Jeremy enjoys reviewing cinema and television when not working as a chemist.
What Is Black Mirror About?
Netflix's Black Mirror took audiences by storm with its unabashedly bleak critiques of human morality. Like the old Twilight Zone series, each Mirror episode features an individual story, meaning the show is more like a series of independent mini-movies than a season-long drama (and you can jump in at any point, as order hardly matters).
That said, many themes are repeated, like mankind's growing reliance on technology and how generally-good people can snap under the right circumstances. Always dark and often violent, Black Mirror definitely isn't for the kids, but it conveys many powerful messages. With so many individual tales, some are bound to shine more than others; which stories most deserve your time? These are the ten best Black Mirror episodes! And no worries, we're keeping it spoiler-free.
Like many Mirror episodes, "Playtest" emphasize the perils of advanced electronics. In need of cash, protagonist Cooper agrees to help the mysterious company SaitoGemu test their latest technology. Using an implant, it probes a user's brain for information, letting Gemu create a customized survival horror experience that features whatever scares you the most.
Confident that he can handle scares, Cooper agrees to a trial run in a virtual realm, but as you can probably guess, things don't go quite as planned. Filled with jump scares, a likable protagonist, and the awesome visuals frequently seen in Mirror programs, "Playtest" is an engaging experience that gamers will find particularly compelling.
9. White Christmas
In "White Christmas", Mat and Joe (who are isolated in a cabin together) relate their respective pasts, which involve technology that allows people to "block" others in real life, preventing the blocked individuals from communicating with them.
Is the safety of shutting out contact with someone worth the psychological damage of rendering someone permanently mute? Should the government be allowed to use these devices to punish criminals? Without spoiling too much, let's just say that "White Christmas" explores these questions to great effect using a story-within-a-story format you won't want to miss.
8. Be Right Back
After a tragic accident leaves Martha as a widow, she begins exploring (surprise surprise) new technology that allows a phone to stimulate her husband's voice and personality using data collected from social media. Is this a healthy coping mechanism, or an empty shell that only makes Martha hurt more?
Highlighting both the triumphs and perils of such technology, "Be Right Back" offers a less-grim episode that discards the classic Mirror plot twist in favor of atmosphere and character development. You won't find any world-shattering revelations at the end, but Martha's sympathetic journey is more than worth your while.
7. The National Anthem
Anthem offers a down-to-earth episode that takes a welcome break from technology to explore the human psyche—for those willing to stomach its grotesque premise. After the British princess is abducted, her kidnapper threatens to kill her unless Prime Minister Callow performs intimate acts with a pig on live television.
With time running out, Callow must choose between caving to the kidnapper's (and public's) demands or ignoring the insane condition at the potential cost of another's life. What would you do in his shoes, hounded by the public with your career and a life at stake? See how Callow navigates his repulsive situation in this thought-provoking opening episode that superbly critiques human shallowness.
6. Fifteen Million Merits
A relatively tame episode, Merits really has you root for its two protagonists. In their futuristic society, people constantly perform boring tasks for merits, or currency. Many hope to eventually spend their cash for a chance to perform on the hit Hot Shot show (think America's Got Talent) and potentially improve their lot in life.
After Bing hears his coworker Abi's incredible singing voice, he persuades her to accept enough of his own merits to buy a Hot Shot slot. Does her performance convince the judges, and will Bing regret his costly generosity? Find out for yourself in a touching episode that'll wow you with its impressive visuals, music, and social commentary on capitalism.
5. Hated in the Nation
Nation adeptly balances futuristic settings with engaging character interaction, showcasing interesting technology without fully relying on it. After a string of mysterious deaths of individuals recently condemned on social media by fans, detectives Karin and Blue must investigate who or what is causing the murders, and when they discover a bigger plan in motion, things go from bad to worse.
