Black Mirror: Fifteen Million Merits
December 24, 2014 4:08 PM - Season 1, Episode 2 - Subscribe

In a bleak,automated future Britain, Bing is one of millions who pedal exercise bikes to create energy as a living.
posted by oh yeah! (22 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
The Netflix episode summary gave away one of the twists - "After failing to impress the judges on a singing competition show, a woman must either perform degrading acts or return to a slave-like existence." - and while I'm generally a 'no spoilers, please' kind of viewer, I think I appreciated this episode more than the pilot because I was braced for the impending doom.
posted by oh yeah! at 4:15 PM on December 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


I didn't think this was a strong episode, as much as it is presenting a single exploration to it's conclusion. Some of the other Black Mirror episodes will whiz and dance around with many concepts, but this one is just so direct. It is well executed for what it is though.
posted by Catblack at 5:39 PM on December 24, 2014


Seein as it is Charlie Brooker basically castigating himself for being a steam valve for an inherantly destructive system, a critical voice that has bee absorbed by the system he criticizes and therefore gives the system an unexpected credibility, I'd say that the main point of the episode is pretty deadly.
posted by maxsparber at 7:47 PM on December 24, 2014 [14 favorites]


Yeah there's nothing subtle about this one, eh? The ending is SO BLEAK. Bing puts away his shard of black mirror, sips his fungus squeezed orange juice, and looks out an actual window at pristine nature revealing everyone is choosing to stay inside. There's no apocalypse that's forced this Matrix-esque bike-riding dystopia, there aren't any security guards, there's just nowhere else to go. Nowhere with a society at least if you'd rather not die cold and alone in the woods. And forget about convincing anyone else to come with you when dissent is itself entertainment, portioned into 30 minute ad-supported chunks and watched from behind a screen twice a week.

The red haired guy shopping for avatar haircuts. That scene where Bing's obnoxious neighbor gets upset about his entertainment being interrupted. "I paid for this! I. Paid. For. This!" We all paid for this, we're still paying for it, we'll always pay for it.

The last episode made me want to reread Infinite Jest, this episode makes me want to rewatch Network.
posted by books for weapons at 8:25 PM on December 24, 2014 [6 favorites]


Seein as it is Charlie Brooker basically castigating himself for being a steam valve for an inherantly destructive system, a critical voice that has bee absorbed by the system he criticizes and therefore gives the system an unexpected credibility, I'd say that the main point of the episode is pretty deadly.
tl;dr
posted by fullerine at 1:07 AM on December 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


%n: "Seein as it is Charlie Brooker basically castigating himself for being a steam valve for an inherantly destructive system, a critical voice that has bee absorbed by the system he criticizes and therefore gives the system an unexpected credibility, I'd say that the main point of the episode is pretty deadly."

Yeah, that was my first thought too after seeing this. "So, Charlie Brooker did an autobiographical story, eh?"
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 3:37 AM on December 25, 2014


The ending is SO BLEAK. Bing puts away his shard of black mirror, sips his fungus squeezed orange juice, and looks out an actual window at pristine nature

Was that an actual window though? I assumed it was just another screen; that Bing had gained some better perks but was still boxed into a cube like everyone else.
posted by oh yeah! at 5:42 AM on December 25, 2014 [15 favorites]


In the interview with the pop singer who actually succeeded on Hot Shots toward the beginning of the show, she mentioned that she loved being able to look out the window, and that she wished everyone could see outside. Also before we're treated to our own view out of the window, the camera is outside of it looking in at Bing and you can see a slight reflection of the horizon in the glass.

I find way more pathos in it being a real window, but opinions will differ whether you like your toast butter side up or down I'm sure.
posted by books for weapons at 2:45 PM on December 25, 2014 [9 favorites]


I can't find the quote now, but I remember Brooker describing this episode as 'the story of Screenwipe'. So yeah, autobiographical.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 5:35 PM on December 25, 2014


Also, this episode is my favorite episode of Black Mirror, and one of my favorite pieces of television ever. I felt awful desolation after seeing it; the only other cultural artifact of recent years that's made me cry such gut-wrenching sobs was Cormac McCarthy's The Road.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 5:40 PM on December 25, 2014 [4 favorites]


This episode was amazing. That song rang in my head for days afterwards. Absolutely perfect.
posted by natteringnabob at 7:08 PM on December 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


This is the best episode of Black Mirror and probably the best episode of anything.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:43 PM on December 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


Wow, I'm surprised at the lavish praise here. I watched this and the first episode yesterday and was disappointed with both.

