After the crazy political hell storm that was 2017, what better way to enter 2018 than with the season four premier of Black Mirror? The show is one of television’s darkest series, presenting nihilistic tales that blend humanity with technology. On December 29th, writer Charlie Booker will present six brand new episodes that will lure fans back into the technological nightmare of Black Mirror, surely provoking more existential breakdowns. It’s with this in mind that I wanted to highlight every other episode that has taken place across the show’s three seasons (including the Christmas special). I'll be highlighting thirteen episodes, with my favorite at the very end.
Oh, and heads up: there are SPOILERS AHEAD.
13. Shut Up and Dance
While the episode may be one of Black Mirror’s most nihilistic stories, it’s also perhaps one of its most ambiguous. When a young boy and older man are targeted with major blackmail, the two find themselves running around on endless errands to save themselves. There are hints of cyber bullying and hacker harassment at play, but the story is so focused on the moment-to-moment anxiety, that it feels that a lot of these ideas get lost in the plot.
12. White Christmas
This holiday special has a neat twist at the end, but beyond that, it doesn’t pack a lot of interesting elements at play. Focusing on two men who have been living with one another for an unspecific amount of time, “White Christmas” displays themes of cyber security in regards to how we may look into other’s lives, or how we can create our own restrictions to keep others out. It’s an interesting theme, but like “Shut Up and Dance”, these ideas get lost in the intensity of the plot.
11. The Waldo Moment
One of Black Mirror’s more political episodes, “The Waldo Moment” centers around the idea of ‘cult of personality’. While the plot is fairly thin, it’s interesting to see how an animated character ends up creating more hype and making more sense than actual physical people when it comes to government and policy. The ending is as predictable as it is nihilistic, for the episode brilliantly displays how it’s easy to mask political corruption behind a specific image.
There are a lot of episodes in Black Mirror that focus on social media, and “Nosedive” is probably the most straight forward. There are many similarities to Instagram culture within the episode, such as when the protagonist takes a bite of her cookie (without actually eating it), but then takes a photo of it next to her drink (presenting an image she knows will gain likes). The episode displays our obsession with “likes” and need for attention, and even with the futuristic elements, there’s a lot in this episode that feels like it’s taking place today.
9. The National Anthem
Playing into the significance of social media once again, “The National Anthem” not only shows the power and influence that people may have on public opinion, but also offers an insight into the manipulation and control that the media has over news. It demonstrates how in today’s society just how fast information can leak and spread, thanks to the many tools the internet provides us. We see our characters attempting to maintain outlets such as Twitter or YouTube, and the impact those outlets will bring about with sensitive information. It is another episode that feels it’s taking place in today’s day and age, given the current political climate.
And while we continue speaking of things taking place today, “Playtest” offers us insight as to where we might be in the next decade (if not sooner). It’s crazy to think that when we were playing videogames as kids that one-day virtual reality may be a thing. But now in 2017, VR gaming is becoming a mainstream subject for companies to sell. Between Oculus Rift and Playstation VR, more developers are working on strengthening technology to the point that the player truly feels immersed in the game world. For as dark as “Playtest” gets, it actually feels more like something that gives us an idea of what to expect from gaming (hopefully without the going insane part).
7. Be Right Back
Ever thought how creepy it’ll be that your Facebook and Twitter profiles will remain online even after you pass away? How these companies will hold onto all your personal information, and all the memories you’ve ever shared? “Be Right Back” takes that idea, and presents it in one of the series’ more heartbreaking tales. After the death of her boyfriend, we find our protagonist signing up for a service where an AI (Artificial Inetlligence) scans everything he ever had on social media, presenting itself as an almost exact copy of him. This episode presents a profound existential question that asks us if we would do the same thing for a loved one. Would doing this make us feel we really had that person back in our lives? Or, would there be an element to it that felt far too unreal?
6. Fifteen Million Merits
“Fifteen Million Merits” is a tale that presents an overall cycle of economics and class. People wake up and head to these stationary bikes, just to peddle throughout the day. The more they peddle, the more they earn, which can then be used to purchase simple things as food or toothpaste, or to have a chance at staring in this episode’s version of American Idol. We see one character finally make it to the last round of this American Idol competition, only to be offered something darker than what she expected; and in an attempt to escape the monotony of her life and try and have something better, she takes this offer, thus ending her original hopes and dreams. At the core of the episode is class manipulation, and the idea that while having money can certainly help one climb the class ladder, those in power will still have control over others.
5. The Entire History of You
Perhaps one of Black Mirror’s more anxiety provoking episodes, “The Entire History of You” shows us a world where characters are constantly having things recorded. With the technology implanted into people’s eyes, friends will sit around at dinner and re-watch old memories. What ends up playing out is a story of obsession, as our main character beings to constantly re-watch old memories of his wife and a friend of hers. The episode also stands to show just how much information we have at our fingertips now, and just how easily it is to get caught up and lost in all the chaos that’s taking place and constantly provided to us via the news.
