Black Mirror is the modern analogue of The Twilight Zone. Each episode is a self-contained story with sci-fi elements, a dark tone, and often bleak conclusions. It’s also one of the best shows in recent memory, with flawless production heightening its intelligent, effective writing.
Good news for Black Mirror fans like me: Netflix has announced they will produce 12 new episodes of the show. To prep ourselves for the new content, let’s sort out the episodes we already have and count them down in order of quality, shall we?
7. The Waldo Moment (Season 2, Episode 3)
Let’s get this one out of the way quickly: “The Waldo Moment” (which features a TV personality with a gift for insult comedy becoming a politician) may seem especially interesting and topical at the moment considering Donald Trump’s surprisingly successful presidential run, but it’s by far the worst episode of the series.
The main problem is that Black Mirror is usually so inventive, but this premise has been done to death. We’ve seen the whole ‘regular guy who tells it like it is runs for office’ routine more than a few times before. Black Mirror doesn’t manage to add anything new or of note to that formula here.
6. The National Anthem (Season 1, Episode 1)
When I’m recommending Black Mirror to someone, I always tell them to skip the first episode and head right to the second if they’ve never seen the show before. That’s not because “The National Anthem” is bad television – compared to an episode of something like, say, CSI or Heartbeat, “The National Anthem” is a masterpiece. I find it to be a more engaging hour of television than most.
But its central concept of a Prime Minister being forced by terrorists to have sex with a pig is sure to be a little too out-there for many.
Black Mirror is at its best when it focuses on small, relatable conflicts like jealousy and infidelity, grieving the loss of a loved one, etc. The conflict in “The National Anthem” is anything but small and relatable, and as a result this episode just doesn’t make a lasting impression like the others. Conversely, the second episode of the series does indeed leave an impression and is much more likely to get people hooked, which is why I recommend new viewers try that one first.
5. White Bear (Season 2, Episode 2)
Black Mirror is not a particularly action-packed show. The majority of the trauma depicted (and there is much trauma) is emotional rather than physical. “White Bear” is the exception to that rule, as it’s a pure cat-and-mouse thriller (anyone who likes a good twist would be wise to stick around for the end of this one).
4. Be Right Back (Season 2, Episode 1)
“Be Right Back” just might have the strongest cast of any Black Mirror episode, starring Agent Carter herself (Hayley Atwell) and a pre-2015 blowup Domhnall Gleeson (Gleeson had perhaps a more prolific year than any other actor in 2015, with major roles in Ex Machina, The Revenant, Brooklyn, and some little project called Star Wars).
It’s a good thing those two signed on to this particular episode, as lesser performers may have struggled to pull the weight of an hour of screen time without any help (set in a remote country estate, Atwell and Gleeson’s characters are pretty much the only people in this story). My only complaint is that there aren’t any surprises, but “Be Right Back” packs such an emotional punch that it doesn’t really need any twists.
3. White Christmas (Special)
Mad Man Jon Hamm lends his talents to the most-recent episode of Black Mirror, which is basically 3 different, loosely connected stories rolled into the same hour and a half long package.
There’s a lot to like here, especially Hamm, who has mastered the role of effortlessly charming sociopath. The way he nonchalantly eats some toast while putting a cyber-clone through what feels to her like weeks of solitary confinement (less than a minute passes in real time) is as hilarious as it is disturbing.
2. 15 Million Merits (Season 1, Episode 2)
Most of Black Mirror is only slightly sci-fi, with just a tweak or two separating the universe of any given episode from modern-day life.
That’s not the case with “15 Million Merits”, which is set in a full-on dystopian future. Everyone lives exclusively indoors. Most people sleep in cell-like rooms lined with screens (shades of Fahrenheit 451) and work as human hamsters, running on treadmills full-time, presumably to power the place.
Despite the unfamiliar setting, “15 Million Merits” is one of the most relatable episodes of Black Mirror, due to the downright charming courtship between Bing (Daniel Kaluuya) and Abi (Jessica Brown Findlay). How the world built in this episode exploits these two characters is absolutely heartbreaking.
1. The Entire History of You (Season 1, Episode 3)
Surprisingly, the best episode of Black Mirror wasn’t written by Charlie Brooker, who wrote every other episode. Even more surprisingly, the guy “The Entire History of You” was written by is Jesse Armstrong, who is better known for his comedy writing (Peep Show, The Thick of It).
Despite Armstrong’s forte, there isn’t much humor in this episode, but he does manage to write a truly compelling dramatic narrative that combines a common story of jealousy between spouses with an innovative exploration of the question “Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could remember everything perfectly?” The answer, Black Mirror suggests, is “Be careful what you wish for”.