Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror series has been hit and miss so far. Episode one, The National Anthem was certainly a hit, but episode two, Fifteen Million Merits was a miss, with a satirical swipe at X-Factor style shows falling flat.
The final episode of the mini-series is The Entire History of You, written by Jesse Armstrong. Armstrong has impeccable comedy credentials, having created Peep Show with writing partner Sam Bain, worked with Armando Iannucci on The Thick Of It, In The Loop and the forthcoming HBO show Veep, and Chris Morris on Four Lions. But The Entire History Of You is very much a drama. Starring Toby Kebbell (who shot to fame after his incredible performance as Anthony in Shane Meadows’ Dead Man’s Shoes) as Liam, the episode takes place in an alternate reality, where people have a ‘grain’ implanted behind their ear, that records everything they see, and which allows them to ‘redo’ all their memories.
It begins with Liam in a meeting. He is a solicitor, and it appears that his job is under threat. Redoing the meeting, he becomes convinced that he will shortly be fired. After the meeting he takes a flight home. A security guard requests to watch Liam’s last 24 hours before he can board the flight.
He arrives at a friend’s dinner party, where he notices his wife Ffion (Jodie Whittaker, seen earlier this year in Attack The Block) chatting to a man called Jonas (Tom Cullen). Liam takes an instant dislike to Jonas, particularly when he reveals that he used to watch memories of old girlfriends instead of spending time with his fiancée, whom he recently split with. Another girl, Helen, arrives at the party, where she reveals that she was ‘gouged’ meaning her grain was stolen from her, leaving an ugly scar.
After the party, Liam argues with Ffion after he has invited Jonas back to their home for drinks. When he makes it clear he didn’t mean it, they make excuses and Jonas leaves. But Liam is concerned about Ffion’s relationship with Jonas, and the couple start to argue.
Liam becomes obsessed with working out the truth behind Ffion’s relationship with Jonas, leading to heated arguments with Ffion, and later, Jonas himself. Kebbell gives an excellent performance as a man seeing his life fall apart around him. Strong performances from the leading man has been a recurring theme in Black Mirror, with Rory Kinnear and Daniel Kaluuya both doing the same in the previous two episodes. As Liam starts to lose control, he makes a series of choices that lead to him discovering the truth about his life, and what the consequences are of having your entire life recorded for you to browse like a reality version of Sky+.
The Entire History Of You is much better than Fifteen Million Merits, and may be the best episode of the series. Jesse Armstrong has delivered a strong drama that shows he can handle more than one genre when it comes to writing. It bodes well for The Longest Cocktail Party, the story of Apple Records, which Armstrong had adapted into a screenplay, set to go into production in 2012. And the quality of this final episode means that Black Mirror has been a mini-series worth watching. Britain seems to do science fiction and fantasy television very well, and most of Black Mirror has been a smart, modern take on the genre. It could become a regular series for Channel 4, and could also be a vehicle for British writers perhaps better known for comedy, to expand their horizons and try out different genres.
Overall, The National Anthem and The Entire History Of You stand up amongst the best television of the year. Although Fifteen Million Merits was something of a disappointment, Charlie Brooker’s latest TV series has been well worth watching.