Metalhead stands apart from other Black Mirror episodes as the first to be shot entirely in black and white. To be honest, I’m not sure the visual aesthetic added all that much, but the episode itself is pretty strong overall. This is a traditional post-apocalypse where robotic creatures have effectively wiped out humanity.
The basic plot — woman runs away from killer robot dog — doesn’t sound all that unique, either. But the small scale of the story, combined with fantastic editing, acting, and tension, really bring this concept up a notch. There were many long shots of nothing happening that helped ratchet up the drama, and slow motion was also used effectively. The ending reveal of what the woman was initially after had me rolling my eyes a little bit, but I get it. She was trying to hang onto whatever little part of happiness and humanity she could for the people she cared about.
9. Black Museum
Black Museum is a combination of short stories and references to previous episodes, and most of it works well. On the one hand, it does feel a bit like these were the episode concepts that weren’t strong enough for an episode of their own, but I do think things tie in well enough through the lens of the museum owner. The first two stories deal with similar concepts. The first part is about the ability to feel others’ pain, as a doctor gets an implant to help him diagnose patient issues. This being Black Mirror, he quickly develops a sexual relation to pain and I think you can see where it goes from there. The second part builds on the first, with a comatose wife and mother having her entire consciousness implanted into her husband’s brain. There’s some fun marriage humor to be had with this, and I can’t blame the guy for quickly resenting his wife literally being in his thoughts at all times.
I won’t spoil how the third story ties into the others, but I found that arc to be the least interesting of the three — despite the coolness of it being developed on the periphery of the previous shorts. I think the context of all three being one episode makes sense, but part of me would have liked the first two to be expanded upon into their own episodes.
8. USS Callister
This episode lands higher on the list than I would have expected primarily for just being a fun time. USS Callister takes itself less seriously than most other Black Mirror episodes, despite its fairly dark premise and ending. Jesse Plemons plays an embarrassingly dorky tech CTO in real life and a James Kirk-type space captain in the virtual world that his character created. Plemons is fantastic in both roles. You really feel sorry for his character from the jump — that is, until you discover his after work habits. The dude is a clear psychopath.
I also want to give a shout-out to Jimmi Simpson, who plays Plemons’ CEO in real life and the captain’s ne’er do well second in the virtual world. Simpson has literally been amazing in every role I’ve ever seen him play. On the whole, the story and ride of USS Callister aren’t as great as the concept would have you expect, but I really appreciated the more light-hearted take, and the fun they had with Star Trek and sci-fi tropes.
7. White Christmas
White Christmas is an odd episode of Black Mirror in so much as it’s viewed as sort of a “Christmas Special,” and contains three separate but connected storylines. This one got a lot of attention because Jon Hamm was in it, and he’s predictably great. This episode is actually longer than the average episode, and it definitely feels like it. I don’t mean that in a bad way, as all three stories need to be told to fully understand the plot and weight of how it ends. It’s just a strong episode all around, as it plays with a potential outcome of our technological development, people’s sense of entitlement, their rejection of thoughts, ideas, and opinions other than their own, and how technology allows us to close our ears and minds to those opinions, so to speak.
The “big twist” is less of an “oh, shit” moment as it is an “ah, that makes sense” moment, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting or satisfying. I wouldn’t say any of the major characters involved are good people, but they’re certainly sympathetic and it’s hard not to feel a bit sorry for the way things play out.
6. The National Anthem
My wife hates this episode. In fact, since it was the very first episode of Black Mirror, she was honestly turned off from continuing to watch the show. Now, because Black Mirror is an anthology series, and you don’t have to watch episodes in any order, I’ve seen plenty of people suggesting not to start with The National Anthem, and to come back to it after you’ve settled into the tone of the show. I can understand this decision, but I totally disagree with it. The National Anthem shows just how far Black Mirror is willing to go, and it’s pretty damn far.
The National Anthem is kind of like what Shut Up and Dance wanted to be. It’s incredibly dark without being gory or scary, the story comes from some group of people wanting to just turn the world upside down, and its ending is incredibly messed up. Seriously, the ending of this episode is so messed up, I still think about it and subconsciously pull a stank face. The acting and pacing are superb and I have to say, the politician main character did the right thing. That’s not something you can say often.
