Monday, September 21, 2020

Black Mirror Revisit: The Waldo Moment


Season 1, Episode 3: The Waldo Moment
Coming in second to last in my initial ranking of Black Mirror, The Waldo Moment is not an overly beloved episode by, as far as I can see, many television critics or Black Mirror fans. I was dreading the revisit.

My memory of The Waldo Moment wasn't just that it was a mediocre 50 minutes, but worse, that it had aged somewhat painfully in a post-2016 U.S. election world. 

I'll say one thing: this is not the episode to watch during another election year.

The Talent: Show creator Charlie Brooker writes the script, with veteran BBC producer/director Bryn Higgins at the helm. One thing to remember about Black Mirror's first season is how excessively British it was. Most of the cast is probably very recognizable across the pond, but only Tobias Menzies (or Game of Thrones or more excitedly, Rome fame) likely registers a, "oh, that guy" from American audiences.

The Setup: Jamie is a miserable, sad sack comedian who's found minor success in British television playing Waldo, a motion capture cartoon bear with a foul mouth. A successful roasting of a conservative parliament incumbent Liam Monroe (Menzies) leads Jamie's producers to push Waldo to enter the actual election. Also running is up-and-comer Gwendolyn Harris, an ambitious realist who knows this is simply a stepping stone to get experience on the trail.

Jamie and Gwendolyn bump into each other after a few too many drinks and end up in a one-night stand. The recently dumped Jamie becomes uncomfortably obsessed with Gwendolyn, who tries to pause the start of their maybe relationship until the election is over. Because Jamie is an awful baby of a grown man, he uses Waldo to destroy Gwendolyn's reputation (though in fairness, the suddenly not-so-smart Gwendolyn handily gives him all the fuel he needs to start the fire), all the while becoming more and more bitter at Waldo's fame. 

Meanwhile, an American spy agency (or something?) proposes a new deal with Jamie's producers to use the Waldo icon to...spread political unrest across the world? 

The Ending: In a dark, fairly stupid turn, Waldo is taken away from Jamie (is that a loss to anyone?), loses the election, gains a huge 4chan-ish shoe throwing following (presumably of young men who think South Park's Eric Cartman is too intellectually challenging) and...spreads political unrest around the world?

Two watches and I still just don't get it.

The Theme: One of the many problems with The Waldo Moment is that, much like Shut Up and Dance, there's a sense of feeling as though the audience is just supposed to shrug and say, "and?" I guess the driving theme is less Waldo's power and more Jamie's inability to do anything to stop it, in part because of some of the decisions he makes and simply doesn't make. 

The Verdict: I hate this episode. Was that unclear? Apologies to Shut Up and Dance, which is by FAR a better crafted hour of television. I continue to admit that The Waldo Moment *might* have played differently in 2013, and there's still a part of me that should give it credit for anticipating the nature of a political election thrown into turmoil by an outside-the-system ringer. 

That doesn't make it any more enjoyable.

Technology Tip: I suppose most of The Waldo Moment's downturn could have been avoided had Jamie been more cautious in his initial network deal. So while it's not necessarily the sexiest of morals, I'd say the one we get here is a simple "read the fine print (to avoid plunging the world into dystopia)."

The Black Mirror Grade
Cruelty Scale: 5/10 (now that we've been through Donald Trump, Waldo seems even more declawed)
Quality Scale: 3/10
Enjoyment Scale: 2/10

Up Next (Month): An educational field trip to the Black Museum! 


  1. This revisiting of BM episodes is neat. Are you just going to do the ones you disliked most?

    This was one of the episodes that didn't really stand out to me -- not good or bad enough to make a big impression. I remember it just because of Waldo, and had actually totally forgotten about other stuff like the romantic aspect until I read this post. I guess that says a lot about the episode right there.

    I look forward to your Black Museum review. I had mixed feelings on it.

    1. My plan is to go in order of my lowest ranked up, hoping to do one a month. So I guess I'll get back to Be Right Back in two years?!