Ben Borgers

Black Mirror: Fifteen Million Merits

black-mirror

Plot

Bing Madsen lives in a dull world, where each person has their own room surrounded by screens and leaves it daily to ride a stationary bike and earn “merits”, which are used to pay for daily life.

After overhearing Abi Khan singing in the toilets, he convinces her to enter Hot Shot, a talent show whose winners live much better lives. He offers to buy her ticket using merits from his deceased brother. It costs him 15 million merits, nearly his entire fortune.

Bing goes with Abi to the audition, where she sings for the judges. The judges say that they like her singing, but that there are so many singers that she doesn’t stand out. Instead, the judges and the audience pressure her into taking a spot on one of the judge’s pornography channel, WraithBabes.

While in his room, Bing sees an advertisement for WraithBabes that features Abi. He cannot afford the merits to skip it, and the ad plays high-pitched noises when he closes his eyes to force him to watch it. In frustration, Bing smashes the screens that make up the walls of his room and discovers that he can hide one of the shards under his bed.

Bing becomes completely obsessed with earning 15 million merits again, taking other people’s food when it becomes stuck in the vending machines to save money. He eventually saves up enough to buys a Hot Shot ticket and hides the shard in his waistband.

On stage, he begins with a dance number, but then pulls out the shard and threatens to slice his own neck if he isn’t given an opportunity to speak. Bing passionately rants about the heartless, artificial system they live under.

One of the judges declares the speech the greatest act in Hot Shot history and offers Bing a regular slot on one of the judge’s channels.

Later, Bing is shown livestreaming his show. He performs holding the shard to his neck, but rants both about grievances with the system and advertisements for the system.

After ending his weekly stream, we see that his living quarters are now quite large, and the episode ends with him looking out from his room onto a beautiful forest view.

Parallels to our world

This episode shows a dramatized, but recognizable, version of the world. People live surrounded by screens, which show them advertisements from the moment they wake up. They go to work at a repetitive and unfulfilling job in front of a screen, allowing them to earn merits that they use to buy food and entertainment on other screens. It all feels a bit too familiar.

The people peddling seem to be the middle class, while the yellow-suited attendants seem to be the lower class, who are treated with contempt by the middle class. The upper class is comprised of attractive and talented people, such as the singer Selma. However, throughout the entire episode, Selma is the only star we see who came out of Hot Shot. It seems that the dream of ultimately escaping the rat race is unrealistic, and only serves as motivation for people to continue working. Abi is even prompted to record a clip saying that her goal is to be as big as Selma one day. Even though Abi was the “best performance all season” on Hot Shot, there’s no spot for her to become a star singer. The dream of moving up in society isn’t as real as it seems.

Hypocrisy

Bing goes on Hot Shot and delivers an empassioned speech about how none of this is real, and how they’re all too numb to feel real emotion anymore. Earlier in the episode as well, he seems willing to forgo merits in favor of “something real” (Abi’s singing talents).

However, once Bing is given a way to move up in the world, he completely abandons his morals. We see him stream from a set designed to look like a common bedroom, while he lives in a much bigger apartment. His apartment features a wooden penguin, which is much like the origami one that Abi folded for him, except without the realness.

Bing has traded what he once knew to be true, his morals, in order to sell out and join the system. Everyone hates the system until they’re on top of it.

Even Bing’s glass shard, a symbol of resistance against the system, is eventually sold as a digital accessory for your Doppel (or digital avatar). The real glass shard is safely kept inside a box between streams, because it is Bing’s ticket to a better life.

At the end of the episode, Bing looks out onto a beautiful green forest from what could be a window or a giant screen. Bing might have upgraded his small apartment for a bigger apartment, but he’s still living within the system and surrounded by screens.