Black Mirror is a 2011 science fiction TV series along the lines of The Twilight Zone. Each episode is meant to be a self contained story of approximately one hour. As such, I will review episodes individually as shorts rather than reviewing the show as if it were cohesive. It was created by Charlie Brooker. “Fifteen Million Merits” is the second episode of season one.
“Fifteen Million Merits” features a young man named Bing who, along with all of the youth, generates power on a stationary bike to earn merits. These merits pay for everything: toothpaste, vended food, skipping commercials. His life is spent surrounded by screens. His bedroom is essentially a bed inside of a television, and the bikes all face screens. Bing has inherited his dead brother’s merits, so at the beginning of the episode we see that he is generally easy-going and can do as he wants in the complex he’s in.
Of course we go through a fairly typical set-up. Bing meets a girl. She’s new. She has a talent. He will give up everything to help her realize her talent because he loves her. The next paragraph contains spoilers; skip to after the picture to continue reading the review.
Getting out of the complex seems to only happen by winning on a show called “Hot Shot” (think American Idol or Britain’s Got Talent). Tickets to perform on the show cost 15 million merits. He happens to have just over that, and accompanies her to her audition, where she winds up being coerced into the porn industry. Bing, now poor and very upset about his girlfriend-not-girlfriend becoming a pornstar is also forced to watch her videos because he can’t afford to skip the commercials she stars in. He goes a little mental, smashes one of his bedroom screens and starves/steals his way to 15 million merits so he can buy a ticket to perform on “Hot Shot.” He smuggles in a shard of glass, threatening suicide once he has the audience’s attention, and starts raving about being trapped in the terrible cycle that takes away everything “real.” Things don’t go as he expects, and he winds up winning the show and getting his own channel twice a week, in which he holds that same shard of glass to his neck and rants at the screen watchers. End spoiler.
This episode is a very powerful social commentary. It speaks strongly of the world we live in. Surrounding us every day are our laptops, televisions, smart phones. The desperation Bing has to find something “real” and hold onto it so tightly is easy to connect with. It’s a craving we all have in this virtual world we live in. The concept resonates, the characters are reflections of the best and worst sides of ourselves, the setting is frighteningly realistic. “Fifteen Million Merits” was overall well done, and I applaud Brooker and the episode’s co-writer Kanak Huq.