Season 4 of Black Mirror hit Netflix this past Friday, so I viewed it as good a time as any to rank the episodes. The rankings will include episodes from season 4, so skip over those descriptions if you wish to avoid spoilers. For those of you that do not know, Black Mirror is an anthology series revolving around technology. The series is highly dystopic, with many episodes ending quite depressingly. And as you’ll discover in a moment, I love the series.
As the penultimate episode of season 4, Metalhead marks the series’ first foray into black and white. Sadly, Metalhead serves as the only episode of Black Mirror in which I don’t consider a good episode. It’s an episode I’d suggest anyone could skip over and lose absolutely nothing. Metalhead doesn’t provide the moral complexity of any other episode of the series and instead, it simply serves as a sci-fi chase film.
While some may enjoy the episode for its relatively short 44min runtime and potentially tense atmosphere, there’s nothing under the surface. Nearly every other episode of the show has a degree of rewatchability, yet I can’t see myself revisiting Metalhead anytime soon. The episode also has some of the worst cinematography of the series, most notably in its car chase sequence. The sub-par CGI for the dog was also surprising considering how good the creatures looked in the season 4 premiere episode, U.S.S. Callister.
18. Men Against Fire
While I love the core idea of creating subservient soldiers, the execution of Men Against Fire brings the episode toward the bottom of my list. Like Metalhead, Men Against Fire is the penultimate episode of its season (season 3), making me question if the creators knowingly put the worst episode of the season second to last. This way, viewers have already seen the majority of the season and would likely continue to the last episode even if they disliked this one.
Conspiracy theories out of the way, Men Against Fire fails to hit as hard as the other episodes of Black Mirror. Perhaps due to a lack of sufficient explanation as to why the normal citizens would still hate the Roaches if they saw them for what they were, human. While I enjoyed the dark parallels to the Nazi regime, the episode failed to completely connect. There were also some more poor instances of shaky cam in the action scene where Stripe kills his second Roach. I found it hard to tell what was happening as he tackled the Roach to the ground and eventually stabbed it. In a series where the filming and execution are typically outstanding, these minor issues become more glaring.
Nosedive is just one of those episodes I had a tough time getting through, mainly because of how cringy the world is. While done on purpose, the characters are so over the top they’re hard to watch. The grounding provided by the brother is too few and far between, so instead we’re left with overly perky Lacie. Nosedive becomes one of the episodes where I wonder how the technology became so mainstream in the first place, making the entire thing harder to digest. The episode ends on a great note however, with Lacie reveling in the freedom from the point system.
16. The National Anthem
The first episode of Black Mirror, frankly, just isn’t a very memorable one. What I do remember though, were reassurances from my friends that most episodes are better. That’s not to say the episode is bad, quite the contrary, it’s just that The National Anthem fails to stand out amongst the greatness of later episodes. I’d even go so far as to say the episode feels like it belongs more to a procedural cop show than Black Mirror. We deal largely with the UK’s Parliament as they scramble to come up with a solution to the mystery, and the episode doesn’t contain any futuristic technology. So, while the black comedy of The National Anthem sure is enjoyable, it pales in comparison to the bleak near-futures we glimpse in the rest of the series.
Crocodile serves as one of many instances in Black Mirror of a failure to properly communicate. Should Mia and Rob properly discuss the cover-up of their hit and run, Mia’s later murder spree would never have happened. The episode’s cinematography is incredible, largely due to Iceland’s inherent picturesque nature.
But, the base story feels avoidable. I far more enjoyed the character of Shazia and her journey than Mia’s turn toward insanity. I just never fully bought that Mia could turn to killing 3 people and a baby so quickly. Perhaps because we didn’t see much of her personal life or her work as an architect, but Mia never became compelling enough. If the story unfolded from Shazia’s perspective instead, having her end up discovering Mia’s murders alongside the viewer before switching to Mia after her death, I feel the story would have been more engaging. It would have also allowed for a greater look at the memory recorder as Mia interviews subjects during her day to day.
