The best Black Mirror episodes prove that the anthology series always has explored various ramifications of advanced technologies through twisted narratives. When the show — created by Charlie Brooker — hit stateside through an acquisition by Netflix, it became a pop culture phenomenon. Earning eight Emmy Awards between five seasons and feature length film, Black Mirror could be considered The Twilight Zone of the digital era.
Though Brooker has said that a new season of Black Mirror isn’t currently in the works due in part to our own stranger-than-fiction reality, we’ve compiled several of the best episodes the series has to offer.
Or, in not so many words? It's just great.
Netflix had already begun experimenting with more Choose Your Own Adventure-inspired ways of interacting with their video content by releasing “Puss in Book” and porting over Telltale Game’s “Minecraft Story Mode.” A short time later, the feature length Bandersnatch episode of Black Mirror took the idea to unprecedented territory.
The idea of free-will manipulates characters and viewers in a narrative directed by David Slade. Players make decisions for budding programmer Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead) who is creating a video game inspired by his favorite book. What happens next is a story that goes in entirely bonkers directions alongside five base endings.
From a purely cinematic point of view, Bandersnatch works as well paced, beautifully shot work highlighted by Whitehead’s portrayal of Stefan. The meta-game and easter eggs include a playable version of ZX Spectrum game Nohzdyve and allusions to other Black Mirror episodes. In an age where people are streaming videos and playing video games more than ever, Bandersnatch couldn’t be a better reflection of the time.
The Entire History of You
Sometimes all one wants to do is let go of painful memories. But how difficult is that task when other people can remind us of them at a moment's notice? In a world where humans have the ability to record, replay and broadcast any memory ever created, the last thing anyone wants to do is relieve the worst moments of a romantic relationship.
“The Entire History of You” stars Toby Kebbell as lawyer Liam who begins to suspect a relationship between his wife Fion (Jodie Whittaker) and her friend Jonas (Tom Cullen). Add romantic insecurities and the futuristic memory technology into the mix and the narrative leads to a heartbreaking tragedy.
Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too
The most polarizing episode of Black Mirror to date, “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too” is definitely hurt by pacing issues. However, the story centered around Miley Cyrus’ portrayal of Ashley Ortiz and her AI Robot counterpart Ashley Too is too self-aware to forget. Let’s not forget her amazing pop renditions of Nine Inch Nails classics “Head Like a Hole” and “Right Where It Belongs.”
Behind the modern pop music machine criticism the episode makes, the plot tells a cute story of adolescent loner Rachel Goggins and her sister Jack. Dealing with the recent death of their mother, Rachel sparks a friendship with an AI Robot Ashley Too. When the artificial companion inspired by her pop idol malfunctions, the story turns into an amusing heist story that ends on a totally lighthearted note.
Directed by Anne Sewitsky, “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too” may not be the most universally loved Black Mirror episodes but definitely one of the most conversation worthy.
Games like Valve Software’s Half Life: Alyx proved that virtual reality is reaching a new peak in storytelling and immersion. Meanwhile, VR pornography reportedly sees more traffic than any other VR medium available.
“Striking Vipers” envisions a world where VR is immserve enough to simulate bodily sensations through the lens of friends Danny Parker (Anthony Mackie) and Karl Houghton (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). What begins as a way for two thirty-plus men to remember their younger years turns into sexual hook-ups within the game’s titular world. Danny’s new VR identity as Lance (Ludi Lin) begins to shake the foundation of his lifeless marriage to wife Theo (Nicole Behaire) thanks to Karl’s avatar Roxette (Pom Klementieff).
In the third Black Mirror episode directed by Owen Harris, the episode does a great job of exploring how age and responsibility can erode younger senses of spontaneity.
Social media has become integral in humanity’s current need for constant connection to people and limitless information. Those constant peaks into curated images of individuals’ lives has created a society where digital perception is everything.
“Nosedive” takes place in a not-so-different world where social media has evolved into a system of rating people. Similar to China’s Social Credit System, a five star rating system through eye implants and mobile devices can determine if someone can get a luxury apartment, the type of friends they can have and even eligibility for certain surgeries.
Joe Wright directs the episode about Lacie Pound (Bryce Dallas Howard), a woman who is attempting to raise her plateaued social credit score. Lacie’s over fascination with her score takes her down a downward path that’s brought to life thanks to Howard’s comedic performance.
An episode that possibly prophecies humanity's self-inflicted doom due to over reliance on technology, “Metalhead” uses monochrome cinematography to tell its story starring Maxine Peake, Clint Dyer and Jake Davies. Bella (Peake), Anthony (Dyer) and Clarke (Jake) spend the episode trying to escape robotic dogs who have taken over humanity. The dogs are heavily influenced by Boston Dynamics ultra-popular BigDog prototypes. Though the idea of AI taking over humanity has been done in everything from The Terminator to The Matrix, “Metalhead” is disturbingly more grounded.
Fifteen Million Merits
Years before Daneil Kaluuya made horror history with Jordan Peele in Get Out, he starred in the “Fifteen Million Merits'' episode. Taking place in an isolated dystopian society, working class citizens ride bikes for “merits” when not living in the convinced of the wall-screened living quarters.
The pathway to freedom is through a talent competition show that requires the titular amount. A fairly twisted love story between Bingham “Bing'' Madsen (Kaluuya) and his love interest Abi Khan (Downtown Abby’s Jessica Findlay), it makes some interesting points about capitalism corrupting the most well meaning of individuals.
The National Anthem
When Black Mirror made its first impression in 2011, “The National Anthem” made one grand and morbid impression. The daughter of British prime minister Michael Callow (Rory Kinnear) is kidnapped by a computer savvy terrorist organization.
For her return, Callow has to have sex with a pig on live television. Standing in the way of rescuing his daughter without publicly humiliating himself is social media, news media and opinions of the public. The Otto Bathurst directed episode does a great job in displaying how the spread of information spread in the digital age can be utterly impossible to stop.
Ural Garrett is an Inglewood,CA-based journalist and content curator. His byline has been featured in outlets including CNN, MTVNews, Complex, TechRadar, LA Weekly and more.
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