Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror has shocked and terrified audiences since its debut in 2011. The series has crafted 22 episodes and an interactive film, Bandersnatch, on Netflix. Over the decade the series has been around, Brooker has helped create some of the most mind-boggling and meaningful scenarios to ever grace television. As Brooker's topsy turvy catalog continues to grow, one episode has proven to stand the test of time.
"White Bear" (season 2, episode 2) stars Lenora Crichlow as the focal character who goes unnamed for a large part of the episode. In typical Black Mirror fashion, nothing is what it originally appears to be. The shocking twist near the end of "White Bear" has made it one of Black Mirror's most infamous and innovative episodes, paving the way for later episodes like "Shut Up and Dance."
"White Bear" begins with a woman who wakes with no idea of where or who she is. Navigating through the house, she finds a photograph of herself and a man, along with a second image of a young girl that she takes with her. She begins venturing through a cryptic landscape where people standby to suspiciously watch, chase, and record her. She manages to make one ally in Jem, who reveals her plan to get to White Bear in order to destroy the transmitter and put an end to the strange behavior around them. According to Jem, the mindless behavior of the onlookers and the violent behavior of the hunters is due to the strange upside-down y-shaped symbol spotted throughout "White Bear."
The twist of "White Bear" comes soon after Jem and the unnamed woman make it to the White Bear facility. In fending off two hunters, the unnamed woman gets ahold of a gun and shoots it, confusingly discovering that it releases confetti instead of a bullet. The walls behind her begin to shift, unveiling a live studio audience. She is then bound to a chair where she learns that the entire day has been a staged show, filled with actors and onlookers. Her attention is guided toward the screen in front of her which identifies her as Victoria Skillane. The video footage reveals that Victoria and her fiancé Iain Rannoch abducted and killed Jemima Sykes (the man and girl from the photographs). Iain tortured the young girl and eventually killed her, while Victoria filmed.
What helps make the twist of "White Bear" such an impactful one is largely due to the commentary it makes regarding the media, justice, and empathy. At the start of "White Bear," Victoria is a sympathetic character because she struggles to understand what is going on around her and has no recollection of who she is. Once the twist happens, the sympathy that has been built for her throughout the episode is immediately replaced by disgust and hatred because of the horrid crime she committed. The twist becomes more effective once all the clues that once made her sympathetic are then discovered to have an entirely different context and meaning.
The video that delivers the shocking twist in "White Bear" also notes that throughout her trial, Victoria maintained the position that she was "under Iain's spell." Throughout "White Bear," Victoria is under a new spell after her memory is routinely wiped and she becomes part of a controlled environment that is designed to make her go insane. The onlooker's passiveness as they record Victoria reflects the way Victoria stood by and did nothing to help Jemima. Victoria's only ally within the staged simulation is named Jem, an abbreviation of Jemima's name. Jem's explantation that the onlookers and hunters are being controlled by the symbol is also a direct reference to Victoria's argument that she was under the spell of her fiancé. The strange symbol is revealed to be a tattoo on the back of Iain's neck. Finally, the episode's title (and name of the facility) is derived from Jemima's own white teddy bear, which was the investigation's symbol of hope.
Black Mirror is often credited with reflecting modern society in an uncomfortably raw and honest way. At its core, the events of "White Bear" are an accurate reflection of the way violent news is spread in such a public manner. Social media has made it even easier to spread harsh, unsettling content. "White Bear" also raises questions about effective punishment. Victoria is unable to remember her name or anything serious, only being able to remember what she has done through the videos she is forced to watch after each simulation. It begs the question of how much of the person that committed those crimes is still within her.
Falling within the same series as "Be Right Back," "The Waldo Moment," and "White Christmas," "White Bear" is a notable standout. Each of these episodes within Black Mirror's second series has tumultuous twists that continue the familiar trend of uncomfortably reflecting truths about the real world. The other episodes pose as "what ifs" while the events of "White Bear" are tragically very real. Exact details like a justice center that is designed for Victoria's downfall may not be entirely real, but the bigger picture of what justice looks like and how that gets carried out are debates that continue to happen today. Themes like those prevalent in "White Bear," along with its ingenious twist, are what make it such a memorable episode eight years after its initial premiere.
Black Mirror is now streaming on Netflix.
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