Consistently spooky and unrelentingly disturbing, Charlie Brooker’s stellar mini-series reached its midpoint this week with the haunting second episode, ‘White Bear’.
When Victoria (Being Human‘s Lenora Crichlow) awakes confused and disorientated, surrounded by gangs of eerie observers and with no memory of who or where she is, things rapidly go from bad to worse as a masked gunman begins a deadly pursuit.
She’s plunged into a world where it seems her daughter is missing and everyone around her has turned into some kind of smartphone-fixated zombie, following her from afar while refusing to come to her rescue.
From the opening scene, the intrigue for the viewer revolves around trying to cobble together exactly what’s going on as nuggets of information are revealed. It’s clear we’re being led on a journey towards a revelatory dénouement and a likely twist, though the answers are deliberately and tantalising kept out of reach until all is laid bare.
With the truth revealed, the resulting paradigm shift that takes place allows the pieces of the puzzle to fall into place, bringing into a focus a different kind of nightmare to the one that we thought was about to reach its dramatic conclusion.
It transpires that Victoria is a prisoner. A convict living and reliving an agonising and tortuous punishment, as every day her memory is erased so that she can be dragged kicking and screaming through the same custom built hell on earth again and again.
Found guilty of being complicit in the young girl’s murder, this is a parallel universe where great pains are taken to ensure the punishment fits the crime. And so the terror, isolation and helplessness adjudged to have been felt by her victim is revisited upon Victoria with meticulous and remorseless vigour, much to the pleasure and satisfaction of the viewing public who are invited along for the ride.
Having forfeited any right to sympathy or compassion, Victoria is condemned to live out her life as the central attraction in the White Bear Justice Park, a specially designed detention centre which also doubles as a viewing enclosure where guests can enjoy seeing justice being done close up, as well as recording it for posterity on their smartphones.
With ‘White Bear’, as with previous episodes in the series, Brooker has managed to create a nightmarish alternate reality that is at the same time frighteningly plausible. There’s a lot going on here as well, with the episode addressing everything from the effects of smartphone technology on an increasingly voyeuristic society, to the question of morality and justice in an era where criminals and their crimes are the subject of intense media coverage and vilification.
It’s marred only slightly by a shaky camera technique that starts to induce a feeling of sea-sickness after the first 15 minutes, and the incessant screaming and crying of Victoria that engenders a longing for someone to put her out of her misery.
However, they’re small distractions in an otherwise superb piece of television that make Brooker’s darkly imaginative brand of storytelling one of the most standout on British television at the moment. ‘White Bear’ achieves more in under an hour – and without a glittering cast and expensive special effects – than most big budget Hollywood movies even come close to. Let’s just hope there’s still plenty of depth to this particular creative well for us all to enjoy.
Airs at 10pm on Monday 18 February 2013 on Channel 4.
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