In celebration of the arrival of the fourth season of Black Mirror to Netflix, here are my top five favorite episodes from the prior three seasons.
Black Mirror is one of those shows that really make you question society. Not since Tales From The Crypt, and the original run of The Twilight Zone have I felt so uncomfortable about the nuances of the human psyche and the raw power of writing as a medium.
To understand Black Mirror is to understand the strides technology has made to force us to be so conscious of oneself. The name itself invokes a sense of the emotions we feel in between the clicks and likes we so haphazardly dispense, that feeling we’re faced with when our favorite streaming service asks us if “we’re still watching”. It is the oblique reflection we see of ourselves in the moment between screens — that dark reflection that makes us question our very selves.
With new episodes airing on December 29th exclusively on Netflix, it’s time to take a long, dark, and at times prophetic look at ourselves and the tech that we so openly let into our lives.
I have compiled a primer of sorts for the uninitiated. This show is worth watching in its entirety, but these select few really invoke awkward moments of self reflection and harken a dystopia that can be eerily familiar to most of us with a screen held to our faces. One that is exponentially more frightening than any masked maniac we can conjure up.
1. FIFTEEN MILLION MERITS
“Fifteen Million Merits” (Season 1, Episode 2) weaves a tale about a society in which all work is performed by individuals pedaling stationary bicycles like hamsters, earning credits based on how much labor they put in pedaling. When not pedaling endlessly, they live in tiny cubicles encased in screens which provide a constant barrage of ads and a reality competition, very similar to “American Idol” where contestants spend their hard earned credits at a shot at fame and out of their bicycle-filled boredom.
Our protagonist Bing, meets a girl that exudes innocence, with an angelic voice which he is absolutely captivated by. He offers to pay for her entrance on to the show. She reluctantly agrees and auditions in front of a panel of judges and thousands of screaming, excited avatars. They are far from impressed by her singing but are captivated by her and innocence. As a result, they offer her a mysterious chance at fame elsewhere.
Egged on by the thousands of excited avatars, she finally agrees. As it turns out, this mysterious shot of fame comes in the form of a violent, fetish porn site where she is violated and abused, her loss of innocence being the main attraction. Bing loses his shit at the sight of this and becomes driven to earn the credits needed to audition for the show. When he is face to face with the judges and audience members, he pulls a shard of glass out and threatens to slice his throat open if he is not heard. The judges abide.
He then goes on an angry tirade about the bullshit human zoo that reality shows are…and the futility of working meaninglessly all to just live in a cube, surrounded by the meaningless things we buy ourselves. The judges, in an ironic turn of events, love his speech, consequently offering him a show. Bing agrees, ultimately becoming the object of his hatred, the glass shard now serving as merely a useless prop he holds to his neck as he reads advertisements to the eager avatars. It serves as an awful look at what we do for fame — and the ones who exploit them for their gain.
2. THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF YOU
“The Entire History of You” (Season 1, Episode 3) imagines a future where Mennonites are constantly being recorded by means of a metal implant — allowing the user to access, rewind, and fast forward any memory they so choose. The implications of this are exploited when Liam discovers that his wife is being more than friendly with an Ex-boyfriend at a party they are all attending, leading him down a frantic, jealous path that ends with Liam violently attacking the object of his wife’s affection.
His obsession doesn’t end there as he confronts his wife and demands that she play back memories of her and her ex so Liam can watch. This causes irreparable damage to their marriage. The final scene shows Liam playing back fond memories of his now ex-wife as he crudely removes the implant from his head, as a rush of his memories play us into darkness. It begs the question; if we had unlimited access to each other’s memories, should we be brave enough to dive in?
“Nosedive” (Season 3, Episode 5) introduces us to Lacie, an insecure woman living in a world where people are rated on a five star scale based on the personal interaction they have with others, not unlike yelp reviews, but with people. Lacie, along with most of society is obsessed with her rating and lives her days trying to please everyone she meets with fake smiles and meaningless conversation.
She is eventually asked to be the maid of honor at an estranged high school friend’s wedding and reluctantly agrees, based on the fact that it would lead to a higher rating, which she needs in order to move into the house of her dreams. Yup, no more credit scores. You get that house you’ve always wanted ONLY if your personal rating is higher than a four…crazy shit.
She encounters a terrible bout of bad luck after missing her flight and decides to embark on a road trip to the wedding. This results in every encounter along the way lowering her rating more and more. Beaten and battered, she finally arrives at the wedding to deliver her speech. Everyone writes her off as a crazy person, which results in a deluge of even more bad ratings, bringing her down to a zero.
She understandably loses her mind and has a mental breakdown in front of all the guests in attendance. She is consequently locked up, because that’s where you end up when you rate that damn low. The paranoia and anxiety for us to acquire followers and be liked on social media permeates deep in this one, making us wonder; just how far are we from living in a society like the one depicted here?