Marie is just a bad mom addicted to helicopter parenting. The story was good but largely predictable and many of the episode’s plot beats could’ve been resolved with some discussion. I also feel the effort to make season 4 a bit more upbeat than previous seasons is mainly the cause of the episode not resulting in the mom’s death. Arkangel instead becomes a cautionary tale, to let children grow up and make mistakes for themselves.
The most interesting parts of the episode however, come from the notion that Arkangel is being discontinued and Sara’s friends view the technology as crippling. The main reason I find these ideas really interesting is that we don’t often get that in Black Mirror episodes. Instead of technology being under scrutiny, or discontinued, the world seems to fully buy into these horrible and dystopic ways of life. So, I was glad to see that addressed in the failure for Arkangel to launch nationwide. Being able to witness everything a person sees and then censor it is too potentially damaging to a child’s development. Let alone the potential implications of the technology being used to subjugate the populace.
13. Be Right Back
This was another tough one for me to get through, primarily because of how emotionally crippling it is. Be Right Back grants us two incredible performances from Hayley Atwell (who plays Martha) and Domhnall Gleeson (who plays Ash) as the former struggles with the death of her boyfriend. In an attempt to cope, Ash is resurrected via an android using his social media profiles to create a near-copy. The episode is at its highest point as Martha learns the android Ash isn’t the same man she fell in love with. Yet I feel ending on the cliff, with viewers uncertain as to Ash’s fate would’ve been the better option. Instead, the ending we get is a bit confusing– though properly depressing in true Black Mirror fashion.
12. The Waldo Moment
One of the more lighthearted episodes of the series, The Waldo Moment primarily succeeds due to it being topical in hindsight. With parallels able to be drawn to both the Trump election and the running of Lord Buckethead in the UK election, the episode served as a predictor for the diminishing legitimacy of politics. Yet, as with many Black Mirror episodes, they are only as good as their endings. And the ending of The Waldo Moment may take a bit longer to process. My read is that while Waldo failed to win the election, he won in the end– and seemingly turned the world into a totalitarian regime. Coincidence? Perhaps. But when everything is a joke, when can we stop to fight against oppression without ruining the fun?
While Wyatt Russell’s central performance in this episode may be among the weakest in Black Mirror, the surroundings far and away make up for it. Fears of a distressed parent combined with a horror video game simulation make for an intense and intriguing episode. Despite the potentially fatal results of the game, I certainly found myself wanting to try out the horror experience. Only until the Inception-level events at the end of Playtest did I feel the game would probably be too intense.
10. Shut Up and Dance
I can’t help but feel this episode was inspired by Nerve, which received a film adaption the same year. Both the film and this episode seem to have received largely mixed reviews, but I guess I’m a sucker for the concept. Shut Up and Dance does pull off general premise and twists a bit better though, with the forced compliance seemingly only done to criminals. And while I could see the inevitable leak of the information regardless of compliance occurring, the twist that the porn was child porn was indeed unexpected. It was also a fun surprise to see Bronn from Game of Thrones pop up in an episode of Black Mirror.
9. The Entire History Of You
The Entire History of You marks one of the shows earliest successes depicting technology mixed with a family drama. The story of a cheating spouse leading to uncertainty as to the parentage of a child is not a new one, but when seen through a technology that allows events to be revisited becomes all the more haunting. But I can’t help but wonder why a paternity test was out of the question. Black Mirror even retreads similar ground in its later episode White Christmas and does it better by adding more layers to the plot. Jealousy continues to remain a driving force in Black Mirror‘s interpersonal relationships all the way up to the season 4 finale.
8. Black Museum
As a huge fan of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, Black Museum was always going to be a favorite of mine. The best decision the episode made was to not have it purely serve as a nostalgia archive of the previous seasons. Instead, the artifacts we spend the most time on in the museum are entirely new. And the three stories we’re told aren’t merely connected as objects in the museum, as we later discover. The first of the three sub-stories is definitely my favorite however, and I feel the Pain Addict could make a great Batman villain.