4. White Bear
At first, “White Bear” may appear ambiguous, but when the twist is revealed, its themes begin to click. After a woman helps to commit a horrible crime, the town takes it upon themselves to trap her in an endless loop of torture she must live out every day. People are invited to watch her run and fear for her life, filming and taking photos of the events as they play out. With the use of social media (specifically YouTube), not only do we have access to thousands of news stories, but also stories that include great violence. “White Bear” demonstrates how the internet has allowed us to almost become desensitized to violence (given how much is put right in front of us), while also showing how people can come together in a sense of online vigilantism. When a crime is committed, the internet can band together to act as a sort of witch hunt, and “White Bear” embodies these notions into a physical act.
3. Hated in the Nation
And while on the topic of witch hunts, “Hated in the Nation” presents a world similar to what we have today, but with much dire consequences. Given the proper use of the hashtag #DeathTo (along with the photo of a specific person), people can vote for someone who they want to die (the most popular vote leading to that person’s actual death). The episode also offers some themes tied to cyber security and surveillance, making us question just how much do parties like the police or government really need to keep tabs on us. But it’s the former concept of people being able to use social media for such dark actions that make for the episode’s more terrifying elements. Given today’s issues, it’s insane to imagine the utter chaos that would take place if people knew they could easily use a hashtag to get rid of someone they didn’t like. Rather than having the technology act as some sort of evil force, “Hated in the Nation” actually reflects just how dark and corrupt people can be if offered the right tools.
2. Men Against Fire
The themes of “Men Against Fire” are much darker than a simple statement about the military, for there are also ties to how forces such as media outlets and political leaders can manipulate our image and ideas of different subjects and people. In the episode, our protagonist’s military outfit is ordered to hunt down these feral beings known as Roaches (that are supposedly very dangerous). However, he eventually learns that the technology he has been implanted with has been manipulating his vision, and while he may be seeing these ghoulish creatures, they are actually regular human beings. The episode ends with one of his superiors discussing how without this manipulation, he couldn’t be the solider he is, executing these “contaminated” beings. This is all heavily relatable to the demonization that many political figures and media outlets have used in regards to the Syrian refugee crisis. There are many of us with limited access to multiple news outlets, so we may have to use what is available to us; this is when the corruption of said political figures comes into play, feeding those people with the beliefs that they want them to have. “Men Against Fire” isn’t just a simple horror story about the military, but a horrific look at how people are manipulated into hating one another. The story acts as a cautionary tale of how we must always be aware of many angles to a story, and consider where our information is coming from.
1. San Junipero
“San Junipero” tends to be praised as the crowning achievement of the Black Mirror series; specifically, many take point in mentioning how it’s the one episode to steer away from nihilism, and actually gives fans a somewhat pleasant and upbeat ending. But… is the ending all that pleasant? We learn that San Junipero is one of many places and “timelines” that people can have their consciousness uploaded to upon death. We have one of our protagonist, Kelly, talk about how she is only using San Junipero as a means to have some fun before passing away. She eventually shares that she use to have a family, and had a daughter who died at a young age. The daughter didn’t have the chance to upload her consciousness, and because of this, when it came time for her husband to pass away, he chose against uploading his consciousness as well (for he couldn’t imagine still going on knowing that his daughter was not with them). Kelly eventually decides to stay in San Junipero with her new lover Yorkie, deciding to go on with life and continue “existing”. At the core of the episode is the grand theme of death, and that for all the beliefs that exist in the world, we have no proof as to what actually happens to us. We have no understanding of what is to actually come, and that is a deep fear that is tucked into the darkest parts of our thoughts. It is never made clear as to why Kelly makes this specific decision, but the choice ends up with darker concepts to consider. Perhaps Kelly was too afraid to take the chance and pass away, not knowing if she would “exist”. And also, making the choice to stay with Yorkie also means she was willing to abandon the romantic vision of reuniting with her family, and continue to exist for an unspecific amount of time, distancing herself from them as life moves forward. In the end, Kelly’s decisions are her own, but while at face value the episode seems pleasant, actually taps into much darker realms of fear and anxiety that lie within many of us.
What do you think of this order? What are your favorite Black Mirror episodes? Don’t forget you can watch all these episodes on Netflix, with season four premiering December 29th.
Michael Pementel is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago's Creative Writing Program. When he isn't writing for Film Daddy, he writes full time for Metal Injection and New Noise Magazine. He has also written for Alternative Press, Film Inquiry, and The Curator. He's the Social Media Manager for death metal record label Ultimate Massacre Productions. When not writing, he enjoys a hot cup of black coffee, a good book/video game/film, and to cuddle with his fiancée and cat.
Follow Michael on Twitter @pementelm.