“Be Right Back” is the first episode of the second season of a popular modern science fiction teleplay Black Mirror, directed by Owen Harris and released in 2013. The episode is considered the highlight of the season due to its original plot and excellent acting. Despite the fact that the series has presented the viewer with numerous different casts, conflicts, technologies, and outcomes, there is only one common theme that unites all of them. The opener of the second season is the most clearly articulated representation of this theme: while technology is progressing, people remain the same. The episode focuses on the topic of humanity and proves that technology can reveal much about people but it cannot entirely transform the essence of the individuals.
The director shows that despite the progress in the society, human beings remain the species that has to live with its basic instincts, joys, and fears. All means of communication created in the modern age are intended to help people to stay in one pack as they have to confront the hostile world together to survive. The viewer realizes that the equation of life is actually much simpler than it may seem at first sight: people are looking for understanding, support, and love to allow them to stand against their fears and death, which is always present in the background.
“Be Right Back” portrays one of the happiest couples in the entire teleplay: Martha (Hayley Atwell) and Ash (Domhnall Gleeson), who are deeply in love with each other. As they fit together perfectly, both of them feel secure and comfortable in each other’s company. Despite the fact that Ash is too much preoccupied with his smartphone, he is still attentive to his girlfriend and knows how to make her feel his affection. Martha is emotional and open-hearted. The imperfection of their relationship makes them highly realistic and true-to-life. They make discoveries about each other and feel wonder, curiosity, disgust, joy, and the whole range of other emotions that one may experience trying to know the partner better.
Feeling heavily depressed after the funeral, Martha is surfing the web in search of some books. Suddenly, she discovers an email from her deceased boyfriend with the only phrase in it: “Yes, it’s me” (“Be Right Back”). From the very beginning, Martha realizes that no matter how perfect the technology may be, it cannot replace the real human being. She says: “It won’t be…” and cannot finish the phrase (“Be Right Back”). Her friend replies: “No, it won’t. But it will help” (“Be Right Back”). Thus, both of them understand that the measure can be effective only for a short period of time to help the character to overcome her grief, but it cannot change the fact that the real Ash is dead. The director shows that people’s dependence on technology is aggravated by the deep-rooted hope that gadgets can change their lives for the better. Despite the fact that the artificial intelligence is creepy, it can still relieve pain as it seems much more soothing that emptiness, darkness, and loneliness, of which Martha is afraid.
When the main character discovers that she is pregnant, she makes up her mind to get in contact with the new “Ash.” When she asks whether it is him, he responds: “No, it’s the late Abraham Lincoln” (“Be Right Back”). The joke is so typical of the young man that Martha laughs in bewilderment. When she reports the news to him, “Ash” says: “Wow. So I’ll be a dad? I wish I was there with you now” (“Be Right Back”). It is actually the only thing that she really wanted to hear.
If the episode ended with this scene, it would be much less tragic and devastating. As Martha continues to communicate with “Ash,” her feeling that he is real is growing. She uploads Ash’s videos to the system to hear him speak once again. The artificial voice sounds exactly as the real person. Even the new Ash realizes that their communication is weird: “Almost creepy isn’t it? I mean, I say creepy but I mean it’s totally batshit crazy I can talk to you. I don’t even have a mouth” (“Be Right Back”). However, the awkwardness of the situation does not stop Martha from spending days and nights talking to “Ash” about the life they lived together.
The tension begins to escalate when Martha decides to try living with the new “Ash.” Although he is a perfect copy of the original and even does many things better than Ash, Martha starts to realize that it is not him. “Ash” does not offer any surprises: he does exactly what Martha tells him to do, which gradually drives her mad. Feeling deeply disappointed, she cries: “Fight me! Hit me. Hit me! Come on! Why are you just standing there taking this?” (“Be Right Back”). It is obvious that she does not want to be hit – she wants to feel that “Ash” is real and has emotions that he can express. However, Martha understands that the robot’s software cannot learn to be human. The replacement does not work anymore. The episode ends with a flash-forward to Martha’s future, in which she already has a teenage daughter. The girl goes to the attic to play with her friend Ash and asks her mother to join their game. Martha agrees reluctantly.
The episode is about the mourning of a single woman in the face of a sudden loss of the second half. Android bought by the heroine demonstrates brilliantly an importance to be careful with the own desires and wishes. The creature first fills the emptiness in her life but quickly increases this void in many different ways. “Be Right Back” is perceived very carefully, because it managed to capture the zeitgeist – the theme of social media. The episode is a cute and touching story. The author coped to write an emotional story that speaks to the heart of the audience. The end turned out to be bitter-sweet, although, it avoided cliché suicide by jumping off the cliff.
Also, from a perspective of the connection between the episode and real life, it is vital of importance to mention Luka Corporation case. In 2015, the co-founder of Luka Corporation, Eugene Kuyda, used artificial intelligence resources to create a virtual simulation of her deceased friend based on online communication, a technology that was described in the episode “Be Right Back.” Although the product turned out to be very good, it was criticized by the relatives of the deceased and the company.
To conclude everything mentioned above, “Be Right Back” explores the nature of grief and the ways to overcome it. The director shows that despite the fact that human relationships are imperfect, they are valuable due to this imperfection: it is not the ideal that people are seeking. Technology can give one the chance to create a copy of a real person with any desired functions, but it fails to compensate for the feelings that are absent in the machine. What is unreal cannot help.
“Be Right Back.” Black Mirror. Directed by Owen Harris, Zeppotron, 2013.