Called The Twilight Zone of our age, Black Mirror is a television series that explores the possibilities of technology – more importantly, what can happen when that technology takes on a sinister element. I believe that the show, albeit very dark and depressing, is an important watch, as it delves into the deep recesses that increased AI and social media prowess have uncovered within ourselves as a species. Inventions and innovations make our lives easier – or have they? And if so, at what cost?
In this post, I lay out a brief synopsis of each and attempt to rank them. Due to each episode’s stand-alone qualities, I found it impossible to individually rank each episode, from 1 to 19. Instead, I put them in four separate categories: Fantastic, Great, Really Good, and Good. Virtually all of the episodes are extremely well-done – writing, acting, cinematography, and so on. However, in certain regards, particular episodes pack more of an emotional punch, or more of a disturbing mindfuck, thus sticking with you for a longer period than others. That is mostly what I based my ratings on: how impactful and thought-provoking the episodes are.
Along with the rankings, I will describe the technology that the episode features along with the respective human need that that technology is used to fulfill (and, in most of the cases, it is that exact need that brings about the downfall of the main character(s) ).
Starting with the best, here are my ratings of the Black Mirror episodes, through season 4.
-Warning: while I try not to reveal too much, there are definitely some spoilers here!
This is the best of the best, and while it might be cliche to have this as my favorite episode, I really haven’t a choice, it is that good. The most lauded episode to date (Emmy award-winning), San Junipero is an extremely heart-felt love story that raises a lot of questions regarding the possibility of a heaven (real or simulated), and if choosing to live there when our time is out is the right choice.
The tech: a program that allows individuals to live in an alternate reality
The need: to relive our glory days; to cope with the finality of death
The Entire History of You
If you have ever obsessed over a failed opportunity, or a time when you said something stupid or horrible, or even…your significant other’s fidelity, this episode will definitely hit a nerve. Do we want to be able to replay all the moments of our lives?
The tech: small “grains” that are implanted in people’s heads that record everything they see, and makes it available to replay (on tv screens, in our heads, etc.)
The need: to replay all our memories
This episode will probably leave you going, “I’m not sure how I feel about this…” One of the best twists in the series, it concerns multiple cultural plagues including the bystander effect, apathy, and the need to film everything. But, it doesn’t stop there.
The tech: Memory-wiper, “Justice Parks”
The need: to film; to punish criminals via their own methods
Imagine if Captain Kirk or Jean Luc-Picard were evil dicks, and you were on their crew. What a horrible premise, right? Now, imagine that you had no choice but to play along with their “conquests”, day after day, while they threatened and berated you. This episode is “bullied nerd turns horrible video-game despot”. Star Trek and Breaking Bad fans will definitely appreciate.
The tech: digital copies of people are generated, then uploaded to a video-game
The need: the male authority’s grasp for control, even in an alternate reality
One of the things that makes this series to scary is the fact that a lot of the technology that it chronicles is actually feasible; this episode excels in this field. Bryce Dallas Howard is amazing as Lacie, a girl who is desperate to make her rating go up, and…let’s face it: we would all be hard-pressed to find someone we know that is NOT consumed by some degree with regards to their social media presence.
The tech: Smartphones allow you to rate everything, from photos to personal interactions. Similar to Yelp – but for people.
The need: addiction to “Likes”
Christmas, Black Mirror edition. The episode contains three interlocking stories that center around Matt and Joe, two men stationed at an outpost. They begin telling stories of why and how they ended up at the outpost…and things get really bizarre and horrible from there.
The tech: digital copies of people’s consciousness, aka “cookies”; Smart houses; the ability to “block” someone
The need: personal assistants
The National Anthem
It’s the one where a member of the royal family is kidnapped, and will be killed unless the Prime Minister has sex with a pig. If you can get past that synopsis, the episode is excellent. Eye-opening and mind-opening, it’s a sobering comment on our capacity to turn our attention to the vile, just so long as it is entertaining.
The tech: today’s internet/social media
The need: distraction, sensationalism
A deadly cat-and-mouse game, only the cat is a robotic dog and the mouse is a woman who has survived some type of apocalypse. This is what could happen when the robots decide to turn on us and enter “Seek and Destroy” mode.
The tech: robotic dogs that hunt anything that lives
The need: to invent
Shut Up and Dance
Multiple people are the targets of hackers and are forced to do the bidding of the anonymous antagonists. This episode’s twist is excruciating, one of Black Mirror’s darkest moments.
The tech: a hacker’s sophisticated blackmailing scheme
The need: digital blackmail
15 Million Merits
What the character’s lives are comprised of: ride a stationary bike all day to collect “merits”, then head to their room where they are forced to watch commercials. It is possible to get out of this life, but the powers that be have more sinister plans in mind. Kind of like our own lives, to a certain extent, what with all the reality television shows and the seemingly inescapable advertisements that encircle us. This episode had the most negative and depressive effect on me, out of all.
The tech: people ride bikes to earn merits, which allows them to compete on a reality show
The need: reality shows, consumerism
The scariest episode of Black Mirror in terms of haunted house/horror movie standards, it tells the tale of Cooper, a guy who participates in an unreleased virtual reality game. Let’s just say the developers still have a lot of kinks to work out.
The tech: VR gaming gone to the extreme
The need: to submerse ourselves into anything but our true reality
Hated in the Nation
A mystery-thriller of sorts, the episode actually plays as a mini-movie due to its length (89 minutes). The power of public opinion and the mob mentality is featured in this one. Oh, and also killer bees.
The tech: robotic bees that pollinate the globe…and other tasks
The need: public shaming
The second anthology episode of the series, Black Museum is set in a tourist trap outside Las Vegas. The museum houses many of the tech items from previous episodes, plus some new ones that are presented by the malignant museum owner, Rolo Haynes. Some of the most sinister technological traps are in this episode.
The tech: various forms of digital copies and “cookies”
The need: various – pleasure, entertainment, sadism
Be Right Back
This episode is frequently mentioned as the series’ best. A woman loses her boyfriend, and signs up for a service that allows her to contact him again – first through instant messaging, then calling, then eventually through a complete physical replica of him. What follows is a gradual realization that we can never completely recover those we have lost, no matter how hard we try.
The tech: androids that resemble deceased loved ones
The need: to hang on to those we have lost
The Waldo Moment
A cartoon character that runs for political office. A lot less dystopian than anyone could have thought, post-2016.
The tech: a comedian voices a popular cartoon character via a remote manipulator
The need: to see politics and politicians as a bad joke
Men Against Fire
What better way to have the military perform better than to turn their enemies into monsters? Stripe, a new recruit, starts experiencing shorts in his military implant, called Mass. I’m actually surprised this kind of technology hasn’t been developed and utilized yet.
The tech: military implants that alter an officer’s senses
The need: to allow soldiers to kill more easily; otherness
Hang the DJ
Also a love story, and one of the episodes that contains a happy ending. The concept and the methods used by “The System” are interesting to ponder, however, this episode did feel a little too light for me.
The tech: a dating application that sets people up and affixes time limits to relationships
The need: to find “The One”
The ultimate helicopter mom’s dream. This episode balances a parent’s desire to protect their kids from harm with the downside of sheltering them, thus producing an inept and naive adult.
The tech: a program that allows parents to track their children, and to see what they see
The need: to keep close tabs on your kids
This episode has been described as way too bleak, and rightly so. A woman tries to cover up her murderous tracks, and when an insurance investigator seeks to retrieve her memory using a device called a Recaller, the direst of measures are taken.
The tech: a device that allows someone access to another’s memories
The need: to uncover (and cover up) crimes and legal disputes