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black mirror 1‘Be Right Back’

Having made a memorable dent in the TV schedules last year with it’s satirical imagining at the present and possible future of our modern technologically reliant society (complete with pig fornication), Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror is back with a new set of “bleak dramas” as the Channel 4 phrase it. They’re not wrong either, if the opening episode Be Right Back is anything to go by; it’s a tale of loss and how technology can help or hinder you moving on, while also showing just how much we are living online now through social networks. Similar in tone to The Entire History of You, the highlight of the first series, it’s a quietly devastating piece that fascinates by not feeling at all implausible.

The fantastic Hayley Atwell plays Martha who, on the day she moves in with love of her life Ash, looses him in a traffic accident. Devastated, Martha finds it difficult to move forward; but a new technology that allows you to communicate with lost love ones through email & phone, by collecting the deceased’s entire online footprint, may allow Martha to continue her life with Ash. The genius of the narrative is in taking a pain we all share at some point and can identify with; we all wish that lost loved ones were back with us, but Brooker’s drama asks whether the reality would be as magical as we hope it would be?

Initially it does appear to answer all of Martha’s prayers, who is understandably skeptic of the idea. In fact she begins to spend all of her time talking to Ash, shutting out the actual friends and family that are trying to help her. However, Martha begins to realize that nothing could ever replace the real Ash when she gets a clone of him, who can say the words but not mimic the actions & emotions that go with them. The story’s climatic scene at Beachy Head captures the emotion of the situation effortlessly, Brooker’s gentle dialogue allowing the tension to build slowly to a tearful but not melodramatic finale.

Hayley Atwell carries the show almost singlehandedly; Martha is an instantly likeable character and Atwell’s chemistry with Domhnall Gleeson’s Ash during the opening few scenes allows the audience to become invested in the relationship, a requirement given the episode’s emotion is based on Martha not wanting to move forward. The lingering close-ups of Martha as she moves around her empty house feel like an emotional punch in the gut.

It’s not all doom though and Brooker has fun showing the progression of technology, which he does subtly but effectively. The two technological innovations that stood out for me being the pregnancy test that plays music & shows a happy cartoon baby when you’re pregnant, and the pad that can both fix and recharge your phone in a matter of seconds.

Tackling a subject found in countless dramas & managing to make it engaging and original, Brooker’s return to TV drama is possibly his best work to date. Helmed by a spellbinding performance by Hayley Atwell, Be Right Back devastates dramatically, while managing to present our reliance on technology in an all-to-real way.

★★★★★

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