‘Black Mirror’ Study Guide: Be Right Back

This episode: who we are online will come to define how we’re remembered. Also: the allure of technology.

Sep 17, 2017 · 4 min read

‘Black Mirror’ is a satirical anthology series that examines the dark aspects of modern society, particularly as it relates to our relationship with technology. Each standalone episode presents a picture of a world that’s futuristic, yet believable; cool, yet horrifying. Each of these study guides will touch on some of the themes the episode explores.

Who We Are Online Will Be How We’re Remembered

“Be Right Back” tells the story of Martha’s bereavement after her phone-obsessed boyfriend, Ash, suddenly dies. Martha (Hayley Atwell) is introduced to an experimental service that reconnects the living with the dead. Using photos, videos, and other data available online, the service offers the ability for the living to talk to their deceased loved ones. The more data you input — in this case, there was a lot — the more accurate the service’s version of your deceased loved one would be.

It starts with texting, where a bot mimics texting habits and humour. The next level is voice, where you can input recordings of your deceased loved one’s voice and the service will call you, as that person. (It’s very much like the Spike Jonze movie Her.) And then there’s the final level: a clone of your deceased loved one, the creepiness of which is covered up by your grief.

The crux of all of this is the data. In this case, almost everything that exists online is useful data, from your emails to your home videos, and the version of your deceased loved one the service provides you (with a little room for adjustments) is based entirely off of that data. As Martha quickly realizes, the portrait your data paints isn’t completely accurate. All the little things that made you, you — the little things that can’t be quantified — are gone. The entire history of you (that’s a Black Mirror pun) is what is on the internet.

The Allure of Technology

“It’s a thief, that thing”, Martha tells Ash, alluding to his phone. In the short amount of time we see Ash, his attention is constantly with his phone and away from Martha. He seems truly captivated by the alluring power of his phone, and you can tell it wasn’t something that Martha really enjoyed. Ironically, all the time Ash spent on his phone was what allowed Martha to speak to him after he died.

Martha, however, would experience the allure of technology herself, too, after she gets the rare opportunity to reconnect with Ash following his death. She gets drawn in by technology’s promise to make the impossible possible. That attribute is possessed by all technology throughout time. Something we once thought was not possible is suddenly made possible; how can you not be, at the very least, curious?

The promise of technology doesn’t always pan out, though. Like for Martha, what she got was not quite what she was hoping for. She was hoping the technology would help her with her grief, and it did, for a while, until it didn’t, and started making things worse. Black Mirror is aware of the allure of technology, but it wants you to be aware of the dark side of that allure, the side that’s like Martha’s reanimated version of Ash: hollow.

Bonus: 2 Little Details I Loved

  1. Black Mirror predicting wireless charging (using a mat), which Apple just announced for their new iPhones.
  2. The creepiness of the clone arriving in a box. It’s kind of poetic, to be honest. You bury somebody by putting them in a casket, so having to take their clone out of a box seems apt.

Howard Chai

Written by

I strive towards a career that ends up leaving me somewhere between Howard Beck and Howard Beale. Deputy Editor of Vancouver-based publication, 604 Now.

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