The increased online presence we all now engage in is hard to avoid. If you wanted to, you could probably track the average Facebook or Twitter user’s day-to-day life to a degree where you remembered their whereabouts better than they did – and yet it’s hard to say that you’d ‘know’ the person any better than if you spoke to them for five minutes face to face.
Our online ‘personalities’ and their legacy is the subject of the return of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror this week, and it’s good to see that the efficacy of the format hasn’t been dulled by the success of the first run: if anything, its dystopian vision of a future dominated by the intrusive technology that we now take for granted has sharpened.
Though relatively simple, Be Right Back delivered a taut, clear and effective hour of television, raising complex questions about our relationship with social media and, by extension, one another. This episode imagines a world in which a lost loved one could be approximated by their online presence – tweets, videos, Facebook photos, Skype calls – and examines the fallout from such a decision.
The early stages of this system don’t feel so far from reality – a sort of simulated Artificial Intelligence already exists on phones, and even the idea of online presence after death already exists (in the form of the faintly sinister liveon.org). As the plot progresses, though, things become more outlandish – the technology seems to take something of a leap – and initially I was concerned that this might be implausible. Yet the early stages of the premise were close enough to life to allow for a little leeway in its development, and
grounded performances from Hayley Atwell and Domnhall Gleeson as
couple Martha and Ash help to sell the more sci-fi elements of the plot.
There was no violence or shadowy conspiracy determined to use the online information for its own ends. The action was largely limited to a rural cottage, and contained within a small cast: less about the big shocks, Be right Back brought a build up of unease as the emotionless approximation of the dead Ash subtly tried to mimic his late self’s mannerisms and speech patterns, in a manner that constantly wavered on a line between sweet and deeply
Overall, Be Right Back is a great little traditional science-fiction parable
that overcomes the drawbacks of the genre by grounding the story firmly in a human interaction that we can all relate to. You can fully expect these
same sentiments to be expressed again by my robot simulation hours after my death.