Set in a world only minutes from our own, Black Mirror explores how modern technologies can backfire and be used against their makers. Every episode has a unique setting in place and time with different characters having to deal with the ramifications of their choices. This is not a feel-good show. Black Mirror is not a show you enjoy. A great episode of Black Mirror is one that sits in the back of your mind for days afterward. Sure, crowd-pleasing episodes like “San Junipero” are fun, but they can be in any series.
If you sit down to watch Black Mirror, you come to see someone’s (fictional) life get ruined. You tune in in order to be warned because some of the technologies seen in these episodes are already here. That being said, here are the 10 best episodes of Black Mirror.
*Warning: Spoiler alerts ahead*
10. USS Callister (S:4, E:1)
The episode follows Robert Daly, played by Jesse Plemons, a reclusive but gifted programmer and co-founder of a popular multiplayer online game. Viewers soon find that Daly is bitter over the lack of recognition of his position from his co-workers. He takes his frustrations out by simulating his own adventure within the game, using his co-workers’ DNA to create sentient digital clones of them. Acting as the captain of his spaceship, Daly orders his co-workers around, submits them to his will, and mistreats them when they get out of line. Touching on the topical subject of toxic masculinity in the workplace, this episode has a very satisfying conclusion.
9. Arkangel (S:4, E:2)
How far will you go to protect your child? What does "protection" really mean? These are some of the questions that single mother Marie, played by Rosemarie DeWitt, faces while raising her 3-year old daughter Sara.
One day, Marie briefly loses track of Sara, and decides to have her implanted with the Arkangel system, allowing Marie to use a tablet to track her, monitor her health and emotional state, and censor sights she doesn't want Sara to see. A simple story that deals with complicated moral questions, this is one episode where parents in the audience question if they themselves would be any different in their place.
8. The National Anthem (S:1, E:1)
In this episode, the British prime minister Michael Callow, played by Rory Kinnear, awakens to be told by the Home Secretary that Princess Susannah, a much-loved member of the royal family, has been kidnapped. To the disgust of all, Callow is threatened that Princess Susannah will be killed unless the Prime Minister has sexual intercourse with a pig live on national television.
One of a handful of Black Mirror episodes truly grounded in the present, this episode is quick to show us how quickly we turn on our own politicians as well as our own obsession with the absurdities of Reality TV. In this episode’s climax, Prime Minister Callow reluctantly commits the act while over 1.3 billion people watch. Unbeknownst to everyone, the princess had been released 30 mins prior to the event and was wandering the streets of empty London.
This episode was later compared to “Piggate,” a real-life scandal which occurred in 2015. Series creator Charlie Brooker, who wrote the episode, quickly denied any prior knowledge of the allegations, calling the situation “a complete coincidence, albeit a quite bizarre one.”
7. Crocodile (S:4, E:3)
How far would you go to keep a secret? The episode centers around Mia, played by Andrea Riseborough, who is distressed about having helped her friend Rob cover up a hit-and-run death. Fifteen years later, a newly sober Rob wants to confess their crime, but Mia has a family and built a successful career for herself. An argument ensues and she kills him. Afterwards, Mia witnesses a road accident between a pedestrian and self-driving vehicle.
In this future, insurance companies have the technology to scan the memories of witnesses to verify claims and they track down Mia to scan her memories regarding the self-driving vehicle. Events spiral out of control again but the audience is in the same moral dilemma: How far would you go?
6. The Entire History Of You (S:1, E:3)
At some point in their lives, everyone has wished they had a perfect, photographic memory. This episode tells the story of Liam and Ffion, played by Toby Kebbell and Doctor Who’s Jodie Whittaker, a young couple who belong to a portion of society who have “grains” implanted behind their ear. These devices record everything they do, see, or hear, allowing them to play back their memories in front of their eyes or on a screen.
After seeing Ffion laughing with a man he doesn’t recognize, Liam becomes obsessive. He begins scrolling through his own memories and confronting Ffion. Once Liam begins to scratch the surface, he uncovers uncomfortable truths about his wife and his 18-month-old daughter.
5. Shut Up And Dance (S:3, E:3)
Another present-day episode, “Shut Up and Dance” follows Kenny, a typical teenager who returns home from work to find that his younger sister has unintentionally infected his laptop with malware; Kenny downloads a purported anti-malware tool which actually allows an unseen hacker to use the laptop's camera to record him masturbating. The hacker later emails Kenny, threatening to send the video to everyone in his contact list unless he follows a series of instructions. During these instructions, Kenny meets other blackmailed people like Hector, played by Game of Thrones’ Jerome Flynn. Despite following every command, the hacker releases the incriminating material and we find out that young Kenny was watching child pornography.
4. Hated In The Nation (S:3, E6)
We’ve all said, or wanted to say, bad things about people online, but do we actually mean it? This feature-film length episode explores the idea of the hateful comments that circulate the Internet actually having consequences on the recipients of that hate. As the episode wears on, we realize that the messengers have consequences as well. With standout performances by Kelly MacDonald and Benedict Wong, this also casually glosses over the fact that in our world, bees are dying by the boatload and we will need a solution before time runs out.
3. White Christmas (S:2, E:4)
Joe Potter, played by Rafe Spall, wakes up in a cabin on Christmas Day. As he enters the kitchen, Matt Trent, played by Jon Hamm, tries to talk to Joe, saying that the two have barely spoken in five years. To get Joe to open up, Matt tells the story of why he ended up in the cabin. What follows are three mini-stories ultimately relating to the characters' current situation. This episode explores such weighty topics as shared criminal responsibility, blocking people in real life, and what it means to be alive. As with most episodes of Black Mirror, the curtain is pulled back at the end to reveal that we truly had no idea what was happening the entire time.
2. Black Museum (S:4, E:6)
While waiting for her car to charge in a remote charging station, Nish, played by Letitia Wright, comes across a building marked “Black Museum," which claims to house "authentic criminological artifacts." She meets the proprietor who offers to give her a tour, in which he recounts the stories of the artifacts he has collected, shown in a flashback during the episode. This episode is not only a treasure trove of call-backs to previous Black Mirror episodes, but also tells three stories of people who got more than what they bargained for when they signed on the dotted line. As the episode closes, we see someone awful get exactly what they deserve — and it couldn’t feel better.
1. White Bear (S:2, E:2)
This episode follows Victoria, played by Lenora Crichlow, a woman who does not remember who she is and wakes up in a place where almost everybody seems to be controlled by a television signal. Along with some of the few other unaffected people, she must stop the “White Bear” transmitter while surviving merciless pursuers. After many strange encounters, it is revealed that the entire thing is a rouse. It is revealed that Victoria and her fiance abducted, tortured, and killed a young child before burning her body. While her fiance killed himself in prison, Victoria was sentenced to “White Bear Justice Park,” where she relives the same events over and over for the amusement and entertainment of vigilantes.
As the credits roll, we see episodes’ events played out from the point of view of the public, as Victoria’s memory is erased for the next round or park attendees. This episode exemplifies the eagerness for “an eye for an eye” punishment existing in society. It attacks our current cultural trend of dressing up the humiliation of others in the name of entertainment.