Be Right Back

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"Be Right Back"
Black Mirror episode
Black Mirror - Be Right Back.jpg
Martha (Hayley Atwell, right) interacts with a synthetic re-creation of her deceased boyfriend Ash (Domhnall Gleeson).
Episode no. Series 2
Episode 1
Directed by Owen Harris
Written by Charlie Brooker
Original air date 1 February 2013 (2013-02-01)
Running time 44 minutes
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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List of Black Mirror episodes

"Be Right Back" is the first episode of the second season of British science fiction anthology series Black Mirror. It was written by series creator and showrunner Charlie Brooker, directed by Owen Harris and first aired on Channel 4 on 11 February 2013.

The episode tells the story of Martha (Hayley Atwell), a young woman whose boyfriend Ash (Domhnall Gleeson) is killed in a car accident. As she mourns him, she discovers that technology now allows her to communicate with an artificial intelligence imitating Ash, and reluctantly decides to try.

The episode received very positive reviews.

Plot[edit]

Martha (Hayley Atwell) and Ash (Domhnall Gleeson) are a young couple who move to a remote house in the countryside. The day after moving into the house, Ash is killed while returning the hire van. After discovering she is pregnant, Martha reluctantly tries out a new online service that lets people stay in touch with the deceased. By using all of his past online communications and social media profiles, a new "Ash" can be created virtually. After starting out with instant messaging, Martha uploads videos and photos of Ash to the service's database, so that it can duplicate Ash's voice to talk to Martha over the phone. Martha allows herself to believe that she is talking to her dead partner, and over the following weeks she talks to the artificial Ash almost non-stop, keeping him updated regarding the pregnancy. After Martha accidentally damages her phone and has a panic attack when she temporarily loses contact with the service, the artificial Ash tells her about the service's next stage, which is still in its experimental phase: a body made of synthetic flesh that the program can be uploaded onto.

Following the artificial Ash's instructions, Martha turns a blank, synthetic body into an android that looks almost exactly like Ash and is only missing minor characteristics, such as his facial hair and a mole on his chest. From the moment the android is activated, Martha is uncomfortable and struggles to accept its existence. Despite the android's satisfying her sexually, she quickly becomes frustrated by its constantly doing what she says without question, its lack of emotion (it only expresses emotions when she tells it to do so), and the absence of certain habits and personality traits which the real Ash had but the service did not have information on. Upon taking the artificial Ash to a cliff, she orders it to jump off. Taking a cue from her, the android begs for its own life.

The scene cuts to several years later, and Martha is shown to have raised her now seven-year-old daughter Ash (Indira Ainger) in the country house, keeping the Ash android locked in the attic. She allows her daughter to see the android on weekends, but Martha's daughter convinces her to allow her into the attic on her birthday. While her daughter is in the attic with the android, Martha waits at the bottom of the attic steps, close to tears, before joining them.

Production[edit]

In an interview in October 2016, Brooker revealed that "There was a whole extra idea for 'Be Right Back' too, where we’d see other people who’d been brought back from their social media profiles."[1]

Critical reception[edit]

The episode received critical acclaim. The A.V. Club gave it an A-, describing it as an "audacious" series opener and adding: "it's such a spare, haunting piece, focusing on one woman's grief in the face of the sudden loss of her significant other, and the 'careful what you wish for' clone she buys to replace him, initially filling the gap in her life but quickly proving deficient in so many ways."[2] The Independent summed its review saying: "'Be Right Back' works so well because it has captured the social media zeitgeist. It was a lovely and touching story – more so than 'Fifteen Million Merits' – and a world away from the searingly acerbic Brooker that we are accustomed to. He can write an emotional and moving story that grabs you by the heart. The ending was bittersweet and avoided becoming overly tragic and depressing with a cliff suicide cliché."[3] The Daily Telegraph rated it 4 out of 5 stars saying: "The show touched on important ideas – the false way we sometimes present ourselves online, and our growing addiction to virtual lives – but it was also a touching exploration of grief. To my mind it's the best thing Brooker has done."[4]

According to Den of Geek, "By reducing his scope still further, 'Be Right Back' merely intensifies its dramatic strength. A sci-fi parable about bereavement and digital ghosts, this opening episode is appropriately haunting".[5] Digital Spy wrote: "Black Mirror's series two premiere is creepy and moving in equal measure. It has real heart and characters that live and breathe – even when they don't", rating the episode 4 out of 5 stars.[6] The Huffington Post said: "[t]he latest episode of Black Mirror, 'Be Right Back', is both a haunting vision of the future, and of what our relationship with technology could become. It is also a reminder of how our relationship with technology has changed since the mid-twentieth century."[7] Empire ranked the first meeting between Martha and the Ash android as one of the 50 greatest sci-fi moments.[8]

In real life[edit]

In 2015, Luka co-founder Eugenia Kuyda used her AI startup resources to build a similar online service using her deceased friend's chat logs. Although the result is impressive on some points, this has received mixed reactions from relatives of the deceased, and the criticism: "Kuyda had failed to learn the lesson of the Black Mirror episode".[9]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Black Mirror's Charlie Brooker interview: 'I'm loathe to say this is the worst year ever because the next is coming'". The Independent. 21 October 2016. Retrieved 21 October 2016. 
  2. ^ "Review: Black Mirror: 'Be Right Back'". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 17 October 2014. 
  3. ^ "Review of Black Mirror ‘Be Right Back’". Independent. Archived from the original on 21 October 2014. Retrieved 17 October 2014. 
  4. ^ "Black Mirror: Be Right Back, Channel 4, review". Telegraph.co.uk. 11 February 2013. Retrieved 17 October 2014. 
  5. ^ "Black Mirror series 2 episode 1 spoiler-free review: Be Right Back". Den of Geek. Retrieved 17 October 2014. 
  6. ^ "'Black Mirror' series two 'Be Right Back' review: "Creepy and moving"". Digital Spy. Retrieved 17 October 2014. 
  7. ^ "What Black Mirror Episode Be Right Back Says About Us and Technology". The Huffington Post. UK. 12 February 2013. Retrieved 17 October 2014. 
  8. ^ "Empire Podcast Greatest Sci-Fi Moments special". Empire Online. 
  9. ^ "Speak, Memory". The Verge. 

External links[edit]