We Review Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror SN01 EP02 – ‘Fifteen Million Merits’
Check out our review for episode 01 HERE!
The story in the 2nd episode of the anthology series, Black Mirror, takes place in a dystopian society where fame is the end goal. In this world, citizens are constantly cycling on a stationary bicycle to earn currency called merits. Everyone wears the same colored grey sweats, day in and day out to further push conformity within the society until they possibly breakout into stardom. In order for these individuals to earn their star power they must pay for a golden ticket to an X-Factor/American Idol/America’s Got Talent-type of television show called Hot Shot where 3 judges by the names of Hope, Charity, and Wraith decide whether you are talented enough to escape the paradoxical society everyone seems to be stuck in.
Bingham “Bing” Madsen is found in a day to day lull. Bing tends to cycle next to a very crass individual named Dustin, who gets a giggle out of watching and tormenting obese individuals. Anyone who is overweight and out of shape is considered the lowest of the low and usually end up cleaning up after the cyclists, wearing a bright yellow scrubs to establish their place in this society, often called Lemons. While people cycle, there’s a huge screen in front of each person in which people can choose to watch television programs or take part in video game type programs. In the middle of these programs are ads that cannot be skipped unless you pay some of your merits to do so. At the end of the cycler’s day, they return to their rooms where they are surrounded by screens to either tune into programs, play video games and be interrupted by ads.
Bing is cycling, as usual, expressionless with his arms folded in an apathetic demeanor. Swift a fellow cyclist stares at Bing clearly interested in some type of romance, while Dustin is sitting there looking disgusting as always, licking his lips and lusting away at a television pornographic program called Wraith Babes as a larger woman tries to clean around him, Dustin gets triggered at the sight of the woman in the reflection of his television, he then calls her a “pie ape” and throws a plastic bottle at her while she leaves the scene. Uninterested with his surroundings, Bing cycles through the programs listed in front of him and he chooses to cycle to a simulation of his avatar riding a bicycle at the same pace he is cycling. Bing buys lunch from a vending machine and goes into his room to play a video game where he shoots obese people in yellow scrubs with a shotgun. This is Bing’s schedule, day in and day out. This is a good time to note that Bing is absolutely loaded in merits, it just seems he doesn’t know what to do with all of it. Bing’s room starts to show an ad for Wraith Babes as pornographic moaning and music fill his rooms, Bing face-palms at the annoyance of the program, the whole room turns red with an audio recording repeatedly saying “Resume Viewing” while playing a very annoying high-pitched tone in the background. The screen asks if he’d like to view for 10,000 Merits, Bing looks up at his merit earnings on the screen (15,015,829 Merits) shrugs and decides to continue the program, he lifts his hand and reluctantly accepted to watch the program.
Another day of cycling begins, Bing enters the elevator to start his day when a new arrival appears, a dark haired green eyed girl, Abi who seems to be the only one with a smile on her face. They arrive at the cycles and Bing seems to have taken an interest to the new girl. He goes into the bathroom (which we are now learning is uni-sex) and hears a beautiful singing voice. As he walks over to wash his hands we actually get to hear Bing’s voice for the first time, and his opening line to this beautiful girl is “Washing my hands” as he tries to start up a conversation, an ad for wraith babes appears as he tries to wave it off, she walks away giggling while he stands in the bathroom embarrassed. At the end of the day, Bing finds himself in his room singing the lyrics he heard Abi reciting earlier in the bathroom.
Bing and Abi then start to have their first actual conversation the next day during lunch, Bing starts to praise Abi of her singing voice, pulling the moves on her, calling her beautiful and simply wooing her via compliments and charm. Bing then suggests Abi try out for Hot Shot. She then advises Bing that it is way too expensive to try out, Bing then said he will pay for her golden ticket as we find out his large amount of merits is an inheritance from his late brother. At this point, it’s a bit crazy how he is all in for Abi after only a day of meeting her. He states he is going to force her to try out and after a little bit of persuasion Abi accepts and walks away happily calling Bing a loon. There Bing lyes in his room, he reluctantly purchases a ticket for 15,000,000 merits and sends it over to Abi’s room where she smiles in disbelief when a wraith babes ad interrupts Bing once again, he skips the ad and he is now reduced to 8,407 Merits.
Both Bing and Abi head to the Hot Shot tryouts and screening where they are in a room full of people who are either doing voice exercises, warming up, stretching or practicing whatever talent they are going to showcase to the judges. A man in a black sweat suit with the Hot Shot logo on it then speaks into a blue tooth goes up to Abi and says she will be screened next, as he is taking her to be screened a white-haired Scottish woman screams in a rage, stating she’s been waiting there for a week and how unfair it is that Abi gets to go next. Abi looks at a camera states she would like to be big and then just like that she’s up next to audition in front of the judges.
