This post is part of the Thoughts on Black Mirror series. It analyzes the first episode of season 2 (S02E01 – Be Right Back) and it contains spoilers. If you haven’t watched the episode yet and you’re planning to watch it soon, proceed at your own discretion.
Recap of “Be Right Back”
Martha and Ash are a happy couple who live in the countryside. The episode begins by showing us the genuine connection they have. One day, Ash leaves the house to make a delivery but never comes back. Martha gets really worried about him, and later that day she gets shocked to learn that he died in an accident. On the day of the funeral, Martha’s friend Sara tells her about a technology that would allow her to speak to Ash again. However, Martha gets furious and doesn’t accept the idea.
Sara didn’t listen to Martha and signed her up for the service anyways. When Martha gets an email from “Ash”, she gets furious and hurt. She tells Sara that the idea of a software claiming to be her beloved Ash is sick, but Sara convinces her to give it a try. Martha doesn’t seem convinced, but later on when she learns that she’s pregnant she talks to this “Ash” to tell him the news.
After trying it, she gets hooked to that service and gives it access to all of Ash’s videos and emails so that it can learn more about Ash from them. Because of this new data, the service became able to duplicate Ash’s voice and call Martha. She becomes addicted to it and talks to this new “Ash” almost all the time. When she gets too emotionally attached to virtual Ash, he tells her that she can move to the next stage if she wants to.
This next stage turns out to be an android (a robot with a human appearance) that looks and presumably behaves like Ash. When Martha receives this android and activates it, she’s freaked out at first. However, she tries to convince herself that this is actually Ash. Even though he’s not the real Ash, she starts enjoying his company.
One day, Martha’s sister Naomi shows up at her house because she wasn’t returning her calls. Martha hides Ash before opening the door, then lets her in. Before Naomi leaves, she tells Martha that she’s happy to see her move on (because she saw a man’s clothes in the bathroom). That’s when reality hit Martha: she wasn’t moving on, she was doing the exact opposite. She starts getting back to her senses, and gets gradually annoyed by this virtual Ash. He’s cold and emotionless, and knows nothing about Ash other than what’s on social media and videos. She just wanted him gone at that point.
The final scene takes us a couple of years into the future. We see Martha and her daughter celebrating the daughter’s birthday. It turns out that Martha had put Ash in the attic, and lets her daughter see him only on weekends.
Our digital presence is nothing but a few ripples of who we truly are
When Sara first tells Martha about this service, she claims that Ash would be an amazing fit since he was very active on social media. In fact, Ash’s social media presence was enough to give that service a sense of how Ash talked. This is how Martha gets hooked to virtual Ash and decides to give it access to every digital piece she had on Ash. At first, the experience was amazing for Martha. However, as time passes and she gets out of this honey moon phase, she realizes that virtual Ash is nothing like the real one. “You’re not enough of him! You’re nothing!” is how Martha expressed her feelings when having her first fight with him.
This idea becomes clearer when she visits the cliff with virtual Ash and asks him to jump. He was about to obey, which drove her crazy. Ash wouldn’t do it. He’d be scared and terrified. Even though this software had access to all of Ash’s digital pieces, it couldn’t become Ash. What “Be Right Back” teaches us is that we’re more than simple digital information. We have a soul and we’re full of emotions, and no matter how much we try to digitize ourselves, there will always be parts of us that will remain special and unique.
Exploiting human emotions for profit
One of the dark sides of humanity shown in this episode of Black Mirror is greed. Some companies would exploit people just for the sake of making more money, without thinking about how much it would affect these people. At first, the idea of this software seems innocent. As Sara tells Martha, all you need to do is sign up and try it. However, we gradually see how Martha gets emotionally attached to this virtual version of her lover.
When she’s at her lowest, “Ash” tells her that if she really misses him, she can move things to the next stage. He also mentions that it wouldn’t be cheap. At that point, all Martha cared about was seeing Ash again, so she didn’t care about the money and willingly accepted to proceed. In other words, the company behind this service exploited Martha’s grief to sell her the full android model. What is now known as emotional selling can become a dangerous tool if used unethically.
The depth of human relationships
One thing I like about “Be Right Back” is that it showcases how deep a connection between two humans can be. Martha loved Ash, and he reciprocated that love even though we see he wasn’t perfect. A relationship doesn’t need to be perfect in order to be genuine. To be more precise, it cannot be perfect. A strong relationship doesn’t mean to never argue at all, it means knowing how to work through these small arguments and never letting them affect the essence of the relationship.
The power of illusion
“Be Right Back” showcases how when people convince themselves that something is real, they tend to ignore all the red flags thrown at their faces. Even though virtual Ash was sometimes asking Martha to explain to him things he was supposed to already know, she ignored it and explained them to him. When she felt creepy about the entire idea of “Ash”, she convinced herself that she just needs to get used to it. She was talking to him almost all the time over the phone, and was telling him all the news about her pregnancy. He felt real to her, so she was happy to live this illusion of Ash still being with her.
It was only after her sister’s visit that she started coming back to her senses and realizing how fake this entire situation is. She realized that virtual Ash is nothing but a memory of Ash, and that’s how she ended up treating him when she put him in the attic. Sometimes, we need to take a step back in order to realize whether what we’re feeling is real or if it’s just an illusion we’re building for ourselves.
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