So, last night saw the end of the second series of Charlie Brooker's excellent Black Mirror. Once again, I enjoyed every single film in the run. But last night's The Waldo Moment seems to have left most people largely unimpressed. And this surprises me.
Whilst I admit it wasn't the strongest of the three this time around, or indeed as strong as the first series of three, it is still an enjoyable piece with a strong message, well told.
Firstly, this is a story that goes back to the start. The world of The Waldo Moment is not too far from that of the first ever Black Mirror, The National Anthem, in that they're both closer to the here and now and ingrained in the present reality than most Black Mirror films. Its inception can also be traced to 2008 and a despairing column of Brooker's in The Grauniad, in which he posited the notion that Boris Johnson's bizarrely successful journey to office was something like a cartoon being elected purely off the back of it being cute and funny and ultimately the kiddies favourite. But before that it can be traced back even further, to 2004/5, when Brooker along with Chris Morris first came up with the notion of just such a thing for their brilliant sitcom Nathan Barley. It was a notion that was ultimately discarded, but proving no good ideas go to waste, Brooker resurrected it here. Throw in some clear contempt for such depressing 'comedic' fayre as Bo Selecta (that bear that interviewed celebs and got a hard on) and the notion of voter apathy and celebrity culture and you have The Waldo Moment.
Its these last ingredients were the film actually shines. Brooker pinpoints the lunacy of a society who can recognise and be won over by an animation on TV than a genuine professional and hard working MP. Yes, Brooker depicts these MP's as nothing more than a smooth Tory in a suit and a young Labour woman who knows standing this time around will just be a stepping stone, but at heart these are people willing to do the job and listen to the voters. Apathy may be on the increase and the system may well be wrong but, as the Tory has it "It built these roads", at its core there are values that should not be forgotten or dismissed, you do so at your peril. By chucking them over purely in favour of something populist and created from little more than absurdity, spite and vulgarity, you have a change based on nothing, and a void allows cruelty and greed to step in as we see in the film's closing moments over the credits.
Perhaps where The Waldo Moment failed to click is in presenting the audience with anything remotely solid and sympathetic to engage with. The lead role, the failed comic behind Waldo, is shown to be a depressed bitter and cynical mad who failed to achieve his potential. But he's also a callous and calculating man too, so there's little to pity even when he realises just how out of hand his creation cum monster has become. A scene with him tearfully ringing an ex at the start simply isn't enough character background. His angry tirade that the current system is shit is one I cannot find argument with, but the fact that there's so blatantly little in place to compete with it, and the truth that his own fury is so utterly empty, is perhaps more telling and ultimately it leads to the film's bleak pay off. It's just a shame the inherently unsympathetic character set the wheels in motion before realising that, and that he didn't have an alternative.
But then Black Mirror isn't about providing an alternative is it? It's about being so utterly 'black', providing a pessimistic view of the world we live in now and the world we are about to live in.