Before Abi goes on stage, the crew hands her a juice box filled with a drink named “Cuppliance” which at first she declines, though they advised that this is needed in order for her to try out. Abi drinks the “Cuppliance” and steps onto the stage. Timid at first the judges then force her to come closer into the light, as they ask what she’ll be performing Judge Wraith demands Abi to lift her shirt. Obviously, Abi does not comply with this demand as the judges grant her permission to sing, she begins to sing her song. As talented as Abi is, the three judges sit there expressionless, and uninterested. Judge Hope raises his hand and says that it was probably the best singing they’ve heard today, he downplays his comment by saying Abi is a good singer but not a great singer. He then begins to tell Abi that she should join Wraith’s erotica channel with the innocent look that Abi has to offer. As Abi begins to disagree, Wraith and Hope continue to talk her into joining the erotic channel. Bing tries to run on stage but is grappled by multiple backstage crew members. As they continue to sell to Abi about how better the erotic channel will be better than biking every day, the millions of cyclists watch in their rooms while their avatars are present to Abi’s tryout. You can hear the crowd booing Abi at the fact that she is considering denying the opportunity to escape the cycling society. Judge Hope then asks for a final decision while the crowd of avatars chant “DO IT! DO IT! DO IT!”.
Feeling pressured, Abi looks off to the side, unsure of her decision and says “I suppose.” The crowd cheers as Abi stands on the stage, tears filling her eyes, in defeat.
Bing is now found back in the paradox. Dustin, the cyclist next to Bing is actually watching the episode of Wraith Babes that is including Abi. Bing is back to his apathetic nature before meeting Abi 3 days ago. As Bing is sitting in his rooms, he sits with only 839 Merits. The Wraith Babes ad comes on and recaps how the Hot Shot judges pressure Abi into the pornographic show. Bing is now forced to watch the woman he was falling for be used on national television.
He closes his eyes as the room turns red constantly telling him to resume viewing as he cannot pay to skip the ad. He starts losing his mind, beating the screens that surround him, punching and smashing all the screens showing his beloved getting pummeled by some random man while she sings the same song he heard her sing in the bathroom. Bing then looks down at the empty “Cuppliance” box he had from Abi’s try out and a piece of broken glass from the screens he just punched in.
The next day Bing is the first one in the cycle room. He seems to be saving all of his merits as the montage we see of him not buying food but actually eating other’s leftovers, cycling before people arrive and after everyone leaves. We also see Bing begin to practice dancing. After weeks and weeks of intense cycling and dancing, he’s finally saved up enough merits to buy himself a golden ticket for a spot on Hot Shot. With zero merits left to his name, Bing makes his way to the Hot Spot screening process once again. He is found in the room with the familiar white haired Scottish woman who was yelling at Abi the first time he visited.
The same man with the earpiece is told to bring in someone who is ethnic, he sees Bing and tells him it’s his turn to be previewed. They ask him to tell the screen what he is, Bing looks straight at the camera and says “I’m an entertainer”. Before he goes on stage a woman tries to give him a “Cuppliance”. He’s holding his empty box of “Cuppliance” and tells the woman they’ve already gave him one. She tells him okay and he’s good to go on stage, he drops the box of “Cuppliance” on the floor and goes on stage to confront the judges. Bing steps on stage with very little to say, they ask what he’d be doing and he simply stated, “A performance” intrigued by mystery the judges allow him to proceed. Music plays and Bing begins to dance. In the middle of his performance, he takes out the broken piece of glass, pulls it up to his neck, demands to stop the music, points at the workers behind stage and threatens to take his own life if they take another step.
Bing now has the attention of the judges, unprepared he stumbles upon his words at first as Wraith tells him to just kill himself. Bing then goes on an amazing rant about how the society is full of fakes and disingenuous people, and how the society they live is only measured by what we buy or what talent we hold. He then tells the judges that they are at fault, sitting there passing judgment to people with false hope and identity. He then informs the judges that they turned the one thing he truly wanted in the world into a joke in a kingdom of millions of jokes and they are to blame for society turning into… well, crap.
The crowd goes silent, the judges as well, until Judge Hope says “That was the most heartfelt thing I’ve seen on this stage since Hot Shot began!” This gets the crowd going, cheers and claps surround the station. Judge Hope then begins to side with Bing telling him that Bing is speaking truth and authenticity, offering Bing a slot on one of his streams where he can talk just like how he did on stage for 30 minutes 2 times a week. The crowd is now cheering “DO IT! DO IT! DO IT!” familiarly.
Bing is now part of his very own television program where he talks conspiracies and his pessimistic views of the dystopian society the people live in, still holding the piece of broken glass to his neck. After his broadcast, he tells his viewers they’ll see him the same time next week, he pours himself some orange juice and takes a look out his window to a very lush outside world.
Abi is still part of Wraith Babes and currently has 47 special erotic episodes.
I loved the episode. The views and satire on how these talent shows are and how society glorifies them and obsesses over the 15 minutes of fame is a great concept for an episode. Though I can’t say I can agree with the irony of the ending, as I was hoping for Bing to really stick it to the judges. That being said, another great execution by Charlie Brooker. Do you agree with my 15 minutes of fame statement? Is our society on our way to a similar dystopian society hungered by fame? Would you have taken judge Wraith’s offer over cycling?
Check out our review of episode 03 HERE!
- Concept gets you thinking about society and what we value.
- Unsatisfying ironic ending.