7. Hated in the Nation
Hated in the Nation may contain the most practical technology in all of Black Mirror. Should extinction truly face bees, I can very clearly see a drone replacement being created– which makes the episode all the more troubling. And the sheer death count by the end of the episode may be a new high for the series.
In terms of the characters, I’d be totally down for a spin-off or recurring role for Blue, Karin, and Shaun as they solve high-tech crimes– almost like a Sherlock for cybercriminals.
6. White Bear
White Bear successfully employs both paranoia and complacency to create one of the better episodes of the series. The episode thrives on the carnivalesque, exacerbated by the incredible twist ending. Yet to imagine we’d go so far as to use torture as an amusement park is a disturbing thought. I can only imagine how many other similar parks exist in that world.
5. Fifteen Million Merits
In Black Mirror’s earliest foray into complete dystopia’s, Fifteen Million Merits truly makes me fear advertisements. A world which forces us to watch ads is a world I never want to live in. Let alone that most of humanity or at least the lower class is purely farmed for energy. In both a world and episode filled with so much despair, it’s nice to see that selfless still exists– I can’t say I would’ve done the same.
The end of the episode creates large parallels to Network, where the possibility of death becomes the biggest rating motivator. Bing’s cries for a change in the system only result in him conforming and becoming apart of it.
4. Hang the DJ
The Matrix for dating. Hang the DJ‘s virtual world has Black Mirror continuing to question the humanity of torturing virtual consciousness. While no time has passed for the real Frank and Amy, a thousand simulations have been conducted spanning who knows how many virtual years. But aside from the question of what can a virtual consciousness be subjected to, Hang the DJ has us question dating on numerous levels.
As sweet as the episode’s final moments are, dating is presented as mindnumbing. Drifting from one relationship to another hoping to find the one, Hang the DJ‘s dating app looks to solve that– for the real user.
3. U.S.S. Callister
U.S.S. Callister marks the third time we’ve revisted an iteration the technology introduced in White Christmas. And I guess it works because the three episodes the tech is used in are my three favorites. After starting out with a hilarious Star Trek riff, like Robert Daly, U.S.S. Callister slowly begins to show its true colors– surprise, it’s another screwed up episode of Black Mirror.
The commentary here is incredible. Whereas most shows would likely depict Daly as the hero, finally able to live out his dreams in a simulated world, Black Mirror rightly presents him as the villain. Torturing the conscious copies of his co-workers, Daly has created a hell instead of a personal heaven. Nanette is the true hero, able to contact her real self and free them into the virtual playground. Only now they must deal with the endless expanse of internet trolls.
2. San Junipero
Black Mirror‘s first happy ending, San Junipero provides a heartwarming tale of love transcending all boundaries. With the first half of the episode seemingly almost free of any technology as it’s set in the 80’s, the episode spends time developing its characters and their relationship first. It’s not until Yorkie loses Kelly that we discover the time traveling digital world that is San Junipero. Yet the world is not a haven for young adults like we’re first led to believe, but instead a literal heaven for the dying. The people are avatars of the elderly.
With Yorkie able to find her happy ending, we truly believe Heaven Is A Place On Earth. Let’s just hope the server farm doesn’t get hacked.
1. White Christmas
White Christmas kept me gripped for its entire hour and thirteen-minute runtime, providing interesting story after interesting story until they all connect in a beautifully twisted ending. Only Black Mirror could get so dark so quickly. White Christmas presents possibly the most terrifying technology yet, the block. The ability to literally block an entire person should never exist, and Matt’s (Jon Hamm’s) punishment is basically a life sentence to solitary confinement.
The episode not only makes you feel for the two main characters, who could have easily been painted as villains, but the entire cast as well. Harry’s and Beth’s Daughter’s deaths are perhaps the most tragic, but no one makes it out of the episode unscathed. You even feel bad for Greta’s cookie mind, despite Matt’s lack of remorse. White Christmas just perfectly demonstrates both the usefulness and perversions of technology while creating empathy for its characters.