‘Be Right Back’ is definitely Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror at it’s very finest. The episode follows the story of Martha (Hayley Atwell), a widowed woman given a way of contacting her deceased partner, Ash (Domhnall Gleeson). The process involves a piece of software which claims to be able to replicate human personality based on their digital footprint and personal laptop files. So Martha is put in contact with an Internet version of Ash who she can talk to. After initial satisfaction, she opts for the ‘full package’ and receives a walking-talking android clone of Ash who comes to live with her.
What Does ‘Be Right Back’ Mean?
Whilst Martha is initial delighted at the prospect of having Ash back (as anyone grieving would naturally feel), the euphoria is seemingly short-lived. As we pretty quickly see, ‘Internet-Version’ Ash is not how Ash was at all. He looks like Ash and remembers dates, small facts and some intimate details from personal messages. This begs the question: no matter how much we fill our social media profiles with our private and personal information, will it ever actually be us?
This episode again, as Black Mirror usually does, makes us question how and why we use technology and social media. Most of us have a social media account in some shape or form, but it exists in a virtual and hyperreal world. Our ‘social-media’ selves aren’t really us, they are a bank of photos and information which we choose to share with others. We constantly construct a social media presence which looks like us from the outset, but the intimate and true details just aren’t there.
Social media profiles all too often present people as being happy, funny and looking their best. Martha even comments that the photos kept of Ash were ones that were ‘flattering’, so the clone doesn’t know about hidden moles (although he does grow one on command!). The truth for Martha is that she misses the annoying mannerisms, the bickering and the arguments because it’s what is truly him. However, his social-media presence never dwells on his faults and flaws, but at the end of the day, that is what his partner misses the most.
A Sad Legacy
I think ‘Be Right Back’ is almost focusing on a sad legacy that will be left behind by the digital generation. Martha’s experience demonstrates that all left by Ash is a digital footprint that doesn’t represent him at all. Are a few status updates and tweets going to be all that’s left of us in the end? It’s a dire thought, but one that seems scarily true.
I think this episode really makes you consider your internet usage. What do you post on a daily basis? Do you like and share things simply to impress people? Would you conduct yourself in the person the same as you would conduct yourself online? This Black Mirror episode certainly nods towards the fact that our social media profiles are by no means a true reflection of reality. True life and virtual lives should be deemed and treated as separate entities, as one is clearly not a true reflection of the other.
I still think we should, of course, treat social media as a happy place where we can see the best of people enjoying themselves, spreading their good news and sharing pictures which are important to them. However, we should remain clear that social media certainly isn’t real, as too many people in today’s society struggle to distinguish this hyperreality from real-life.
The Ending Explained
The ‘Be Right Back’ ending is certainly an ambiguous one. Martha takes android Ash to the cliff face, urging him to jump. In her desperation, she is almost forcing a human response out of him and he responds by begging for his life. Despite her knowing that he isn’t really Ash, the familiarities she clearly sees in him are what ultimately stops her forcing him off. She screams at the sky in despair.
The scene cuts and we see Martha’s daughter, now 7, climbing up into the attic to see her father. Martha has kept him in the attic, I think mainly so that her daughter can have a father and she can keep a husband. Although as per usual Black Mirror standards, Charlie Brooker often shows characters turning their backs on issues which face them (like in ‘Men Against Fire’ for example). Despite the evident flaws and problems, she has with Ash, Martha chooses to keep him perhaps for her own selfish needs. She would rather put-up with the issue rather than being the one to make the hard decision to fix it.
Definitely one of my favourite Black Mirror episodes, ‘Be Right Back’ is as harrowing as it is interesting. A longer blog post from me, but there’s a lot to cover! What did you think of this awesome episode? Are you still coming away with questions from it? Stay tuned for more Black Mirror ending explanations in the future!