I cannot express how much of a fan I am of Charlie Brooker’s dystopian sci-fi anthology series Black Mirror. With each episode we are confronted with the harsh reality of the drastic progression of technology even to the point in which it becomes part of our everyday existence. Brooker meticulously crafts each narrative with such a unique structure and unconventional narrative that often concludes with a sting at the end of its tale in the form of an unexpected twist ending. I personally believe that the show’s lasting appeal is largely due to the fact that each episode is told in the form of a min-movie and you can easily watch anyone of them without knowing what happened in the previous episode because each one is different. Narrowing down the series to my top eight favourite episodes certainly was a challenge but having given it a lot of thought I finally have my countdown. But before I dive into my list I figured I would provide my honourable mentions along with my brief thoughts on them. I do want to clarify that I do think that these are good episodes but they just missed the cut by just a smidge.
- METALHEAD (Season 4, Episode 5) : Probably one of the least informative episodes of the series but it certainly is one of the most thrilling. David Slade (best known for films such as Hard Candy and 30 Days of Night) does a solid job with his direction of which is essentially a 40 minute chase scene between a woman and a robot dog. Also the black and white aesthetic is a nice touch.
- THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF YOU (Season 1, Episode 3) : What if we could watch all of our memories in the same manner that we watch home movies? This is the question that is explored in shocking detail in this episode from the first series. Toby Kebbell (#notmyDoctorDoom) and Jodie (#TheNextDoctor) Whittaker do a great job with their performances and this episodes provides an insightful examination as to whether or not its better to keep some memories in our head.
- HATED IN THE NATION (Season 3, Episode 6) : We ought to be careful about what we post on social media and boy oh boy does this episode explore this concept. A killer hashtag makes its rounds online targeting figures of power depending on how many retweets are carried out. A very introspective look at the current state of social media.
- WHITE CHRISTMAS (Christmas Special) : This Christmas special takes a turn for the complicated with the telling of a tale within a tale as two men exchange stories in a remote cabin the midst of a snowstorm. Probably warrants a second viewing in order to pick up on some crucial story components.
- BLACK MUSEUM (Season 4, Episode 6) : This finale of the fourth and latest season of Black Mirror is easily one of the most meta-theatrical as it focuses on woman who comes across a strange individual running a museum in the middle of nowhere in the desert who is keen on telling her stories about some of the weird artefacts that he keeps in his collection. Is this one of Brooker’s more personal tales?
8.) FIFTEEN MILLION MERITS (Season 1, Episode 2)
If you are the type of person who has grown tired of the over saturation regarding talent shows in the media that constantly bombard our television screens then this most certainly the episode for you. Set in a fictionalised dystopian society where everyone works for ‘merits’, this society’s form of currency, by cycling on bikes in order to build up enough merits in order to compete on talent competition known as ‘Hot Shot’ where if they are successful they will have all of their wildest dreams fulfilled, an obvious criticism of shows such as The X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent etc. What I really admired about this episode was the manner in which it explored how we as individuals are fascinated with the idea of becoming rich and successful and how sometimes our fantasy of this lifestyle is in far contrast to what actually happens if we achieve it. In fact, it couldn’t be further from what we hoped it would be in the case of the lead characters in this episode. Daniel Kaluuya (who now is best known for his Academy Award nominated performance in last year’s smash hit Get Out, also it is funny to mention that this is what got him his role in that film in the first place) is extraordinary in this episode especially in the moment in which he tells the judges of the talent show how it really is. It’s the kind of episode that really puts things into perspective regarding celebrity culture and makes you think twice about the next time you flick on TV show run by the likes of Simon Cowell.
