With the recent leak stating that Black Mirror season 5 will be dropping on December 28th, the Internet film-sphere is now abuzz with anticipation for the new season of the dark futuristic drama. The show has been critically acclaimed for many years, and so it is not out of the question to assume we will once again be gifted with a plethora of ingenious and brooding storylines. My anticipation peaked as well, and so I thought why not go back and watch the whole series beforehand in preparation for the new season. And hey! While we’re at it, let’s rank every damn episode of the show. Let’s count ’em down.
19. “The National Anthem” (S1: E1)
Alright so here’s how the typical conversation goes when I recommend Black Mirror to someone:
“Hey man, you should check out Black Mirror. So damn great.”
“Yeah, and the best part is each episode is an entirely new story with entirely new actors.”
“Oh, that’s cool. So I don’t have to watch an episode if it’s not good?”
“Exactly. Like you could just not watch the first episode if you want.”
“Please don’t watch the first episode.”
Black Mirror is amazing. The first episode, not so much. Actually, it’s not even that the episode is filmed poorly or has bad acting or anything along those lines. It’s just that it’s sooo weird. Like spoiler alert, the Prime Minister is blackmailed into having sex with a pig on live television. Straight from the get-go, it’s just sort of crude, regardless of how well they perform it. In fact, it’s performed and written about as well as you could write and perform an important government official having sex with a farm animal. Yet the fact of the matter remains it comes across as disgusting and tasteless, and merely present for shock effect. The episode doesn’t even fit into the series’ theme of warning of the dangers of technological advancement. In fact, the episode just feels like the producer’s friend bet him saying, “Hey, I bet you won’t do this on your brand new Netflix series”, and apparently $10 still means something to him.
18. “Hated in the Nation (S3: E6)
So there’s these weird bees that someone hacks. And then the hacker makes a poll on who everyone wants to die and then kills them with the bees. What the actual shit?
17. “San Junipero (S3: E4)
I dunno. I guess this one has a cute story about a service that lets people’s minds live on after they die, and these two women fall in love in the fake world. It’s basically a bad version of Westworld.
16. “Crocodile” (S4: E3)
Nothing that special here. Crime show but the detectives figure it out with future technology. ‘Nuff said.
15. “USS Callister” (S4: E1)
And here’s where we start to get into the good stuff. In this episode, an unpopular boss makes a virtual reality game where is the captain of a Star Trek-like spaceship, where all his employees are his crew and he has unlimited power. Fun and harmless, right? Nope. The rat bastard has the bright idea that the virtual characters have their own consciousness, which evidently leaves them as active participants in this fake world where they have to treat Robert (the boss) as a god and do whatever he says or he will punish them in violent and terrifying ways. Not too fun. So they revolt and communicate with their real selves, who keep Robert stuck in the program and his consciousness is trapped there for eternity as punishment for his cruel actions. Pretty interesting, actually and very well acted. This episode does not have a significant social message but ultimately explores a futuristic situation with a ‘treat others how you want to be treated’ theme. Loses points for being a reskin of so many other things, just with a sci-fi spin.
14. “Men Against Fire” (S3: E5)
In this reality, soldiers are fitted with MASS implants that enhance their senses and such. The soldiers are pitted against roaches, a disease-ridden race that they must hunt to extinction. Stripe, a soldier, has his MASS implant disabled by a roach’s device, revealing that the “roaches” are just regular humans. The government has been using the MASS system to help soldiers kill easier, trying to wipe the “roaches” in a sort of eugenics program. Ultimately, Stripe is forced into having his MASS system rebooted and his memory wiped. This episode details a secretly totalitarian government that operates behind the scenes so as not to jostle public opinion too much and performs atrocities under various guises corroborated by tech. The government wins here and keep it under wraps with Stripe waking up in the future with every part of his life changed through the MASS implant, to keep the public from revolting.
13. “White Bear” (S2: E2)
In this episode, we are thrown into a ‘justice park’ – a place that uses fear and memory wiping to psychologically torture someone in the name of justice. Victoria spends every day waking up, being chased and running for her life, to learn that she has committed atrocities in torturing and murdering a young girl. This brings up a point that is heavily debated in modern society today – the death penalty. The question being whether or not it is morally correct to put people to death over a crime. Yet here, the punishment is SO much worse than death. Victoria ends up spending her life being eternally tortured and going through immense pain and torture EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. This episode takes commentary on an issue prevalent in our society in spectacular and entertaining fashion – all made better through the immense confusion the viewer feels as Victoria goes through her path in utter terror and confusion.
