In a technology filled society, we too often become attached to our devices and forget about the real world. In addition, the lessons we are taught growing up may even lead to our improper and over obsessive use of technology. It begs the questions of whether our ethics and morals are actually on par with our use of cell phones, computers, the internet and all the other amalgamations that our world presents today. If given new technology that revolutionizes the world, can we as a human population utilize it properly?
That is the question that is at the heart of each episode of Netflix’s Black Mirror. It seeks to uncover the inner psyche of the human mind and how that leads us to make some pretty poor and often dark choices. But even when technology is not the focus of an episode, there still remains the ethical outcomes of the decisions people make in a futuristic world. A lot of these decisions are relatable to us to a point where it’s truly horrifying to realize how screwed up our morals may be at times and how far we as humans are willing to go.
Each episode is a standalone story with a complete beginning, middle, and end. There is no unifying theme or interwoven arc between the different seasons and episodes. They are each self-contained scripts with unique characters, themes, and realities that can be watched in any order. The one thing they all have in common is that they showcase the human condition and how we have acted, are currently acting, or will act.
As a majority, all of the episodes are excellent! Each provides a unique story and moral questions to ponder about afterwards. They are disturbing in a way that you realize that these events could actually happen given the circumstances. Even then, there are plenty of twists and turns that invert the story you are watching and provide a new context of emotions when you rewatch. You may start pitying a character in an episode on your first run-through but when you are given the whole context of the story, you may end up loathing them. It’s interesting to see how the show subverts expectations and proves its unpredictability time and time again.
While not all of the episodes are sure fire hits, there is a lot of enjoyment to be had if you like philosophical questions of human ethics. The stories are interesting and investing enough to keep general audiences invested, but then keeps them around due to their unpredictability and genuine authenticity.
In order for me to properly review this show, I have decided to rank my top 10 favorite episodes from the series. If you have not seen them before, I highly recommend you check it out and revisit this articles when finished as I will be delving into some spoilers with each episode. I will be analyzing on some of the themes, but I recommend you go in as blind as possible just as I did to get the full experience of what this show offers.
This episode embraces every gamer’s dream of being able to be inside their favorite video game. The protagonist of the episode is given the chance to test a new virtual reality game and the deeper he goes into it, the more intense and real it becomes. The reason I like this episode is how the fears are elevated as the episode goes on. At first each fear is more physical such as creatures but then becomes more psychological and personal to the point where the protagonist is driven insane. It also addresses the real world problem some may face of running away from their problems and trying to find a fantasy that is better than the real world. In true Black Mirror style however, it shows the pitfalls of such a decision resulting in the characters death that leaves a powerful impact on the viewer both psychologically and emotionally.
9. USS Callister
A love letter to the old Star Trek T.V. show and films, USS Callister shows that Black Mirror knows how to have fun while also presenting its dark twisted commentary. A man who isn’t treated fairly in his real world makes copies of his cruel co-workers in a virtual reality game so that he can indict his own form of fun and justice. Similar to Playtest, this deals with the concept of living in your own reality, but it’s different in the way that the main character is using it as an escape consistently rather than a long-term solution. I like this episode due to the more light-hearted direction they took and finding a nice balance between darkness and fun. Its social commentary isn’t as obvious and in a sense not really an episode that makes you think. There is a lot of creativity and detail given to this episode that make it to the top ten for me!
8. Shut Up and Dance
This was an episode that deeply disturbed me and showed just how dark Black Mirror can get. The character we follow has been blackmailed into doing various crimes by an unknown person and realizes a lot of individuals have the same problem. The secrets these people are trying to keep though are very dark so it’s no wonder they go through great lengths of robbery, murders, etc. to keep themselves at bay. It shows just how far humans will go and that really everyone has a price. It’s an evil and senile concept to think about but in reality humans are so easily manipulated. It’s even a big shocker given the twist ending where the character we have been following and sympathizing with the entire episode is revealed to be a pedophile. It completely flips your expectations of the episode and makes you want to rewatch it in a new light. The episode has taken a character that most would find disgusting and try to make you feel sympathy for them and it works to a point which adds to the shows subtlety that make it so tense yet intricate to watch.
7. Hated in the Nation
This episode essentially provided a social commentary on Twitter which I thought was really relevant to how our society operates today. It deals with the concept of “hashtags’ on how a lot of users are so quick to jump on a bandwagon from the safety of their homes without actually knowing the true impact of what they are saying. In this case, the more popular a hashtag featuring the words “kill” and a person’s name, they become the next victim of a violent killing via electronic bees. The people do not know what they are doing, and in our society it would seem like a harmless and inconsequential thing to do. In reality, however, it shows how naive we are and that we can easily be swayed given few details. This resulted in the genocide of over half the population which is extremely dark to think about how our use of Twitter parallels these outcomes.
6. Men Against Fire
Paralleling the events WWII, this episode essentially highlighted the topic of prejudice. From a young age, we learn and are taught different things that help shape the opinions we have today. When something comes along that questions that opinion however, that’s where the trouble occurs. This episode really excels through the main character who provides a dynamic range of emotions to showcase the true terror of war. I initially thought this was going to be an episode highlighting PTSD in soldiers which is one of my favorite concepts to be explored in any show. But then my expectations were subverted to find that the fears and questions the protagonist was having were all too real and that he had been lied to about who the enemy was. He had been forced to kill people instead of inhuman beings that he was promised. That range of emotions of finding out the true horror of your actions is an intriguing concept that I loved to see explored and the range of emotions provided make it heartbreaking and exhiliaring to watch.
