A mysterious epidemic spreads in the fictional Eastern European state of Sultava, killing almost everybody who falls asleep. The entire scenario is kept very hush-hush, and not a lot of details are known about the happenings there – not even where the name of the disease, 'Blackbetty', originates from. The financially poor and underdeveloped former-Soviet looking country has become even more miserable following the death of the majority of its inhabitants, who survive only on the basis of medication which prevents them from falling asleep. We have watched the first three episodes of the 'Blackbetty' miniseries, each of these exploring stories of separate characters, whose fates are intertwined by the peculiar disease.
The first episode seems to be set in the US and is centered around a character who tries to raise awareness about the dire situation in Sultava – without anyone paying attention to him or any far-away country’s worries. During his monologue, his megaphone malfunctions, which symbolically represents his lack of a voice, which is generalizable towards almost everybody in the apathetic society we live in.
The second episode jumps to the fictional country affected by the bizarre virus, and explores the lives and struggles of some of the remaining inhabitants. We as an audience get a bit more background information on the situation, as well as experiencing the overall mood which 'Blackbetty' brings along.
The final episode, considerably shorter in length, almost pays homage to the great Soviet director Andrei Tarkovsky, with a setting very in line with his masterpiece, Stalker. The story follows two teenage boys who come close to the edge of ‘the zone’, in order to take some soil and water samples. The grim outlook, which overwhelms the second episode, remains here as well, but also accompanied by a small dose of optimism.
As a whole, the miniseries does not attempt to tell a complex story with plentiful action, and intriguing plot twists. Rather than engaging in such filmmaking, Marco North crafts a wonderful and meaningful mood piece, which could perhaps be more accurately described as an experience rather than a plot-centric story. The beautiful cinematography, combined with the inspired selection of score, creates a meditative atmosphere in which the audience is allowed to develop their emotions alongside the given frame.
The topics explored are plentiful, including human selflessness, apathy, the struggle with hardships and the unlikely sources of sparks of hopefulness. Some questionable decisions, such as the use of English instead of Russian in the second episode, detract somewhat from the atmospheric engagement and the total value of the project, but such moments are rare and unable to undermine 'Blackbetty’s other great achievements.