After the nightmare of “White Bear,” I fired up the last episode of Black Mirror’s second season fearing further trauma and was relieved to find that “The Waldo Moment” is relatively free of the nightmarish content you’d find in most of this show’s offerings. It’s a jacked-up version of an old plot—what if a truth-telling, apolitical comedian ran for political office and started gaining real traction? This scenario is taken to its logical extreme with Waldo, a profane blue cartoon bear whose entry into a local by-election is initially part of a marketing scheme cooked up by TV execs to promote an impending pilot.
Waldo is controlled by Jamie (Daniel Rigby), a man who we understand is bitterly depressed, although the reasons are never made super clear. It’s probably something to do with lack of professional advancement, but Jamie’s character is poorly sketched out for us. We mostly get that he’s sad because he keeps making sad faces all the time and tells Gwendolyn Harris (Chloe Pirrie), one of his electoral rivals that he hooks up with, that he hasn’t been happy for a while. But Jamie’s motivations remain frustratingly vague through the episode. He has no interest in politics, he barely likes doing the Waldo character, and the episode mostly consists of us watching as he loses control of the situation.
It’s just not much fun to watch, and the episode is not nearly as clever as it thinks it is. I give Charlie Brooker a lot of credit because he’s very smart, but I just couldn’t detect any real brilliance at work in “The Waldo Moment.” A credit notes that the plot was based on an idea Brooker and Chris Morris had for their wonderful 2005 show Nathan Barley, which expertly mocked hipster trust-fund kids and the vacuousness of the contemporary art scene. There’s probably a reason this episode didn’t make it past the concept phase there.
We watch as Waldo enters the by-election, largely as a joke because the MP who resigned to open up the seat endured an Anthony Weiner-type scandal involving tweeting pictures of his penis to a 15-year-old. It’s a safe Conservative seat, and Brooker gets in some jabs at the highly regimented system of party politics in Britain, where politicians who have paid their dues are parachuted into solid constituencies where they will have no trouble winning—carpet-bagging isn’t really a problem in the U.K., essentially.
So the Tory candidate is Liam Monroe (Tobias Menzies, who you may recognize as Brutus from Rome, or Edmure from Game Of Thrones, or Villiers from Casino Royale), not a monster by any means, but certainly emblematic of his party. The Labor candidate is Gwendolyn, who admits to Jamie that she’s running with no hope of winning just to get her name out there, climb the ladder and get another opportunity at a left-leaning seat at some later date. Waldo starts calling everyone on their respective bullshit and attracts a ton of support from apathetic voters.
There’s a few fundamental problems with the episode. The major one is that Waldo isn’t funny, and he rarely even makes the kind of cogent points I expected him to make. He didn’t need to be funny, but outside of one particularly successful rant, his content is entirely dumb dick jokes and profuse swearing, which would certainly attract some media attention, but probably not the kind of phenomenal success he experiences in the episode.
It’s especially strange that everyone acknowledges Waldo’s unfunniness. None of the politicians like him, Jamie doesn’t seem particularly thrilled with his creation, and a shadowy American think-tanker who wants to take him global (in one of the episode’s most embarrassingly lame and generic scenes) says that he’ll need rebranding with a friendlier outlook to achieve worldwide success.
There’s just not enough there to suggest that Waldo’s moment would last much longer than 15 minutes, and the show doesn’t help by having all of its characters agree. His political message is a kind of “fuck ’em all” apathy. As Gwendolyn shouts at Jamie late in the episode, if he were calling for revolution, that’d be something. But he’s just calling all the politicians venal liars. Anyone can do that; it happens all the time.
Nonetheless, Waldo is a hit, and he’s eventually wrested from Jamie’s control by the studio boss Jack Napier (Jason Flemyng). Under Jack’s control, Waldo has a nastier, more violent streak to him, and incites crowds into throwing shoes and beating people up. This is even harder to believe, especially in the real-world atmosphere the episode creates (this is the least sci-fi of all the Black Mirror entries). A post-credits coda showing some future-world where Waldo’s face adorns every screen and police march around comes off as ludicrous. The episode hasn’t remotely succeeded in getting us to buy that kind of radical shift.
Nonetheless, I’m very sad to bid goodbye to Black Mirror, and I’m very hopeful that Brooker can produce more episodes for a third season sometime in the future. Since starting these reviews I’ve told all my friends to check this show out and have been largely successful in spreading the word (“The National Anthem” is just such a memorable opening salvo). Hopefully I’ll be back here again one day to run through more episodes.
- “You could roll this out worldwide.” “Like Pringles.” “Absolutely.”
- I really hated the American marketing guy from “The Agency.” Just the laziest kind of spoofery.