5. Hang the DJ
The best episode from the fairly average season four, Hang the DJ takes place in a “world” where a dating app basically runs everyone’s lives. Young people live on a compound, and their daily existence revolves around getting their next match — which also comes with a pre-determined end date for the relationship. It completely makes sense for Black Mirror to dive into this topic with the pervasiveness of apps like Tinder and sites like match.com — though the folks using those have completely different “relationship” goals.
I’d say most of what works about Hang the DJ is the relationship between the two leads — there’s a natural chemistry there and it’s also completely plausible that these two millennials wouldn’t immediately be willing to break the rules to be together. The ending I found to be less successful, only because that particular sci-fi element wasn’t satisfyingly developed throughout. However, it was a rare “happy” ending for Black Mirror — and I tend to be a sucker for those.
4. San Junipero
I wouldn’t say there’s a single episode of Black Mirror that has a truly happy ending, but San Junipero comes closest, and earns a special place with me because of that fact. It’s another episode where you spend the first half trying to figure out what the hell is going on, and then when the reveal happens, you spend the second half trying to figure out how the hell it will end. And I have to say, San Junipero did not end the way that I expected. That’s not to say that it has this crazy, twisting storyline, because I’d say it’s one of the more simple episodes (if you can say that about any of them).
This one is more about the character relationships, with the technology aspect taking a backseat and really only serving as a plot driver. I enjoyed that change in tone. Things were certainly helped by the phenomenal acting and character writing, and the vibe also felt fresh when compared to the typical near-future aesthetic. San Junipero is certainly one of the most understated episodes of Black Mirror, but it’s still one of the best.
3. Be Right Back
Now we’ve entered the cream of the crop, and I think all three of these top episodes are completely fantastic for very different reasons. Be Right Back has everything a Black Mirror needs to have in order to be successful: great acting and writing, a cool story set up based in reality but with a hint of sci-fi pulp, and a sad, thoughtful conclusion. Be Right Back sort of feels like an even better version of San Junipero, as it focused more on the characters involved, using technology as a backdrop for character and story development.
Everything is anchored by tremendous performances by Hayley Atwell and Domhnall Gleeson as two lovers who are separated when he dies in a car accident. Thanks to experimental technology, she’s able to bring him back to life by downloading his entire history into an android of sorts, but she quickly realizes that things aren’t quite the same, and you can’t ever truly bring back a loved one. It’s a story that really follows the five stages of grief and what it truly means to be alive. It’s really good, you guys.
2. Fifteen Million Merits
I’m a sucker for good world building in my sci-fi, and Fifteen Million Merits has that in spades. I’m also a sucker for shining a light on how awful and soul-sucking reality tv is, and how everyone’s search for quick and easy fame has taken away true happiness and contentment. Fifteen Million Merits makes those themes the focus of its story. It was also the second episode of Black Mirror that I saw, and was such a wild departure from The National Anthem that it’s hard not to love it even more.
The story centers around a young man that’s basically a cog in the world machine, where he only exists to pedal a stationary bike to earn credits that he spends on food and entertainment in his cubicle of a living space. He’s distracted and invigorated when he meets a young woman that wants to be a singer, and spends his energy trying to get her enough credits to compete on a reality singing show for the chance to escape the bike pedaling life. Of course, it’s Black Mirror so things don’t end up all rosy, and the ending is truly heartbreaking for both characters. As someone with an acting background that spends a lot of time thinking about fame and the power it wields over all of us, this one spoke to me in a special way.
1. The Entire History of You
I went back and forth several times with these top three, but I’m confident in my choice. The Entire History of You is about memory, perspective, honesty, and love, and it’s quite powerful stuff. This episode takes place in a world where your eyes record everything you see, and cannot only be played back at your whim, but projected so that others can experience your experience through your eyes. It’s creepy, but it’s also easy to see the usefulness of it. Everyone in the world has a photographic memory — literally.
The central plot of this one focuses on a man who begins to suspect that his partner is cheating, and it is a bummer. The lead actor, Toby Kebbell, is outstanding, and really sells the experience of slowly unraveling as he begins to put the pieces together. Everything starts breaking down around him as he cycles through every memory he has, trying to find evidence of this perceived infidelity, to the point that he becomes violent and obsessed. The eventual reveal isn’t wholly unexpected, but it’s handled so well with the writing and acting that it lands with all the weight that it should. This is one of those episodes that my wife and I still reference to one another, and I think it perfectly encapsulates what Black Mirror is all about.
So, what episode of Black Mirror is your favorite? Let me know in the comments below, and be sure to check out my other tv rankings!