Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror is best descibed as a modern The Twilight Zone, which explores the consequences of bleeding edge technologies. Initially sold to the United Kingdom’s Channel 4 as a dark comedy, Black Mirror is mostly recognized for its haunting portrayals of life as it is affected by technologies that are either new, or on the horizon, in our reality. We have been huge fans of the series for years, and now that Netflix is distributing the show, we finally have enough episodes to rank our favorites. As Black Mirror is not yet concluded, and even has another 6 episodes currently in production, we might revisit the topic of this list at a later time. Until then, this week’s edition of Top 10 Tuesday explores episodes of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror.
10. The Waldo Moment
The Waldo Moment, about a racist digital character running from Prime Minister, was for me, the most convoluted, and unlikely future that Black Mirror had yet to present when it aired as the finale of season 2. Looking back on it, however, shows a level of prescience on the part of series Creator Charlie Brooker. It is hard to believe the episode aired over 3 years ago, when we now have a Waldo-esque character set to take the office of the President of the United States of America next month.
09. The National Anthem
Another prescient episode of Black Mirror marks the second entry on this list. The National Anthem was the most un-Black Mirror episode of Black Mirror‘s first season. A strange feat, considering it was the first episode of the entire series. Though haunting and horrifying, the episode seemed so out of place, tonally, with the rest of the season. The story involved the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom being forced into performing a perverse act in order to save the life of a beloved member of the royal family. Years after the episode aired, the United kingdom’s real Prime Minister was accused of committing a similar perverse act as part of an initiation to a secret society when he attended school at Oxford.
Our first entry from Black Mirror‘s recent 3rd season, is also the first episode of the 3rd season. Nosedive, which was written by Mike Schur and Rashido Jones (Parks and Recreation), was a more light-hearted, though still terrifying, episode of the series. Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World) starred in the episode, which imagined a world in which privileges are dictated by the ratings we give each other in society.
07. White Bear
With, perhaps the most shocking twist of any Black Mirror episode, White Bear told a story about incarceration, which played out like a survival horror game. Our protagonist wakes up with no memory to strange occurrences that keep her confused and terrified as she begins to unravel who she is, where she is, and what she is doing there.
06. The Entire History of You
Optioned as a potential movie by Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), The Entire History of You is a favorite of the entire series for many Black Mirror fans. The episode handles the era of social networks with effortless skill, creating an environment of stress and hostility that is outright palpable. If you recorded everything you saw, and could share your experiences at will, how long would it take for blind trust to evaporate entirely.
05. San Junipero
Starring Halt and Catch Fire‘s Mackenzie Davis and Undercovers‘ Gugu Mbatha-Raw, San Junipero first hit us hard with 80s nostalgia, before hitting us even harder with one of life’s biggest questions: What happens when we die? Not content with religious doctrine, Charlie Brooker explores the concept of a computer simulated afterlife, that your consciousness can be uploaded, or copied, to. The episode has an oddly upbeat ending for an episode of Black Mirror, though the final moment does feature a fleeting reminder of the cold reality, which encourages even more questions and discussion.
04. Be Right Back
Be Right Back, featuring Domhnall Gleeson (Ex Machina) and Hayley Atwell (Marvel’s Agent Carter), also explores an element of life after death. While San Junipero explored the concept of a digital afterlife, Be Right Back tackles the concept of approximating who we are by what we have left behind. A grieving widow learns of an application that can help her with the grieving process by creating an AI bot of her deceased husband, based on his text messages, emails, pictures, and other aspects of his digital footprint. What starts as a form of therapy, is soon perverted by an option to bring him “back” in a physical form. That is when the line between what is real and what is imitation can become blurred.
03. Shut Up and Dance
The best episodes of Black Mirror stick with you, and that is precisely what Shut Up and Dance did for me. In the episode we are introduced to a beta male, getting by despite being bullied and taken advantage of. After a moment of self-love, our protagonist discovers that his performance was recorded and is now being used against him in the form of blackmail. Though seemingly a story about cyber bullying, with a darker edge of danger on the horizon, Shut Up and Dance builds upon itself until it seems absurd that hiding a masturbatory session would be so balanced against what is asked of him. That is when the other shoe drops, and we earn why our protagonist is so desperate. Then, after finally making it through his trials, damaged and shaken, he learns that his efforts were all for naught. With only the use of the troll face meme, everyone who has been blackmailed in this way are notified that all of their secrets were leaked to all of their contacts.
02. White Christmas
This 90 minute Christmas Special is technically considered part of season 2, though I like to consider it a separate thing as it was distanced from the season by more than a year. White Christmas is essentially 3 intertwined stories, each more haunting than the 1 before. Each story fits into the container story, which revolves around 2 men, Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm and The Big Short‘s Rafe Spall, in a cabin together. Hamm’s character Matt tells Spall’s character Joe 2 stories about himself, coaxing Joe to eventually tell a 3rd about himself. Through the stories we learn about a technology called Z-Eye, a surgically implanted augmented reality device that everyone uses. We also learn about another technology, which allows for a digital copy of a person to be made, called a cookie. The eventual payoff is that Matt’s goal was to get Joe’s confession to a murder, as both were cookies in a virtual environment. Matt used his skill set of manipulating cookies, to get a deal from the police for his own crimes, as highlighted in his first story to Joe. Matt is free’d but only after being labeled a sex offender, which “blocks” him from all other people using the Z-Eye technology. Matt will only see white blurs, who are inaudible, of everyone, for the rest of his life. Everyone else will see Matt as an equally inaudible red blur.
01. Fifteen Million Merits
No episode of Black Mirror has resonated with me as much as the second episode of season 1 did. Fifteen Million Merits depicts a future dominated by micro transactions, in which everything is based on the merits you earn. By generating power on stationary bikes you can earn merits, but anything you watch or listen to costs you merits, as does your housing, your digital avatar, and all basic necessities. Those unable to earn enough merits on bikes must take on more humiliating jobs, often for the amusement of those on bikes. Ads will constantly pop up throughout the lives of this dystopia’s denizens, which can only be skipped by spending more merits. The episode follows the character Bing, as portrayed by Daniel Kaluuya (Skins), who inherited 15 million merits from his deceased brother. Bing meets Jessica Brown Findlay’s (Downton Abbey) Abi, and is instantly smitten with her. After overhearing her sing, he convinces her to be a contestant on Hot Shots, a Britan’s Got Talent-esque talent show, which is popular among the denizens. A ticket to compete on the show, however, is quite pricey, at 15 million merits. As such, Bing gifts Abi a ticket to compete using all of his merits. Her audition quickly turns into a nightmare as she is fed a liquid drug called compliance and pressured into accepting a job in pornography by one of the hosts. Bing returns alone, heartbroken, and now unable to skip the ads for his crush’s porn debut, in which she appears changed with bleached blonde hair, and seems to be always under the influence of compliance. All of that is only the first half of the episode, as a more haunting twist concludes this episode about the corruption of innocence.
What do you think of our list? Did you prefer Men Against Fire, Hated in the Nation, or Playtest? Tell us in our comments, and stay tuned to TVEnthusiast for more coverage of all of your favorite shows.