12. “Be Right Back” (S2: E1)
Here we see Matha, a grieving widow, use an experimental program that effectively brings her husband back by using his internet footprint. She struggles with the situation of having the man she cared for back in her life, but at the expense that she knows he is not real and is not quite a replica. Once again, this episode comes as a challenge against the fascination that we have with new tech. We only consider what this technology CAN do, and not what it SHOULD do. We see Martha be torn apart by this, never truly being able to find peace with her lost lover. She is always hampered by the constant thorn shoved in her side that acts as a pain forever.
Goddamn, Domhnall Gleeson can be one creepy bastard. A great actor, but downright frightening.
11. “The Waldo Moment” (S2: E3)
Jamie is a comedian who controls an irreverent cartoon bear on a news show. The bear, Waldo, begins to take on immense success and Waldo is soon urged to run as a political candidate. Jamie sleeps with Gwendolyn, the Labour party candidate, and when she ignores him at the request of her campaign manager, he is heartbroken. He exposes her and eventually his career tumbles. As the credits roll, we see Jamie homeless in a police state, with images of Waldo branding on everything he can see. The lesson emphasized here is one of independence. It emphasizes standing out from the crowd and not being defined to accepting the establishment. When Jamie gives up running against the established order, his creation (Waldo) is consumed and he loses everything.
10. “Hang the DJ” (S4: E4)
So Frank and a buncha other people are on this weird dating world/resort thing that predetermines how long they will be someone to take all the uncertainty out of relationships. Frank and this chica Amy realize it’s a scam and no one can truly find love if there is a set expiration date and they break out. Cool story, good acting. I approve.
9. “Metalhead” (S4: E5)
This episode has such a cool premise, but no resonating message or life lesson. What sticks here is the incredible film style. It is filmed entirely in noir and is brilliantly shot with gorgeous, cutting angles and definition that portray high emotion and act as an ideal outline for how to film in today’s meta.
8. “Playtest” (S3: E2)
Now, this episode doesn’t really have any high and mighty message or commentary. It’s just really great awesome. That’ll be all.
7. “Arkangel (S4: E2)
A mother participates in a controversial program called Arkangel that uses an implant so the mother can see and moderate everything her child sees. When the child grows older, the mother watches her using drugs and having sex with a boy she does not approve of. Her daughter confronts her about it and ends up beating the mother with the tablet used to spy on her and then leaves, hitchhiking off to who knows where. Privacy is an issue that is such constantly debated in our culture, with the government listening in on calls and new tracking apps for children that are becoming so prevalent in our society. Now in the interest of full disclosure, I am a huge advocate for personal privacy and think that everyone should have the right to operate their lives as they wish, without every aspect of their life looked in on by a party out to get them at every turn. Now the other side of the arguments portrays a world of chaos without a way to check in on, essentially, on the public. I believe that Ben Franklin said it best, “If you give up liberty for security, you will get neither and you deserve neither”. This story outlines the dangers that come with monitoring someone, and although it can have safety benefits, it often produces a situation of distrust and a harmful paradigm in which no one can thrive.
6. “Nosedive” (S3: E1)
Here the concept accentuated is a rating system that is frighteningly similar to our social media interactions today. The difference here is that your rating dictates every aspect of your life, from house to jobs and the like. The element here is how everyone gets so tied up in their ratings, it hampers their success in life and damages themselves in turn. The effect of what people lose is frightening in how people change everything about how they view people based on their rating. This episode defines how people are differently viewed based on their rating, instead of showing their real selves.