5. White Bear
Another episode that subverts your expectations with a twist ending, White Bear follows the story of a woman who is being constantly hunted by unknown entities and is not able to receive help from anyone. That’s because most of the bystanders are there to film her pain and agony as she struggles to survive adding more to the mystery of how humanity could be so cruel. From the initial viewing, I viewed it as a social commentary on how society has an incessant need to videotape or capture moments instead of living in them. In this case, people are videotaping violence taking place instead of taking an active role and helping the people in pain. It’s intriguing yet brutally honest in how society views the media. But then with the twist ending shows that the women is actually a criminal undergoing a torturous punishment of fear to pay for her assistance in kidnapping and murdering a child. The same commentary on living in the moment still applies, but it is yet another episode that makes you feel sympathy for a terrible person before you actually know they are irredeemable. You then see the episode from a different point of view and are left wondering whether this live audience show is actually a humane form of punishment or just plain disgusting to let happen in society. It speaks volumes of how we view criminals and what we think of as justice, allowing the viewer to really wrestle with that morality of right and wrong.
4. San Junipero
Arguably the most uplifting episode of the series, we follow a simple love story between two ladies who are seemingly polar opposites. One is free and outgoing while the other is more shy, reserved, and burdened. Seeing these two connect over the episode is extremely endearing and tear-jerking to watch. You root for these two to have their happy ending and stay together for eternity. The technological aspect of the episode shows that these two ladies, and most of the world, lives in a data cloud that people are uploaded to once they die. Currently still alive in the real world, these ladies have found love that is so pure at the end of their life and you worry that it will be taken away. After so many dark episodes about how humanity is dark and malicious at its core, it’s nice to see the episode go the other direction and essentially give the audiences what they want. But it is not without the moral question of what they are leaving behind in the real world once their physical bodies die. Is it truly a better life and can they truly move on from the pain and tragedy they once lived to start a new life together? That question drives their decisions and culminates on a very sweet ending that shows that love knows no time nor boundaries.
3. Entire History of You
This was the episode that got me hooked onto Black Mirror and still remains one of the best standalone episodes of television I have watched period. The social commentary at heart in this episode is overthinking and speculation. In this world, every small interaction you have with someone is recorded and can be rewinded and watched again for interpretation. It’s both a useful tool yet very dangerous when overused and since society has been panned for overusing technology and being addicted, the episode chooses the danger route to highlight. This episode definitely does exaggerate the obsession the man has with wife’s small quirks with an old flame but it isn’t unlike how people are today. People find others on social media, read their posts, see who likes their pictures, and use those as evidence to jump to conclusions. It takes out the whole communication aspect between people and leads down bad roads of unintentioned anxiety, The man could definitely have gone the rest of his life not knowing what he found out do to his obsession and live a happy life, but going down the path to uncover all secrets nearly destroys his life to the point where he doesn’t know how to function. The pain and anxiety breaks him and it’s unlike anything I have seen involving human drama. It just feels so real and relatable that just elevates it to new standards.
2. Be Right Back
The episode that follows Entire History of You is another one of the series’ best chronicling just how hard it is to let go of a loved one. After losing her husband unexpectedly, a widow buys a computer program and eventually a robot that mimics the same voice and appearance as her late husband. But while the being make look and talk like her husband she slowly begins to realize how there is no true replacement for what she has lost. This episode deals with grief in a powerful and relatable way. Seeing the wife come to terms with what she has lost and trying to bargain with life is something raw and palpable that many can resonate with. No matter how much the robot may resemble her husband, it’s the small things about him that she misses and can’t get over. It’s incredibly powerful and moving to see and provides an honest look at how versatile and surreal human emotion can be. It isn’t something that is quantified but rather unexplainable and felt in the moment so that it can’t be replaced.
1. White Christmas
There are many reasons why I love this episode. Firstly, I am a sucker for Jon Hamm as an actor due to his charisma and confidence he boasts on screen. Nonetheless, this episode is actually telling three separate stories at the same time but it is all interconnected and woven together so cohesively that it is a true testament to what they have accomplished. Rewatching the episode over and over provides new context to the events that take place. My favorite aspect of the episode is the third story and how they have illustrated “blocking” in real life. When you block someone on social media you don’t see them anymore there but you still see them around in everyday life. This episode illustrates a world where when you block someone, all you see is a silhouette each time you encountered the person. It’s extremely intriguing to see and imagine a society where that would happen is both appealing for some but also heartbreaking to others. You see the effect of cutting someone out of your life and the toll it takes on both people is astounding. This episode wins on every level from its social commentary, raw emotion, cool gadgets and fantastic performances. This is easily one of the coolest episodes of Black Mirror and my personal favorite.
I realize I could not go as in depth as I would have liked as it is difficult to sum up everything these episodes have to offer. I definitely recommend revisiting some of these episodes if you have a chance due to the multitude of layers left to uncover.
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