“National Anthem” grabbed people’s attention for, you know, obvious reasons.
“Fifteen Million Merits” has something different going on.
Set in some sort of distopian future, the world seems to be shut away. We first see Bing (Get Out‘s Daniel Kaluuya) waking up in a small box apartment surrounded by glass screens. The screens are interactive. He has some sort of count going on, and as he does things, he gains or loses points (or merits as they are called) doing various activities. Play an interactive game on the screen? That costs him. Try to skip a commercial? That will cost him. Toothpaste or hand soap from various dispensers? That will cost him. How can he earn anything? Pedaling a stationary bike that provides power or something for the living space. Much of what happens is implied rather than explained. If you can’t pedal, you’re a janitor or an object for derision on some game show. Bing has over fifteen million merits, many inherited from his dead brother, so he can skip ads without a thought, particularly the one for “WraithBabes,” some kind of porn program, but Black Mirror makes it seem a lot more sinister.
By the way, if you’re in your tiny cubicle, you must watch the screens. Trying to block your eyes results in painful noises and other problems.
Bing is going about his business doing whatever (he doesn’t even talk much) when he spots newcomer Abi (Downton Abbey‘s Jessica Brown Findlay). Abi has a fantastic singing voice, and since she’s just started, she has nothing in terms of merits. But there is a way off the cycles, and that comes from winning as a contestant on an American Idol type show that auditions people with different talents to entertain the cyclists in different ways. Bing is convince Abi can do well with her voice, and gladly spends the fifteen million for her. He escorts his new friend to the studio, gets to hang out backstage, and then she gets her chance. And she’s got a beautiful voice, earning praise from two of the three judges. There’s just one little problem…
See, Abi is attractive. Good singing isn’t that uncommon. But if she were willing to do more…
Yeah, Abi is talked into doing porn by the judges and the Sim avatar-style home audience in attendance. Bing is outraged but escorted away forcibly before she can make her decision.
And since he spent all those merits, he can’t even skip Abi’s “WraithBabe” debut ads anymore. Heartbroken and angry, Bing smashes a screen and produces a sharp chunk of glass. Now he has an idea.
Bing goes back to the cycles and starts earning more credits. He’s skimping on stuff as much as possible, eating leftovers in the cafeteria and taking the minimum of essentials. And when he has the fifteen million, he gets his own audition ticket, promising only to be “an entertainer”. What does he do with his time?
He stops a dance routine to put the glass to his own throat, promising to kill himself if he can’t have his say. He’s granted that say. And he rants. He rants angrily about how foolish they all are, spending non-existent money on non-existent items, and how the whole system sucks, and he manages to silence everybody with his heartfelt sincerity.
That would be when one of the judges praises his honesty and offers him a talk show.
Nothing changes. Bing takes the job. He talks for a half hour a week with the glass to his throat. But he’s got a penthouse now. And he even has a window to the outside. No one goes out there for some reason. If it’s real, that’s too bad. It actually looks nice out there.