‘Be Right Back’ Is About Grief and How New Technology Impacts It

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Linh Nguyen

“Be Right Back” is a haunting episode that leaves you with mixed feelings. It shows you how advanced technology could be used to smooth the pain of loss. Although that idea is humane, it doesn’t help people move on from traumatic experiences.

Martha, the protagonist, is a woman who recently lost her internet-addicted boyfriend, Ash, to a car accident. She was overwhelmed by sadness. The pain of losing the love of her life made her depressed, clinging to everything that was left of him.

After hearing about an artificial intelligence program that uses one’s data on social media to resurrect the dead, she decided to give it a try (even though she was reluctant). Then, she heard Ash’s voice, and her emotions took control. Martha, emotionally unstable, was tempted by the idea of creating a replica of her deceased boyfriend. So she decided to give life to an AI model of Ash.

But she soon realized she couldn’t bear to live with the copy of him. Her Ash was human, with tendencies and feelings that only humans have. The other is just a vessel, and while he may look like Ash, he was programmed and doesn’t own many things the original version owns.

In the end, we jump into the future when Martha and her daughter are still living in the countryside, and it’s her daughter’s birthday. As they cut the cake, her daughter asks for another piece. She then takes the piece of cake to the attic, where the Ash replica lives. She chats with him while Martha stands at the bottom of the attic stairs. Her daughter tells her to join them, and after some hesitation, she does.

In literature, the attic is used to keep secrets, usually dark ones. In some cases, they are equivalent to the psyche. Attics in dream interpretation often symbolize hidden memories that are being stored and how willing or ready the person is to let those secrets ultimately be revealed.

Ash was later seen living in the attic of Martha’s home – her biggest secret she’ll never be willing to let go unless she learns to move on from her grief. “Be Right Back” is all about grief, the mourning process of one, and how in the new age, technology influences it.

The idea of letting our devices help us is humane, but it’s not helpful. Martha should have quit earlier. It did help her, but she started to abuse it and it made things worse. The problem was she was weak before the allure of technology’s dark side. She had buried her lover in a casket underground and later received his clone in a cardboard box. Also, AI Ash is built with human Ash’s online persona, so the way he acts was unnaturally emotionless. He can only mimic the way of talking and some facial expressions, but other than that, he is incapable of playing “human.”

The audience is sympathetic to Martha, simply because her situation is relatable. We, until now, admittedly, are sometimes not strong enough to get over traumatic experiences. Death is a part of the life cycle. We must learn to accept and move on from it.

Martha chooses to dwell in her sorrow, unwilling to let go of the ghosts of her past, refusing to move on in the ending, and that’s dangerous. There’s nothing that could replace a living-being, nothing that could be done to bring the dead back to life.

While “Be Right Back” is the best episode of “Black Mirror.” Rather than showing how a dystopian world falls victim to technology, this one never loses sight of its humanity. The technology we create and rely on reveals far more about us than anyone else.

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