Following an intriguing beginning and a captivating middle, the second series of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror came to an underwhelming end tonight with the disappointing third episode, ‘The Waldo Moment’.
The story follows the rise to prominence of Waldo, an anarchic computer generated cartoon bear, voiced and controlled by failed comedian Jamie Salter (Daniel Rigby, Eric & Ernie). Having proved to be a popular segment on a late night comedy satire show, Waldo and Jamie are given their own pilot and tasked with standing in a local By-Election as a means of embarrassing the tory MP earmarked for victory.
Already reluctant to enter the political arena and visibly ashamed of his comic alter-ego, things become even more complicated for Jamie when he falls for Labour election candidate Gwendolyn Harris (Chloe Pirrie). Embittered by Gwendolyn’s subsequent rejection following a night of passion together and humiliated by Conservative candidate Liam Monroe (Tobias Menzies, Eternal Law) during a live TV debate, Jamie unleashes a televised tirade against the fake nature of modern politicians, and in doing so inadvertently establishes Waldo as an internet sensation and a genuine contender for election victory.
Distraught at the damage he has done to Gwendolyn’s career and increasingly concerned over Waldo’s subversive and mounting influence, Jamie decides he wants nothing further to do with the fictional character and its campaign. However it’s already too late, and with Waldo now operated by the unscrupulous production head Jack Napier (Jason Flemyng, Primeval) the cartoon bear finishes a close second in the election, serving as the prelude to a meteoric rise to political domination.
The curtain falls on the episode with a glimpse into a fascist future, where Waldo has become a smiling tool of control, which we’re invited to assume has been enabled by the vacuum of political apathy we’ve witnessed throughout the episode. Which is where the biggest disappointment lies, in that Charlie Brooker simply runs out of time to explore this gaping hole in Waldo’s spectacular ascension, which instead is left feebly punctuated by the words ‘A few years later’ flashed across the screen.
This in turn leads to more questions about the strength and efficacy of the episode’s commentary and what Waldo is meant to represent. It lacks several layers of complexity and texture needed to build a convincing link between an apathetic electorate comprised of a politically disenchanted public and the phenomenal popularity of Waldo. The greatest failings of Liam and Gwendolyn as politicians was apparently their dispassionate professionalism, though that doesn’t seem to go far enough to suggest how the public would have been so readily won over by Waldo as an alternative.
Allegorical issues aside, there’s just not enough drama or plot there for the audience to sink its teeth into either. The angst between Liam Monroe and Jamie is interesting, but they never get to confront each other in person in order to address what it is they each represent. And the relationship between Gwendolyn and Jamie isn’t given time to properly develop or unravel. However, the central failing is that none of the characters are truly likeable or truly hateable and so it’s hard to really care about anyone’s fate. And while the performances are all solid, no-one steps up to steal the show.
You have to sympathise with Brooker. Fifty minutes is very little time in which to effectively set up, explain, explore and then bring a close to the issues he’s addressing, but then perhaps this wasn’t the right format in which to tackle them. The effect is that everything feels thin and rushed and we’re left with little to ponder when the credits being to roll.
It’s a shame that Black Mirror had to end on such a grey note, but overall the series managed to produce some stunning observations conjured up through eerily plausible alternate realities and hopefully will have done enough to pave the way for a third series.
Airs at 10pm on Monday 25 February 2013 on Channel 4.
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