If you enjoy detective programs such as Criminal Minds or cat-and-mouse hunts like those in the anime Death Note, you can't miss this well-acted highlight. Just be ready for the longest episode yet, clocking in at nearly an hour and a half.
4. White Bear
In "White Bear", a woman awakes with amnesia to discover a strange world full of passerby recording her on their phones, but who don't respond when she attempts to interact with them. Even worse, armed "hunters" pursue the woman and fellow fugitive Jem; our protagonist must avoid the gunmen while unearthing her mysterious past.
You know something's off, and you'll be on the edge of your seat until the final twist reveals what's really going on. Without spoiling anything, just know you'll have your sense of right and wrong challenged, as fans to this day debate the intriguing morality (or lack thereof) in this grim adventure.
3. Shut Up and Dance
Many of Black Mirror's episode involve technology from the future; "Shut Up and Dance" highlights gear that exists today, making it especially unnerving. After teenage Kenny discovers a virus on his computer, he's blackmailed by hackers into performing a series of increasingly dangerous tasks.
With engaging yet believable twists, you'll feel for Kenny as he questions how far he's willing to go to protect his secrets from being revealed.
2. The Entire History of You
In the final episode of season one, mankind has devices called "grains" implanted that constantly record their vision, letting them replay memories at will using a remote. With this, they can prove (or disprove) people's accounts of events—but this works against you as much as it does for you. When a paranoid lawyer notices inconsistencies in his wife's recollection of a past relationship, he attempts to use the technology to discover what secrets she may be hiding.
Would you accept the pitfalls of perfect surveillance tools, or would society (and the episode's married couple) be better off without cameras always active? You be the judge in this heart-wrenching adventure that explores the nature of trust and hazards of truth.
1. San Junipero
This infamous love story (set in the 1980s) explores the relationship of a young lesbian couple, one shy and one outgoing. With stellar performances by the lead actresses, nostalgic visuals, and a good excuse to revisit the song "Heaven is a Place on Earth", "San Junipero" remains the most well-received Mirror outing yet, many critics even calling it one of the best episodes of any show in 2016.
With twists ranging from ominous to heart-warming to mind-blowing, Junipero takes you on an emotional adventure that delves into themes of immortality, the afterlife, and acceptance.
How to Watch Black Mirror
Remember, other than a few Easter eggs referencing past episodes, you can jump into Black Mirror at any point due to its self-contained stories. Episodes occasionally pop up on Youtube and other sites, but are usually taken down pretty quickly, so Netflix remains your best bet for watching (and you can always do a free trial).
The frequent sad fates of Mirror characters make their rare happy endings all the more triumphant, and regardless of ending tone, you'll find a myriad of clever commentaries regarding today's society that I definitely recommend viewing. But for now, as we eagerly await upcoming seasons of Black Mirror, vote for your favorite episode and I'll see you at our next television countdown!
© 2018 Jeremy Gill
Jeremy Gill (author) from Louisiana on December 06, 2018:
@Poppy and AI
Thanks for your feedback! To me, San Junipero's charm comes less from plot twists and more from atmosphere, music, and acting; with it and Stranger Things, we've been treated to several great Netflix '80s adventures.
You also might recognize Kenny (played by Alex Lawther) in "Shut Up and Dance" from his roles in the show "The End of the F***ing World" and film "The Imitation Game".
Poppy from Enoshima, Japan on December 06, 2018:
I was thinking of writing this article a few months back but never got round to watching all the episodes. White Christmas was amazing, really mind-blowing. I thought San Junipero was cool but not the best one. Shut Up and Dance was probably my favourite; the use of the troll face was unexpected! Shut Up and Dance didn't so much feel like a Black Mirror episode though. It probably could have worked as a stand-alone movie.
Thanks for sharing, Jeremy. Black Mirror is awesome and I'm proud of my country for releasing such a fantastic show.
Al Greenbaum from Europe on December 05, 2018:
Interesting article. Black Mirror is a great show. Some episodes are truly jaw-dropping.