I thought this was heavy-handed and that it was shooting fish in a barrel. The first one had some of the same problems, but was more tolerable when I assumed the undercurrent of absurdity was intentional. This one lacked any such leavening, it was non-stop MESSAGE.

I tend to think that this sort of thing ought to sneak up on you; a MESSAGE is so much more effective when it's been smuggled into your brain, makes itself comfortable pretending to be what's familiar and expected, and only then reveals itself.

Especially on this topic -- the whole idea is a facile soporific hiding an existential dread.

On the other hand, maybe this was perfectly appropriate -- it's an unsubtle rant successfully packaged as entertaining authenticity.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:07 PM on December 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


Pretty much everything in this episode went exactly as I predicted it would, but I still managed to enjoy it.

I give this episode extra credit for prompting my girlfriend's observation that the interior of every Buffalo Wild Wings franchise looks like something out of a particularly harrowing episode of Black Mirror.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 6:06 PM on December 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


Isn't this episode basically Network for the Hunger Games generation? I mean, that movie was made thirty-five years prior to this show, and way before my time and so I haven't seen it yet, but from everything I've heard about it, it's pretty much got the same arc.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:57 PM on February 14, 2015


I wasn't so sure about the series (just now decided to watch it) with the opening episode, but this one was great in the sense that it is disturbing enough to really stick with you.

It adds insult on top of disgusting on top of horror on top of more horror. Starting from a scenario that is already deeply unsettling, it adds layer upon layer of twisted dystopia until it bursts and ends up more bleakly than I could have imagined.

From an American POV it's even weirder, since in an American show he totally would have murdered the judge, not threatened to kill himself.
posted by wierdo at 3:13 AM on November 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah I was expecting him to jump straight at the judges and start stabbing. A year and a half later it does feel like this show was designed for our world now.
posted by numaner at 10:36 AM on April 3, 2017


My wife and I thought he would either 1) stab a judge or 2) force them to let him join the porn station.

More than any other episode, this one has given me a thirst to learn more about the world it is set in. Is there really nothing else but cycling and entertainment? Having humans cycle to produce energy is wildly inefficient (it would cost more energy to feed/house them than they would create), so it's more likely that their job is created just to keep them busy - a futuristic version of a government program to have young people dig and fill holes so they aren't joining gangs.
posted by arcticwoman at 8:05 AM on July 30, 2017


I'm just now getting to this episode, roughly two years after watching "The National Anthem" and just coming away kind of numb and disgusted and not really enthused about watching more Black Mirror. But because I keep hearing about how great BM was following the debut of Season 4 (and being assured that the pilot was not representative of the rest of BM), I finally decided to make a go of it.

Aside from Daniel Kaluuya's performance, which was a pleasant surprise and made me realize exactly why Jordan Peele had tapped him for Get Out, I found the rest of the episode kind of grueling. The parallels with "National Anthem" with regards to public sexual humiliation as a plot point just made me wonder if this is a recurring leitmotif across the entire series, and made me again question whether I want to watch any more of this.

For anybody still reading this thread, does the show get any better on this front? I'm honestly curious.
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:01 AM on May 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


The public sexual humiliation surely does not get more prominent in later episodes and seasons. It's been a while since season 1 but I remember it leaning more towards the "evils of technology" that the show is known for. There are further sexual indiscretions in the show, but I can't recall right now if they were very public, or even humiliating.
posted by numaner at 11:15 PM on May 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


OK, thanks numaner, I appreciate the response. Given that these early episodes were made in 2011, before we started to see a critical pushback against the way sexual violence (both overt and implicit) is sometimes depicted in "prestige" television, I'm trying to adjust my expectations of the show's early seasons accordingly.

I was just worried that maybe Charlie Brooker hadn't quite gotten that message in the intervening seven years, and was still putting characters into cruel sex-torture scenarios for the sake of edginess. I'm keying in to a lot of what he has to say WRT technology and culture, but there's an additional shock element in the mix that I'm not quite on board with, and I feel like maybe it undermines the message somewhat.

I think I'll continue watching for now, but I'm definitely spacing this out as a slow watch (weekly or bi-weekly) instead of a full binge. I don't feel like mainlining that much bleakness in a short span of time.
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:49 AM on May 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


oh yeah for sure, pace yourself. the show gets super bleak, and i would not recommend binging like most others. also the stories are separate so no need to binge for that either.
posted by numaner at 5:17 PM on May 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


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