7.) USS CALLISTER (Season 4, Episode 1)
Black Mirror does Star Trek. What more can you ask for? Set aboard the ship of which the episode is named, this episode follows the adventures of Captain Robert Daly (Jesse Plemons, best known for his playing the despicable character of Todd in Breaking Bad) and his merry crew as they venture across the stars in hopes of discovering new and exciting worlds. Actually this isn’t what the episode is about at all. The world aboard the USS Callister is actually a online simulation run by real-life computer programmer Robert Daly who is far from his online counterpart. We soon learn that Daly actually has some sinister intentions for crafting this world which may have serious consequences for those he works with in the real world. As well as being a ball-pit of fun and easter eggs for trekkies, this episode actually manages to provide some fascinating commentary for the current wave of male abuses of power in the industry. Plemons does a fantastic job at playing a snivelling little creep of a man who is ostracised from society in the real world causing him to retreat to an online world where he vents his frustration on his online subjects either by altering their appearance or forcing them to engage in sexual acts if they don’t agree with his methods of leadership. Add to that a fascinating narrative along with some top notch special effects which makes for one of the most insightful and entertaining episodes that this series has to offer.
6.) THE WALDO MOMENT (Season 2, Episode 3)
What I find to be the most interesting aspect of this episode was that even though it was released back in 2013 as part of the second series it is truly amazing to see how much of this correlates with the current political climate. A failed stand-up comedian performs on a late night chat show as a motion captured blue teddy bear named Waldo. A large part of Waldo’s routine revolves around him interviewing figures of political power mainly criticising their practice of power often in the form of vulgar or explicit language. Waldo instantly becomes an online success with people even propositioning that the blue bear should run for a political position despite not actually being a living breathing person. Not only that but the comedian who brings this character to life believes that Waldo has nothing to offer. I mean the parallels that are drawn in this episode are extraordinary. I mean think about it. A figure who garners mass appeal from an online community who uses his high profile status to ridicule and undermine others who may not be on the same mind-set as himself who is nothing more than a big mouth who attains absolutely no means whatsoever to initiate any prospect of political change whatsoever (fake news anyone?) It’s unbelievable how a lot of this came true to some extent considering the vast time gap. A really well made exploration of the stagnating interest in politics in this day and age. But let’s be honest, Waldo would have probably have been a better president than Trump.
5.) PLAYTEST (Season 3, Episode 2)
Yet another look at the dangers of online virtual reality worlds. A young man named Cooper (Wyatt Russell) embarks on an adventurous tour of the world visiting various countries in order to neglect the troubling life he seems to have back at home. His journey is then put on a sudden halt when he suddenly realises that he has insufficient funds to continue his travels. His only resort seems to be an advertisement as a test subject for an online virtual reality game which is told in the form of a survival horror game but is actually something which confronts the player with the harsh realities of their past. Like with USS Callister, this episode is a landmine for video game easter eggs as its directed by self-professed video-game enthusiast Dan Trachtenberg (best known for his Portal short film and for the unexpected hit of 2016 10 Cloverfield Lane) but I was also surprised to see the amount of cultural references present here in relation to horror films. As well as being full of horror movie and video game treats, its also a great look at the damage that can be caused by ignoring the problems of our past. I want to also make note that this episode probably has one of the best twist endings that the series has to offer and one that truly floored me when I first saw it. Give it a watch fo yourselves and see what you think.
4.) SAN JUNIPERO (Season 3, Episode 4)
Black Mirror does a romance. Oh I do predict that this will be a bleak outcome. In contrast to pre-conceived notions is actually a really heartfelt and sweet tale of romance, connection, memory and is easily one of the most sentimental episodes that the series has to offer. Rather than being set in the dystopian future, this episode actually chooses to take place in the beach town of San Junipero in 1987 and focuses on two women Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) a shy and reserved individual who comes into contact with Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who is far more outgoing than Yorkie. The two become drawn to each other and soon develop feelings for one another and I will not dare talk about where the story goes from this point on because this story goes in such a unique and unexpected direction. The chemistry between Yorkie and Kelly is beautiful to witness and Davis and Mbatha-Raw give powerhouse performances here. Rather than walking away feeling as though I need to revaluate my stance on technology which is often the thought that rests on my mind after an episode of Black Mirror, it was refreshing to walk away from one feeling optimistic and hopeful about life. One of the better on screen romances portrayed on a television platform and the episode just clocks in at an hour in length. To me that is an incredible achievement.
