Black Mirror may sometimes be pure science fiction, but in other cases it is frighteningly prophetic. Last season's final episode The Entire History of You, exploring a future whereby our entire lives are recorded for us to go back and re-watch, aired just three days after Facebook announced their similar timeline feature.
This year's finale, The Waldo Moment, concerning a joke candidate contesting a parliamentary by-election after a local MP is caught up in a national scandal, goes one better by being shown three days before the upcoming Eastleigh by-election. One wonders what dark gifts of augury Charlie Brooker possesses in order to be so capable of capturing the zeitgeist?
Similar to The National Anthem in the first series, this episode portrays a more down to earth political satire. Whilst that episode was a delirious mixture of absurd story, complex issues and well-developed characters, The Waldo Moment sadly misfires on all accounts aiming a barb that mainly attacks reality television more than the dangerous mingling of politics and entertainment.
Waldo, the blue cartoon bear whose innocent appearance lures high-profile guests into becoming the victim of his smutty jokes, is clearly inspired by the vulgar teddy bear in Leigh Francis sketch show Bo' Selecta!, who would often subject his guests to torrents of vulgar language before sporting a fake erection. The entertainment Waldo provides is puerile but popular, with Jack Napier (Jason Flemyng), the geezer with a capital G running the network pushing for the blue bear to have his own pilot.
The hotshot producers spot an opportunity to cause further political embarrassment by having Waldo compete against real politicians in an upcoming by-election. "But Waldo's not real", Jamie (Daniel Rigby), the voice and behind-the-scenes puppeteer protests. This doesn't matter for the execs, who see the stunt as a great way of garnering exposure for Waldo whilst humiliating the politicians for the public's pleasure.
The technological innovation here is that if we can have artificial bands such as Gorillaz, then surely we're only one step away from artificial politicians. From sport to cooking, reality television has in one form or another debased most professions; why not politics as well?
And so against his will, Jamie find himself embroiled in a political battle against Conservative favourite Liam Monroe (Tobias Menzies) and Labour newcomer Gwendolyn Harris (Chloe Pirrie). He further complicates the situation with Gwendolyn when they share a one night stand. Things come to the boil in a heated Newsnight-esque debate when Monroe, agitated by Waldo's incessant lampooning, decides to attack the man behind the mask calling Jamie a loser who has achieved nothing.
The West Wing
As Jamie forlornly looks out through a screen, the personal parallel with Charlie Brooker's own Screenwipe show, where he critiques television from the comfort of his armchair, is made apparent. But whilst Brooker is funny and eloquent in his dissection of popular culture, there are vast swathes of people who use sites such as YouTube to write down venomous remarks from the safety of the screen.
Lazily repeating a similar scenario from last season's One Million Merits, Jamie's outrage explodes in an astonishing tirade against the 'fake politicians' who the public have lost their faith in; with this monologue proving universally popular and his views consumed by the mainstream.
The problem is that Jamie's enlightened Howard Beale-style outburst rings hollow because of the lack of development that's been given to both him and the other characters. Apart from being a comedian who created Waldo, we are shown very little information of Jamie's personality, other than that he is incredibly politically naïve.
Smitten with Gwendolyn, the fact he expects her to engage in a relationship with him whilst they contest the by-election comes across as particularly deluded. She is set up in previous scenes as an icy figure only interested in the by-election as a 'stepping stone' to help climb up the political ladder, but even someone brought up only watching episodes of The West Wing would not be shocked by such endeavours and acknowledge that politics is all about channelling your idealistic agendas with patience and pragmatism.
Normally the self-contained stories of Black Mirror are perfectly suited to a one hour drama, but here the message of the artificiality of both entertainment and politics barely scratches the surface of deeper underlying issues of how the populace has become disenfranchised with politics and the troubles public servants have with exposure in an online world where our private lives are rapidly diminishing.
The episode morphs into fellow Channel 4 drama Utopia when a shady CIA figure says that they want to use Waldo around the world as a way of influencing the masses. We know that entertainment and celebrity can swing the public, just ask former Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger or current Mayor of London Boris Johnson. But the idea of a viral persona being used to influence and control people is not explored and comes across as more paranoid than prophetic.
The completely unnecessary ending skips to a dystopian future whereby now vagrant-Jamie is brutalised by hostile police in front of an imposing screen of an ever-present Waldo, the blatant sermonising here of how the media could be twisted to create a future totalitarian state.
The strength of Black Mirror is its ability to get under your skin by showcasing how only the smallest advances in our technology could bring about the worst of human behaviour. This is much more powerful when presented on a personal level, crafting a human tragedy of how technology can corrupt us.
Sadly, The Waldo Moment, mains aims its venom at popular culture and the wider public in general, without examining how public opinion is formed. "Do you think the public can't be trusted?" Waldo asks a news presenter. Charlie Brooker certainly seems to think so.
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