black mirror 3‘The Waldo Moment’

Having returned to the worlds of relationships and dystopian futures, Charlie Brooker uses the final episode of Black Mirror’s second series to satirize politics similarly to the way he did in The National Anthem. The Waldo Moment is a both funny and often terrifying tale that highlights the distrust we have for politicians and the power TV can play in shaping our political opinion.

The ‘Waldo’ of the title refers to Waldo the bear, the cartoon star of a late night topical comedy show that lures high-profile guests in to situations where he can make smutty jokes at their expense. Determined to make Waldo a national success, the network sets out to make a pilot for a Waldo TV show in which he stands in a by-election against Conservative favorite Liam Monroe and Labour rival Gwendolyn Harris. However, things become complicated as Waldo’s popularity grows and grows. It’s a witty narrative that raises the sort of uncomfortable laughter that Brooker is a master at creating, but this is certainly a weaker installment in the Black Mirror canon; it just doesn’t ring true in the way the first two stories did.

A lot of the problems are down to the characters that are never given enough opportunity to develop. Jamie, the failed comedian who “controls” Waldo, is a prime example; he’s never given enough personality to make his angry outbursts towards the end of the story convincing, he’s simply shown as a weak, lonesome figure with no grasp of politics and little apparent interest in the character that’s making him money. Meanwhile Gwendolyn, who we see as a woman determined against the odds during the stories opening scenes, turns out to be just another politician who knows she can’t win and who stands for very little; it may not be far from the truth, but it stops her being the sympathetic character Brooker wants her to be.

It’s a shame as there’s something unescapably effective about Brooker’s tale, such is the abhorrent uselessness of our politicians that you can’t help but think a character like Waldo may be the kick in the backside they need. The problem is in knowing where to draw the line and it’s here that Brooker makes real impact. Jamie’s realization of the ridiculousness of Waldo is what drives the latter part of the narrative, as shady figures from the CIA approach Jamie and his boss to take Waldo international as a spokesperson against global politicians, Jamie’s cries that Waldo is nothing more than a silly carton bear fall on deaf ears. Waldo may be what the public want, but it isn’t what they need; a point pushed home during the shows slightly overcooked epilogue where we see Waldo as the new face of a British police state.

Weaker than the previous two installments but still the best drama on TV over the last 7 days, there really is no escaping the quality of Charlie Brooker’s ideas. Black Mirror has created a strong and deserved following through its ability to turn the little advances we see in technology in to often frightening ideas for our future; the next series cannot come quick enough.

★★★

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