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Fifteen Million Merits is the second episode of the first season. It was written by Charlie Brooker and Kanak Huq, and was released on December 11, 2011.

Overview Edit

A satire on entertainment shows and our insatiable thirst for distraction set in a dystopian version of a future reality. 

In this world, a society of people live in an enormous, enclosed space with contiguous video screens covering nearly every surface offering personalised entertainment. They earn their living by riding on exercise bikes in order to power their surroundings, earning currency known as Merits. These can be used to buy food, virtual accessories for their Dopple, a virtual avatar, and to skip advertising that frequently interrupts everyday activities. Overweight people are second-class citizens who either work as cleaners around the bikes (where they are verbally abused) or are humiliated on game shows which others pay to watch. 

Bingham "Bing" Madsen (Daniel Kaluuya) has inherited 12,000,000 Merits from his dead brother, and has the minor luxury of skipping advertisements as often as he wants. He notices newcomer Abi Khan (Jessica Brown Findlay) while exercising one day, and develops feelings for her. On another occasion, he overhears Abi singing in the toilet and encourages her to enter an X-Factor style game show called Hot Shots, where winners get to move into more lavish spaces and out of the slave-like world around them, no longer having to grind on a bike for Merits. Bing manages to persuade Abi and, feeling there is nothing "real" worth spending his Merits on, purchases the ticket for her, only to realize the price has changed from 12,000,000 to 15,000,000 Merits. After some consideration he decides to follow through with the purchase, which costs him almost all of his Merits. He accompanies a nervous Abi to the audition, where she is required to drink a beverage called "Cuppliance" that is claimed to help settle her nerves. 

Although Abi's rendition of "Anyone Who Knows What Love Is" impresses the three judges, Hope, Charity, and Wraith (Rupert Everett, Julia Davis, Ashley Thomas) and the crowd, they state they have no more room for a merely "Above Average Singer". Judge Wraith casually remarks that her unease can be taken care of, and offers her the chance to be a pornstar on WraithBabes. Bing attempts to intervene but is dragged away and, after goading from the judges and crowd, Abi, who has been drugged by the Cuppliance, reluctantly agrees despite Bing protesting offstage. 

Bing returns to his cell without Abi and with very few Merits left, where he continues his daily routine listlessly. One day, while playing a game in his cell, an advert for a new episode of WraithBabes featuring Abi appears. Lacking enough Merits to skip the ad, Bing tries to look away, but the automated systems emit an increasingly high pitched and louder beeping noise that only stops when he opens his eyes. Bing tries to use the water closet, but since he cannot leave his cell until the ad finishes, he finally loses his temper and proceeds to bash one of the screens until the glass shatters in shards. Bing eyes one of the larger pieces, and the empty Cuppliance container Abi drank earlier, and gets an idea. He hides them both under his bed, and spends the next several months aggressively earning Merits on his bike, as well as being extremely frugal with what he purchases, even occasionally resorting to theft, in order to re-earn 15,000,000 more Merits and buy another Hot Shots ticket for himself.

Prior to his audition, Bing hides the shard of glass in his pants and stands patiently in the waiting room every day without expression, until he is called in due to the judges wanting an 'ethnic' contestant. He feigns to the stagehands that he already drank his Cuppliance using Abi's empty container, and walks onstage. 

Bing starts with a dance number that impresses the judges and crowd, but stops his performance suddenly and draws the shard of glass pressing it against his neck, threatening to kill himself live on the show if he does not get a chance to speak. Wraith encourages him to kill himself (so long as he doesn't get any blood on Wraith), but the other judges decide to hear him out. Bing begins to emotionally rant about how unfair the system is and how heartless people have become, and expresses his hatred for how the judges took away, corrupted, and sold the only thing in his live he thought was real. Instead of taking his words into consideration, all three judges praise Bing for his "performance", and Hope offers him his own show, where he can rant about the system all he wants. 

Bing accepts the offer and, sometime later, is shown finishing one of his rants via his livestream while holding the shard of glass to his neck, having turned it into a gimmick. He now lives in a penthouse-like cell that is much bigger than his original, and the episode ends as Bing pours himself a glass of orange juice and stands staring out of the side of his room onto a green forest stretching into the distance. The forest appears to be real and not on a screen, as a parallax effect can clearly be seen as the camera zooms out. 

Cast Edit

Trivia Edit

  • Although the second in the running order, this was the first episode to be written.
  • Charlie Brooker stated the idea for this episode originated from his wife Konnie Huq (who co-wrote the episode and is credited under her birth name Kanak Huq) when she remarked that he'd be happy in a world where every wall was a screen.
  • According to the book Inside Black Mirror, an original ending (which was "quickly discarded") had Bing and Abi living together at the end however she'd had lots of plastic surgery and was addicted to complience.
  • In Crocodile, the song "Anyone Who Knows What Love Is" appears repeatedly while Shazia is investigating the accident. The receptionist at the hotel also mentions to Shazia that he is not allowed to reveal who Mia is because of an incident at the hotel regarding one of the judges of the gameshow HotShot.
  • In Black Museum, Jack is reading a graphic novel of the episode, depicting the gameshow HotShot.
  • In White Christmas, an advertisement for HotShot briefly appears as Joe watches TV.
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