Black Mirror: The Waldo Moment

Black Mirror: The Waldo Moment

I’m going to be upfront about this: I was a little underwhelmed by this episode. As the final of Series 2 of Charlie Brooker’s ‘Black Mirror’, I was expecting it to be up to the same standard as the ‘Be Right Back‘ and ‘White Bear‘ – not to mention the cracking first series, which I wrote about here and here.

The concept was rife with potential: Waldo, a ‘loveable’ animated bear from a children’s TV series runs for a by-election as a protest vote for those disillusioned with party politics. He is voiced by Jamie Salter, a failed comedian, via motion-tracking and through a tech team. Waldo branches out to interviewing prominent figures and is a popular cult figure with the public, despite the fact he’s actually pretty bloody annoying – making penis jokes and swearing at any given occasion. Waldo is based on a Brooker character from the noughties, Nathan Barley, a pre-hipster cool media figure and general artsy type. 

During a brain-storming session [or whatever ‘politically correct’ term is used], Jack Napier – who owns the rights to Waldo – suggests Waldo run for a local by-election, and despite it’s joke origins the idea gets the green light. Jamie refuses initially, citing his a-political stance and lack of confidence in working the political system, but is brought around by the team who can live Google any question and pick apart the opposition through the great and powerful info-hub of the net. The other candidates are suave charmer Liam Monroe for the Tories, Gwen Harris for Labour and some annoying Lib Dem guy who rarely gets to put a word in. 

Jamie meets and sleeps with Gwen Harris, who finds his awkward humour endearing, but she begins to avoid him when she realises it could damage her campaign; she is a career politician, aware she is unlikely to win the election but hoping to use the media exposure to advance her political progression in the future. On a Uni mock-up of ‘Question Time‘, Waldo, as the comic relief, participates in a panel interview with the other candidates and Jamie lets his bitterness out on a vicious verbal attack of Gwen Harris, revealing her motives to the public. The rant gains attention on Youtube, but Jamie is unimpressed by this. Napier claims Youtube and social networks would be a great platform for real-life democracy in a ‘thumbs-up thumbs-down’ system of running society, but cynically Jamie points out that the most popular video is an asinine funny animal video. Personally I’m a massive fan of stupid but hilarious Youtube clips but can see that it may not be the most edifying way to spend my time.

After the video becomes a viral sensation, Jamie realises he’s acted like a fool and completely blown his chances with Gwen, who later retaliates that he stands for nothing and isn’t even preaching revolution because “that would take courage”. She attacks him with his own question: “What are you for?” implying that Jamie himself has no purpose or ambition but also that Waldo is a ridiculous figure for politics that, theoretically, should have the purpose of improving society. 

Monroe seems to be the only politician with any fire in his belly and even though Waldo is annoying as hell, I still couldn’t quite bring myself to side with a Tory. My favourite line from the episode is given to Monroe: “If [Waldo] is the main opposition then the whole system looks absurd, which it probably is…but it built these roads”. I think this really sums up the tone of the episode; whilst concepts like Waldo engage with the disillusioned masses, I think people would still rather work with a flawed system because it gets things done. Monroe highlights Jamie’s personal flaws and the idiocy of Waldo itself, emphasising how fake and meaningless the character is. Waldo’s team stress how much of an image each candidate creates with their own background team, and are praised for their frank honesty about the artifice of the character. 

There are sinister undertones with a man from an enigmatic company called ‘The Agency’ approaching Jack Napier and Jamie about taking Waldo global and refining the brand, but this is only returned to at the end of the episode. Jamie decides he wants out of the whole thing but Napier threatens to continue the project without him. However, Jamie refuses to believe this: “You own Waldo, you can’t be Waldo!” Nevertheless, Waldo has such a strong effect on the general public that he can coerce people into attacking others and uses his tongue-in-cheek political stance to influence protest voters to put their faith in him – even if all he represents is the middle finger to the system. Although, it’s questionable whether Waldo actually even represents that.

Whilst Waldo doesn’t win the by-election, his influence is clear, and in the credits – which come very abruptly – we see Jamie now homeless being moved on by futuristic-looking police. He attacks an electronic billboard with global adverts for Waldo preaching ironic messages such as ‘Hope’ and ‘Peace’ – it feels pretty 1984, but this is just the problem, we’ve seen this all before and what I love so much about ‘Black Mirror’ is that it generally avoids failing into Sci-Fi clichés. Yes, the episodes are set in near-future Dystopian societies but the reason the series’ have been so harrowing is because the settings are real enough to hit a raw nerve with us

I enjoyed Brooker’s poking fun at particular political parties and I thought the idea had a lot of promise, but I was disappointed with the execution. To me the ending was jarring because it came out of nowhere, was overly bleak and melodramatic; I didn’t empathise with Jamie at all and so seeing his descent just didn’t resonate with me. A bit of a let down to what otherwise has been a corker of a second series, but I’m prepared to overlook that because the standard ‘Black Mirror’ has set for itself is pretty damn high.

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