5. “Shut Up and Dance” (S3: E3)
This episode grabs hold of you within the first minute and does not let go. It focuses on a teenager named Kenny who is blackmailed into performing horrific tasks for a nameless force who watch him through his computer masturbating to internet porn. They threaten to send the video to everyone he knows unless they do whatever he says, and even after he robs a bank and even kills a man, they leak the video anyways, and the episode ends with the cops converging on his location. This taps into a very prevalent fear nowadays of people watching you through your computer, from the government to some hacker with a penchant for chaos. I mean, as of right now, I have my camera covered with a piece of tape. Nowadays, this fear is not some conspiracy theory out of left field, but a legitimate problem that has not been accurately countered (except with the high tech tape method). After so many issues like this coming into the public eye, everyone is now more cautious, but what is most frightening is that as technology becomes ever so integrated with our lives, we still have no real counter to this from a security perspective.
4. “Black Museum” (S4: E6)
This is another episode that contemplates the subject of punishment in our society and the future. Nash comes onto a museum run by Rolo Haynes, who collects various devices with dark histories. His main attraction is one of a man, Clayton, who was wrongfully convicted and electrocuted. After poisoning Rolo, Nish transfers Rolo’s consciousness into Clayton’s head, much like Carrie was transferred into Jack’s head, forcing him to live through the last electrocution which overloads Clayton’s synapses and wipes the digital copies of them both. Rolo’s agony is captured in a souvenir keychain which Nish takes along with the doll with Carrie’s consciousness and shorts out the museum’s electricity, starting a fire. Nish drives off with her mother, her consciousness living within Nish, tells her Clayton would be proud of her. The episode delves into the horrors of modern punishment and judgment on those frighteningly too quickly.
3. “The Entire History of You” (S1: E3)
This episode is great because of its ability to remain in your mind, looping as you continue to go over it again and again. Here, everyone has devices input into their heads that track everything they see so that people can literally relive the best moments of their lives as if it was a television show. We see the catastrophic effects it has for Liam, as he reevaluates a dinner party he went to with his wife, Ffion. We watch as Liam slowly discovers that Ffion has hidden a relationship with her friend Jonas, then that she cheated on him with Jonas, then finally that Jonas is actually the father of his child. Obviously, this does considerable damage to him and he is left alone and ends by cutting out the chip from his head. The interesting debate here is without this technology, Liam would still be with his wife and daughter, happy and living out his life with them. But in that case, he would spend his whole life living the lie that he is really the father of Ffion’s daughter.
The detrimental situation outlined here perfectly demonstrates a conundrum that we are presented with as technology keeps pressing forward. Is it better to believe the comfortable lie or realize the painful truth? Liam clearly makes his choice here, cutting out his chip, realizing that is a wrench holding him back from a better life that could be his.
2. “Fifteen Million Merits” (S1: E2)
While this episode is practically perfect, it is not a happy story. This is one of the most demoralizing stories that truly drive out the feeling inside of you that makes you feel like you are anything special. It truly encompasses the idea of the modern society that we are just one of billions floating around, tossed into some sort of meaningless void where one is not truly themselves. Daniel Kaluuya is an impeccable actor here, filled with raw passion and a clear disinterest in his eyes at the monotony of their lives. The genius of this episode does not lie in criticism of the technological advancement that becomes a hamper. Instead, this criticizes modern society and bureaucracy, that traps us in a loop while the oligarchy looks on in amusement.
1. “White Christmas” (S2: E4)
There are quite a few messages that this episode holds that make it top this list. The first one being the concept of blocking. In this episode, everyone has eye implants that essentially act as a smartphone with similar features. One feature that is shared is blocking, but here it makes the person be entirely grayed out and their voice blocked. Every element of that person is torn from your life, without any ability to contact them. This concept is ultimately terrifying with the idea that in an instant, an important person in your life could be torn from you and even the memories of them could be tainted. Another frightening concept is the cookies, digital clones of your brain that are stored often for performing services to the host. The most concerning part of this are the time alternation, and in the end, the one character is punished with a sentence of spending 10000 years in solitude. This episode brought up countless good ideas and once again brings up the debate of punishment. Once again, technological advancement is criticized and emphasizes the damage new inventions can have on human life.
So there are my rankings. I would love to hear where any of y’all disagree or have opinions of your own. Please keep in mind that not a single episode of the show is bad, in fact, almost all of them are incredible. That is precisely why this list was so hard to make since the entire show was amazing. I am anxiously awaiting the new season and to see if the new episodes correspond with the same level of quality that has been so well established for the show.
Also, fun fact: Black Mirror’s title comes from the reflection you get when looking at your phone. The more you know…