By Matt Hsu
“Black Mirror” is a sci-fi TV anthology series that places a spotlight on the consequences of technology in modern, often futuristic worlds. Since its 2011 debut, the series has garnered rave reviews and drifted across many Netflix viewers’ home screens. While it’s a brilliant series, certain episodes stand out more than others. Here’s my top 10 list. Note that there are light spoilers ahead.
10. “Hated in the Nation” (Season 3, Episode 6)
“Hated in the Nation” is the longest “Black Mirror” episode, spanning an impressive 89 minutes. It’s a traditional mystery narrative, where two detectives trace a series of strange deaths that seem to prey upon figures of public hatred. It culminates in a devastating twist at the end, that in retrospect may seem obvious, but is quite effective upon the first watch. Aside from instilling an acute fear of bees in its viewers, the episode makes an effective commentary about the toxicity of hate culture in social media. “Hated in the Nation” is perhaps slightly too long, as chunks of its runtime feel rather drawn out, but it’s still a tense, gripping episode.
9. “Hang the DJ” (Season 4, Episode 4)
Disclaimer: “San Junipero” just missed this top 10 list. While most viewers prefer the uplifting, decade-hopping lesbian romance to the shorter, more playful love story, “Hang the DJ” has far fewer flaws. Frank and Amy live in a picturesque world where all relationships are assigned time caps. The system then collects data from these experiences, in order to help each person eventually find their soulmate. The episode is simple, whimsical, and most importantly, fun. Georgina Campbell and Joe Cole, who play the two main characters, have spectacular chemistry. The twist ending isn’t entirely necessary, but doesn’t detract at all from this entertaining episode.
8. “USS Callister” (Season 4, Episode 1)
“USS Callister” is an episode that’s part sci-fi, part virtual reality, and part Star-Trek-fanboy-geeking-out. Robert Daly is a mistreated video game developer in real life, but revered captain of the intergalactic USS Callister in a simulation he created himself. However, it turns out the side characters in his simulation, based on his coworkers in real life, are sentient and enslaved by Daly. “USS Callister” hops from humor to dread to adventure without ever jarring the viewer, and, save a rather questionable ending, serves as a perfect example of a “Black Mirror” episode everyone will enjoy.
7. Black Museum (Season 4, Episode 6)
“Black Museum” is a truly disturbing, yet enthralling piece of television. A young woman stops by a museum housing artifacts with dark pasts. The episode is split into three vignettes: a doctor who experiences pain as pleasure, a deceased mother whose consciousness is implanted into her living husband’s head, and an executed prisoner who is revived for the sole purpose of being tortured, over and over again. While the vignettes feel slightly disjointed, they’re well-constructed enough to stand on their own before giving way to a deeply satisfying conclusion. While not for the faint of heart, this graphic, horrifying tale is one of “Black Mirror”’s finest.
6. “White Christmas” (Season 2, Episode 4)
Similarly to “Black Museum,” “White Christmas” is split into three vignettes. However, “White Christmas” is the superior of the two, as the overarching story relies less on the framing device. “White Christmas” takes place inside a remote log cabin, where two men discuss their earlier lives. John Hamm and Rafe Spall portray the narrators, and Hamm in particular shines, acting with irresistible cockiness. This episode introduces some new articles of technology, including the unnerving “universal block” and the petrifying “cookie.” Though it’s not nearly as graphic as “Black Museum,” “White Christmas” is just as sinister.
5. “Shut Up and Dance” (Season 3, Episode 3)
“Shut up and Dance” isn’t the most complex of “Black Mirror” episodes, but it is one of the most captivating. Kenny is a teenager who gets filmed through his computer camera performing an… embarrassing act. He’s blackmailed into scurrying across town, and following a series of instructions that grow more and more wicked as the day progresses. The majority of “Shut Up and Dance” is an engaging escapade, but the last 10 minutes will rock you to your core. It’s classic “Black Mirror”: dark, deceptive and devastating.
4. “Be Right Back” (Season 2, Episode 1)
While not the fastest or scariest Black Mirror episode, “Be Right Back” is by far the most emotional. Martha (Hayley Atwell) and Ash (Domhnall Gleeson) are a happy couple, but Ash dies in a tragic car accident. Soon, however, new technology makes it possible for her to talk to, and eventually interact with him afterward. Both of the main actors deliver gut wrenching performances, depicting how Martha slowly begins to realize that there are parts of Ash that cannot be rebuilt. From merry beginning to harrowing end, “Be Right Back” tugs ferociously at heartstrings.
3. “The Entire History of You” (Season 1, Episode 3)
When people think of “Black Mirror,” “The Entire History of You” is one of the first episodes that comes to mind. For good reason, too – this romantic drama with a technological twist is a clever work. A neurological implant called the “grain” allows people to access any memory, in detail, from any period of time. As the protagonist, Liam, scrutinizes a disconcerting dinner party by replaying it with the grain, he tumbles down a spiral of paranoia. Skillfully conceived and perfectly executed, “The Entire History of You” ranks as one of the best.
2. “Nosedive” (Season 3, Episode 1)
The fictional world created in “Nosedive” is blunt social commentary, but it’s also scarily close to reality. In this eerie episode, people give each other ratings after everyday interactions. Those with higher ratings receive societal and legal benefits: airline discounts, wedding invitations, express lines. The beauty of “Nosedive” lies in the subtle details, such as the pale color palette, the haunting piano tones and Bryce Dallas Howard’s high-pitched giggles. With some wonderful acting, and a bitter, yet satisfying ending, “Nosedive” is a bona fide masterpiece.
1. “White Bear” (Season 2, Episode 2)
The creme de la creme of “Black Mirror,” “White Bear” is stunning. From the opening scene it’s paced ruthlessly, weaving a paralyzing tale of survival. For some reason, however, bystanders refuse to do anything but film with their phones as a woman runs for her life. What makes this episode so extraordinary, though, is the twist. It’s tumultuous, yet crystal clear. It’s unexpected, yet makes prior events fall into place. It’s poetic, yet gut-wrenching. “White Bear” illustrates why “Black Mirror” is genius.
Contact Matt Hsu at matthewlhsu ‘at’ gmail.com.