed all of the chaos going on around them whilst not doing anything to stop it. You get a sense that this could eventually happen in the future, which has always been the greatest strength in Black Mirror. The whole idea of memory loss also works well in that you're always wondering if the woman's memories will return and it thrusts the audience into the mindset of a person who has absolutely no idea what is going on and why it is happening.
This is helped by the acting, granted Lenora Chrichlow can get a bit annoying at some points but her fear about what's happening seems completely genuine. You really emphasise with the character because you feel what she's going through. Tuppence Middleton also does a great job as the person in control, knowing everything that's happening. However, the real star of this episode is Michael Smiley. Now I know Smiley best for playing Tyres in Spaced and for his brief roles recently in the pretty good Ripper Street and the incredible Utopia and from those I didn't realise how scary Smiley could be. His stuff around the mid-point of the show is terrifying and you really don't know what he's going to do next. His best stuff though is at the end.
Be Warned, this is the last point where there will be no spoilers.
So at the end of the episode, it is revealed that the women is Victoria, a woman convicted for the murder of an 11 year old girl whose picture she was carrying around, thinking it was her daughter. She and her fiancée tortured and killed the girl, the fiancée doing the act and Victoria filming it. The White Bear signal turns out to be a symbol in the hunt for the missing girl. It turns out that the whole scenario didn't exist it is a form of poetic justice for what she did, having to go through the scenario every single day with her memory painfully wiped at the end of each day. All the people filming being members of the public who pay to watch her suffer and the people who are seemingly unaffected are all actors. It's at this point that Michael Smiley goes all out in his performance, his joy over what he's doing and the disgust he feels towards Victoria coming front and centre. This part of the show brings in the true message of the show, the sociopathic tendencies in humanity to watch people suffer for their crimes. The fact that it all takes place in an adventure park style scenario, even down to the centre being called the White Bear Justice Park, makes the whole creepy nature of the scenario even more horrifying, everyone was loving watching her suffer. In many ways this reminds me of the whole witch-hunt surrounding the Jimmy Saville case and the calls for greater punishment coming from the Daily Mail, our pursuit of justice for the victims becomes clouded by wanting to punish the perpetrators as cruelly as possible for what they did. To this extent, Brooker turns this story into a harsh critique or everyone's thirst for vengeance.
So there we go, the whole show was brilliant beforehand but the ending was so dark and so powerful that my love for this episode increased even further. Whilst I don't think it's as good as last weeks episode, mainly due to a few pieces of annoying acting early on in the episode, this is still an incredible piece of television and perfectly lives up to the Black Mirror name.
My Rating: 4.5/5
Come back next week for the final part of these Black Mirror reviews with the political satire of The Waldo Moment.