Friday, September 21, 2018

Every episode of BLACK MIRROR ranked [19 - 10]


Charlie Brooker's anthology TV show Black Mirror is one of a kind. A dystopian envisioning of all kinds of scenarios in the future if we grow too dependent on technology, most of the episodes highlight the detrimental effects of tech, although a few episodes confound you with their sunny, optimistic outlook on how inventions and gadgets may not only complement, but enhance our lives.

My brother and I have been watching Black Mirror all Summer, and, having now caught up with all four seasons, here are my personal rankings of all 19 episodes in order of preference.

(Note: my nine favourite episodes will be discussed in an upcoming blog. I've split this run-down into two blogs, otherwise one post would be way too text-heavy).



19. Metalhead



The only episode of Black Mirror to be filmed in black and white, this bleak episode focuses on Bella (Maxine Peake) being pursued by a pack of blood-thirsty robot dogs when she and two friends try to steal something from a warehouse.

Although her initial attempts to out-smart the robot dogs (which, despite being highly advanced, still suffer from electricity-related complications, such as the need to recharge their batteries) make for compelling survival thriller viewing, the episode suffers greatly from not really having a plot.

Maxine Peake is never not watchable and the black and white cinematography suits the barrenness of the world depicted, but the ending isn't anywhere near as profound as the show's writers think it is, and may just be Black Mirror's most portentous.

18. Shut Up and Dance



Speaking of endings... For the vast majority of Shut Up and Dance, my nerves were frayed, as poor Kenny, a teenager who works as a waiter, is subjected to escalatingly dangerous and arbitrary tasks by strangers who are texting him. What do these anonymous vigilantes have over him? They caught him Chalamet-ing himself and recorded him doing so through the webcam on his laptop.

I was anxious and gripped in equal measure throughout this episode, although those emotions were dominated by sympathy for the ostensibly hapless Kenny, excellently acted by Alex Lawther. So convincing in his role, in fact, that when Charlie Brook exhibited his signature misanthropy at the end with that rug-pull moment, that I felt as if I had been thoroughly cheated, having invested so much in the character.

In that sense, Shut Up and Dance plays as a companion of sorts to White Bear, but the execution was better in White Bear, not least because the writers had the element of surprise over us. When Shut Up and Dance landed their killer reveal, all it got from me was an 'oh, come on!'

17. Arkangel


The potential pitfalls of technology are explored in this episode, when a chip installed in a child's brain allows their parents to keep tabs on them, and see everything their kids see.

The interest of seeing how such a device works, as well as some jarring visual touches (anything with the capacity to unsettle a child can be 'blurred out', which harks back to the blurring out people in a previous episode, White Christmas), soon give way to some extremely predictable plot beats, as Rosemarie DeWitt's anxious single parent uses the device to spy on her rebellious teenage daughter.

Jodie Foster does her best with an efficient directorial job, but, given the episode occurs four seasons in when viewers by now will be savvy to Charlie Brooker's barely-disguised contempt for mankind, there's only one direction in which the story could possibly go.

16. Crocodile

Andrea Riseborough’s Mia embarks on a descent to hell as she kills a former lover to cover up a hit-and-run they committed in the past, only to have the act of that murder caught due to complex insurance software.

Andrea Riseborough is always a captivating presence, even when the material is less than deserving of her talents (such as WE), and the usage of ‘Anyone Who Knows What Love Is’ makes for a poignant Easter Egg (the tune also featured in the episodes 15 Million Merits, White Christmas and Men Against Fire), but Mia’s arc is terribly contrived.

Mia goes from a law-abiding, upstanding architect to a serial, cold-blooded killer in a matter of 18 hours, which rings very artificial. Watching her plunge herself into wicked, after a while, became more akin to an endurance test than a form of entertainment.

And no amount of showing her crying can atone for her final act of barbarity, which is devastatingly callous, even for Charlie Brooker.

15. Be Right Back


When conducting research for this list, I had a read over the internet’s rankings of the 19 Black Mirror episodes and saw that Be Right Back ranked highly in the majority of lists. Sadly, it didn’t resonate with me in the same way it seemed to do with the masses.

Hayley Atwell and Domhnall Gleeson play a married couple, Martha and Ash. He is glued to his phone, so much so that one evening, his attachment to his phone gets him in a car accident and he dies. She misses him desperately, and craves for him around, not least because she is recently pregnant. Then, a new program is proposed, where she can have Ash back, first in digital form, then, as a human replica.

This episode was way too sterile for me. Although I recognise the chilliness was by design, I prefer my media to be a fraction warmer (think of the feel-good factor of the likes of Zootopia and Adventureland).

Further points were docked for the fact that all the way through the episode, I just wished I was watching the superior production starring Domhnall Gleeson about artificial intelligence, Ex Machina.