3.) NOSEDIVE (Season 3, Episode 1)
Man, Charlie Brooker must really not be a fan of social media. Well not just Brooker as this episode was also co-written by Rashida Jones and Michael Schur and the premise alone was enough to convince me that this would probably earn a spot on my list. Set in a world where everyone is capable of giving each other a rating out of five stars and which also determines their position on the social ladder, a woman named Lacie (Bryce Dallas Howard) is determined that she earns her spot among all of the five star folk by doing everything she can to receive positive ratings in order to attend the wedding of her far more popular best friend Naomi (Alice Eve). This is a Black Mirror episode the likes of which we have never seen before not to do with its thematic grounds but largely on aesthetic. The episode is shot with this gorgeous velvety pink aesthetic making it feel like something in the vein of The Stepford Wives adding to the faux nature of the environment and to this idea of how strongly connected we establish ourselves with our online personalities. Bryce Dallas Howard is phenomenal here particularly in moments in which she suddenly realises how desperate she has presented in order to warrant the attention of Naomi and her upper class folk. This is also probably one of the best written episodes of the series and I’m not just talking about its world building and the progression of the narrative but the dialogue here is spot on and really nails down the manner in which we present ourselves to others to whom we feel that if we earn their appreciation then our lives will be complete. While this episode may not pack as much of a killer twist as other entries on this list it does close on what I might regard as being one of the best closing shots of the series. It’s truly riveting stuff and it may cause you to think twice before you upload that photo of your dinner. Who am I posting this for?
2.) SHUT UP AND DANCE (Season 3, Episode 3)
While I mentioned above that there really wasn’t as much of a twist in Nosedive, the twist in Shut Up and Dance is so jaw-dropping and unexpected that I found myself yelling at my computer screen by the close of the narrative “OH MY GOD! ARE YOU F***ING SERIOUS!” A young boy named Kenny (Alex Lather, who you may recognise from End of the F***ing World) works a dead end job at a restaurant and is constantly harassed and bullied by other employees. One day he receives a message from an anonymous individual claiming that they have footage of him masturbating on a web cam and if he wants the footage to remain unreleased to the public then he must carry out a series of tasks for them some of which are borderline criminal. This is a dark story and its also one of the most unpleasant Black Mirror episodes that I have ever seen. For the entire duration of the episode you’re hoping that things will resolve themselves and that Kenny will figure out who exactly is doing this. But the episode concludes on such a downer and on such a mean spirited level. And this is why I love this episode. Without giving too much away, I feel as though this was the intention of the episode. Brooker shows us just how things shouldn’t always be taken at surface value (I’m sorry but it really is a struggle to talk about this episode without spoiling what exactly happens) and how people aren’t always what they appear to be. The twist works on such an ingenious level and I struggle to see why a lot of people found this episode to be very polarising. Sure it’s not an easy episode to sit through but I don’t think it sought out to be. My best advice I can give to you for Shut Up and Dance is to watch it without knowing anything about it. But there is one other episode of Black Mirror that is very similar to Shut Up and Dance that I personally feel explored similar themes far better.
1.) WHITE BEAR (Season 2, Episode 2)
I loved every single moment of this episode. I loved the setting, the acting, the premise, the intrigue, the direction, the writing. To me, this episode of Black Mirror stands for everything that Charlie Brooker’s series represents. In fact, I love this episode so much that I’m not going to tell you what it’s about. I’m just going to urge you that you give this episode a chance and you’ll see exactly why I love it so much. When people ask me what’s the best Black Mirror episode to watch in order to prepare themselves for the nature of the show, this is the episode I show them rather than The National Anthem which is the first episode from the first series and I find to be far more unpleasant than it is intriguing. White Bear continuously throws you for a loop scene after scene until it ends with, yes that’s right, probably the best twist ending that I’ve ever seen from a film or TV show. If you can see this twist coming before the end of the episode then I tip my hat off to you because how in the name of God could anyone have seen this coming? Also make sure to keep watching after the credits roll because there are some pretty damn hilarious moments in this episode as well. To me, White Bear is the best episode of Black Mirror and Charlie Brooker, I have no idea how you formulate these kinds of ideas but you certainly do have an interesting viewpoint on the digital world as well as a warped sense of humour. And I love your show for that reason.