Fifteen Million Merits review (Black Mirror S 1 E 2)
After skipping the first episode of Black Mirror (somebody spoiled it for me and… yeah, no thank you), I jumped into the cutting edge of 2011 entertainment and watched the second offering, “Fifteen Million Merits.” I loved it. Here’s why:
“Fifteen Million Merits” takes place in a dystopian future (I guess all the epsiodes do? But not the same one? Because it’s anthology, so they can do whatever?) where commoners live slave like existences as power generators via stationary bikes, during which they’re “treated” to choices in entertainment, which uses more power and often required the “merits” (money) they earn by generating said power. Yikes – that’s some society they got there.
The first thing you’re confronted with is the sound and production design. That opening low, dull, scary ambient sound had me rolling my eyes – I guess I found it a little on the nose for a series called Black Mirror, but it was quickly replaced with the fantastic design of Bing’s room (played with the exceptional range by Daniel Kaluuya, who I need to stop calling Get Out) and the general design of the world (building) that follows. The monotonous life they lived is dotted with characters – fellow drones on the bikes, middle management that herds everyone around, the superstars of television and the lowest of the low in this cast society, the janitors. This idea is reinforced by a game the bike drones play, a simple Doom clone where all of the enemies are people unfit for bike drones work who stalk the first person view in their bright yellow uniforms. I’m still fascinated by the idea that the cleaning crew sticks out in their burst of sunshine aprons while the rest of the costume and production design is gray, white and black, right down to the drab workout clothes the bike drones wear.
There’s so many story elements I love, so many fantastic little details – the television programming and the very system they use to watch the shows is just another wheel in the bike drone perpetual motion machine – their merits can even be spent on outfits for their avatars, which represent them in the digital system and as audience members at the American Idol styled show they watch. The pay to skip commercials they don’t like is another wonderful touch.
I don’t want to recap every single moment, but I really could – this episode is that good and you could just watch it, which would be infinity better. Before I wrap up, here’s some special notice for episode writers Charlie Brooker and Kanak Huq, who crafted a fantastic world and story, and to director Euros Lyn, who realized it. Jessica Brown Findlay (I know her from Downton Abbey) gives a subtle (and yet outstanding) performance as Abi that I think is easy to forget as she doesn’t have a ton of screen time and Kaluuya is owning the show by the end of the episode.
Wow, Black Mirror – you’ve made a serious impression on me. It’s amazing what you can do with just an hour of running time: build a world, create characters, tell a compelling story… take note, Hollywood movies. Can’t wait to see what else they’ve got!