14. Men Against Fire


One of Black Mirror’s more disturbing episodes, Men Against Fire follows Stripe, a soldier who has expert precision with his shooting, and isn’t afraid to pull the trigger. Equipment is installed into the soldiers’ brains to aid them with their accuracy. The target that the soldiers have been trained to kill are ‘roaches’ – sub-human creatures who steal and pillage.

However, after a successful first time out, Stripe experiences interference with his implant that begins to distort the line between reality and fantasy, as well as call him to refute what is real in the first place.

Although the episode is very effectively made (Netflix gave Black Mirror a kitty of $40 million for seasons three and four, and some of that had to have gone on sourcing the bleakest possible locations to imbue the viewer with visceral anxiety throughout), Men Against Fire suffers from all the trappings of the genre, as well as the fact that Black Mirror is far from the first TV show to toy with the twist at the end.

13. The Waldo Moment

Of its 19 episodes thus far, Black Mirror has explored the relationship that technology plays on the political landscape twice, here, and in The National Anthem.

The ‘Waldo’ in question is a blue foul-mouthed cartoon bear, who becomes a political candidate in the town of Stentonford, even though he has no policies or ambition, and his entire schtick is to mercilessly roast his opposition.

The dry tone of this episode sat well with me, and some of the astute observations on career politicians and how democracy is all a sham because at the end of the day, the people who represent you just want to further their careers and line their pockets, were on point.

However, as much as I’m on board with Charlie Brooker taking limitless shots at politicians, the collateral damage in this episode was Jamie, the man who voices Waldo.

Depressed, intense and disillusioned with life, he’s one of Black Mirror’s most humane creations, and that he’s given a rather raw deal is telling regarding Brooker’s feelings towards people in general.

12. The Entire History of You


Although season 1 of Black Mirror only had three episodes, the impact and dark worldview purveyed by each of them showed that the creators were not here to play.

Toby Kebell plays a Liam, junior lawyer in a world where people have ‘grains’ embedded into their minds, which records everything they see and allows them to re-visit past experiences, as if on a DVD player. Liam uses this function to excruciating effect when he suspects something is going on between his wife and a cocky dinner party guest and explores that hunch.

Well-acted and unrepentantly bleak, The Entire History of You is Black Mirror in a microcosm. The central thesis of the episode is whether ignorance truly is bliss, and if someone did something that would devastate us, whether we’d be happier not knowing.

Ultimately, it was a bit pessimistic to make my top half of Black Mirror episodes (to quote Mark Kermode, ‘there’s a whole lot of Shawshank, and very little redemption’. I devour films and TV for escapism, so I need a bit more rainbows and butterflies with my multimedia), but credit to the sharp script and Kebell and Whittaker for making their relationship so authentic.

That their bond feels so real, makes the ensuing revelations of the episode that more heartbreaking.

11. White Christmas
Hailed by many as one of Black Mirror’s strongest episodes, White Christmas certainly doesn’t lack ambition, although it suffers from a lack of focus, from perhaps trying to jam too much into one episode.

It follows Matt (Jon Hamm) and Joe (Rafe Spall), who find themselves in a secluded cottage on Christmas day, with little idea of what they’re doing there. They exchange three stories, each of which fill the episode, as well as leading up to the Big Reveal of why these two are in this place, at this time.

Some of the envisioning of the future in White Christmas, and the capabilities technology could offer, is chilling, such as the ability to ‘block’ people in real life. You can’t see their face, and they become a shapeless blob, and you to them.

White Christmas also introduces the concept of ‘cookies’, where people make digital copies of themselves, and the way cookies can be tortured makes for disturbing viewing.

As with several Black Mirror episodes, White Christmas dishes out twist upon twist, and I was riveted throughout.

Another common motif Brooker likes to explore is, if someone did something very bad, what would be an appropriate punishment? The haunting closing shot of White Christmas left plenty of food for thought.

10. Playtest
It’s a mark of the overall high quality of Black Mirror, that the median episode carries a very respectable 8 out of 10 score from me.

It follows Cooper, an American with wanderlust who the audience recognise almost instantly as a classic case of someone who goes travelling in an attempt to run away from their problems. When he’s short on funds, he agrees to be a guinea pig for a new form of hyper-realistic virtual reality gaming. However, the game proves to be too realistic for Cooper’s comfort.



Although Playtest is one of Black Mirror’s less cerebral episodes, in terms of pure popcorn, it hits all the terrifying highs. We are as anxious and curious as the protagonist, and the twists come thick and fast, meaning I was gripped throughout.

I will run down my top 9 in a future blog. Through the process of elimination, you’ll be able to infre which nine episodes they are, but I bet you can’t guess the exact order…

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