4. WHITE CHRISTMAS
“White Christmas” (Season 2, Episode 4) is the 2014 Christmas special, an extended episode that runs 74 minutes. It starts off with Matt and Joe, who are spending their fifth Christmas together in an isolated snow covered outpost. They converse about their previous lives. The first of which is Matt (played by Jon Hamm) confessing that he was once held a side gig as a dating guru of sorts, offering advice to his clients via live feed. He succeeds in helping said client woo a woman who invites him back to her place. All is not what it seems, as she kills him and herself assuming that they both want to be free of “the voices in their heads”.
Matt’s wife finds out what he has been doing and “blocks” him. But this isn’t the kind of block you think. Blocking someone in this world means that the person who blocks you becomes an “anonymous shape” and everything they say sounds like garbled nonsense. Matt further opens up and reveals that his actual job pertains to an invention called a “cookie” in which a part of a user makes a copy of their consciousness, which in turn is converted into an artificial intelligence used to operate smart homes. Kind of like turning yourself into an Amazon Echo of sorts that holds your interests and how you like your toast.
Matt trains these newly converted pieces of consciousness or “Cookies” to become acclimated to their roles, even if it means breaking them in the process — and it usually does. He basically tortures them into behaving by speeding up time, driving the cookies to complete madness. 5 seconds to us can equate to a month for the cookie. Like some fucked up time-lapse solitary confinement.
Joe is completely disgusted by Matt’s revelation and finally opens up about his past. Joe confesses that he was once in love with a woman named Beth, but his alcoholic tendencies caused a rift in said relationship. Joe discovers that Beth is pregnant but has no desire to keep the baby. This angers Joe, and they have a heated argument — leading to Beth blocking him, white silhouette and all.
Joe finds out that Beth has quit her job and disappeared, but manages to discover that she indeed kept the baby. An unfortunate side effect of being blocked is that it also transfers to the offspring of the blocker. Years go by, and he later discovers that Beth died in a train crash, the one positive note being that he can finally see his daughter. With the knowledge that Beth used to spend Christmas at her father’s cottage, he travels there in an attempt to meet his daughter. But he discovers that she is not actually his.
In an angry rage, Joe bludgeons Beth’s dad with a snow globe as Beth’s daughter watches. We are transported back to the present where Matt asks what happened to Beth’s daughter. He reluctantly confesses that Beth’s daughter, in a bit of fear, left the cabin and froze to death.
We discover that Matt was tasked with forcing Joe’s cookie to confess to his murders in order to be exonerated from his crime. He is free to go on one condition: He is blocked by EVERYONE — basically forced to live out the rest of his days in complete isolation from everyone but himself.
This has to be one of most fucked up and best Christmas episodes ever made. The combination of the fear of loneliness, coupled with the holidays, is enough to drive anyone mad!
5. SAN JUNIPERO
“San Junipero” (Season 3, Episode 4) is set in a 1987 beach town bearing the titular name. Yorkie (played by Halt and Catch Fire‘s Mackenzie Davis) is a shy, reclusive woman who meets the outgoing and adventurous Kellie. She sweeps Yorkie off her feet, and they quickly fall in love amidst the backdrop of this quant, beautiful vacation town. We later discover that San Junipero is actually a simulated reality in which the terminally ill elderly are transported as a form of “nostalgia therapy” to alleviate the long and drawn out pain of their imminent demise.
Kellie discovers that in the real world, Yorkie is a quadriplegic, spending her last days lying in a coma. She wishes to be euthanized so that her soul could be uploaded to a cloud server where she reside in San Junipero permanently, but she needs the approval of a spouse to do so. Back in San Junipero, Kellie proposes to Yorkie so that she may finally pass on and be relieved of her pain.
Yorkie later asks Kellie to stay there with her permanently, but she has clear reservations due to the fact that she has lost both her daughter and husband who declined to be uploaded, in favor of the nothingness that is death. Kellie finally decides to join Yorkie in the simulated afterlife, and they live happily ever after.
“San Junipero” raises so many questions in the span of an hour. It makes us think about the future of elderly care and the questions we ultimately have to ask ourselves if such a future ever comes to fruition: Do we allow ourselves to live in a permanent “simulated heaven” that we know isn’t real, or do we opt for the darkness and finality that is death? It even begs the more profound, unanswerable question: Is there love after death?
So there you have it, my personal favorite episodes from the first three series of this genre-bending, mind-boggling series. I urge you to watch them all, and maybe let me know if I missed any of your favorites. Now that the fourth season has landed on Netflix, I expect to add some new favorites to that list shortly.
And, since all four season are now on Netflix, you can catch up on (or rewatch) all the great moments from Black Mirror. Because sometimes, we need a little cyber-dystopia to remind us how truly terrifying our society can be!
Check out the trailer for Season 4 below.