The setting of “Fifteen Million Merits” is intriguing, but only for the first 10 minutes. Bing, the protagonist, lives in the confines of a grey, windowless building. He wakes up every morning in a tiny room furnished with floor-to-ceiling digital screens and spends his days cycling on a stationary bike to make a living, like the rest of the hundreds of inhabitants. No one questions why they cycle, they just know cycling generates “merits,” and they need merits to purchase necessities and fund digital amenities. Bing grows to detest this system and decides to take action. However, this doesn’t happen until halfway through the episode. The repetitiveness and long build-up to the climax make for a dull episode.
There’s a large emphasis on screens in this episode. There are screens in Bing’s room, in the washroom, and in front of his bike. They are always on except for when the user sleeps. These screens bombard people with vulgar TV shows and video games, and advertisements about the TV shows and video games. Essentially, the writers are alluding to the dependency that people have with their devices and reveals the type of content they are exposed to. Every day, everywhere, people are surrounded by screens; it’s the “first thing [we see] in the morning, last thing [we see] at night,” as Christopher from “Smithereens” would say. This isn’t much of a lesson than it is an observation, as the writers fail to connect this to a bigger picture.
When Bing awakes, he’s greeted by his “Dopple,” a virtual avatar much like the Wii’s “Mii”. People use merits to customize their Dopples, but Bing chooses not to expend his time, energy, and money on superficial stuff that doesn’t exist, that isn’t real. Here, the writers are addressing an issue that some people have, that is, making in-game purchases while neglecting their well-being in the real world. In the episode, there’s a man who’s obsessed with personalizing his Dopple despite not having many merits in comparison to other people. The system fuels his addiction by launching new Dopple wardrobe options every week. This is how online applications and social media platforms keep users engaged and paying.
Bing demonstrates significant growth as the story progresses. At first, he looks lifeless because his life lacks purpose; he wakes up every day to do the same routine and doesn’t interact with anyone. This changes when Bing meets Abi. He displays more facial expressions, emotions, and behaviors — he initiates conversations with her and becomes hopeful that something real will happen in his life. After Abi is taken away, Bing reverts to his old lifeless shell once more. However, he’s triggered after seeing what the system has done to Abi. He goes berserk, and this fire drives him to do something. Bing puts his life on the line to say his piece, to get people with power in the system to listen, like Christopher in “Smithereens” did.
My favorite scene in the episode is Bing’s impromptu speech; it was full of raw, visceral emotion. In it, he exposes the many issues within the system. He raves about how the system feeds people “fake fodder” until they become numb and life becomes meaningless. He criticizes the people with power for contributing to the system that oppresses groups of people. Yet, when given the opportunity, Bing becomes one of them. The series of events in the episode are realistic, especially the ending, which shows that a single man cannot dismantle an entire system.
Although I enjoyed listening to Bing’s speech and watching the plot twist at the end, the scenes leading up to them were not as entertaining. The inappropriate advertisements that kept popping up were disconcerting to watch as well, so I would pass on watching this again. After taking all of these factors into consideration, I rate “Fifteen Million Merits” 3/5 stars.
After reading this review, consider the following: is technology a problem in and of itself, or is it the people who design and use it, or is it both? Leave a comment below!
What do you think of “Fifteen Million Merits”? Leave a comment below!
Cover Photo: screencap of “Fifteen Million Merits”