Last month, Black Mirror fans were treated to a unique sort of television viewing experience. BANDERSNATCH was the kind of event that couldn’t be replicated in theaters or on traditional television.
It might not have had the kind of character depth of other Black Mirror episodes or even traditional thrillers for that matter, but it made up for it in terms of sheer ingenuity and as a proof of concept for a new way to experience a TV show episode. Season five of the show will debut later this year and it could be that BANDERSNATCH was your first taste of the series. If so, you’d do well to check it out before the new season debuts.
Having said that, it’s not exactly necessary to watch the previous episodes because Black Mirror is very much an anthology series. In the spirit of The Twilight Zone, every episode stands on its own. Each episode also explores technology, usually (but not always) in a terrifying way. Sometimes there’s a moral to learn, other times we’re given a glimpse at the horrors of a fully-integrated life. No matter what, the one thing that unites every Black Mirror episode is the high quality of writing, acting, and directing.
You can check out Salome G’s reviews of the show’s past two seasons (Netflix picked up the show as an “original” property beginning with season three) here…
and as we wait for season five, it seemed fitting to look at the five best episodes to watch, either to familiarize yourself with the show, or to remind yourself what makes this such a special program.
Disclaimer, picking only five was torturous. There were so many that almost made the cut, like the True Detective-esque “Crocodile,” with its haunting Icelandic setting and subdued tech-focus, or the supremely bleak “Shut Up and Dance,” with maybe the most gut-punching ending to an episode since the Red Wedding, or the surreal “Nosedive” and its parable on social media obsession. This five-entry list could easily have been a top-ten list, but if you’re going to do that you might as well rank every episode from least-best to best-best…
…crap we’re doing that aren’t we? Fine.
Here they are, with just enough vagueness not to spoil anything if you haven’t yet watched the show…
20. THE WALDO MOMENT
7/10 – It suffers from an unlikeable lead, some overacting, and a plot that’s a bit too on the nose.
19. BLACK MUSEUM
7/10 – Neither predictable nor shocking, and the ending is a bit too pat. One of the few “that’s it?” endings in the show.
18. MEN AGAINST FIRE
7/10 – A strong opening that stumbles in the climax. This is one of the few episodes that would have worked better as a 90 minute feature. As it is, it’s just too rushed in the final act to really stick the landing.
7/10 – As a TV “experience” it’s a 10/10 but as an episode of Black Mirror, it’s on the lower end of the spectrum. The plot’s a bit too superficial, no matter which path you choose.
7/10 – The most common problem with the lesser-episodes of the show is that they’re all very to the point. The best shows have depth and nuance; episodes like this are like mediocre short stories where you can imagine a better plot halfway through reading.
17. FIFTEEN MILLION MERITS
7/10 – I appreciate the idea more than the execution, which was just too hopeless and dour, even for Black Mirror. It does a good job presenting its world and showing us the ugliest side of reality TV’s future, but everything is just too sour to rank it amongst the show’s finest.
14. HATED IN THE NATION
8/10 – Mild and enjoyable, with a fun ensemble cast. It’s a slight episode, but Kelly Macdonald is too delightful to knock this episode down too much.
13. WHITE BEAR
8/10 – It too loses points for failing to offer any kind of a moral, but it succeeds in all other aspects, especially in the way it unfolds its story. This is the sort of episode you can only fully appreciate twice (the first time you watch it, and then on your immediate second watch as you look for all the clues you missed the first time).
8/10 – There’s an exception to every rule: Despite a very straight-forward plot and a concept that is immediately understood with nothing else to it, the episode succeeds solely by being so well made. This is maybe Black Mirror’s most controversial episode, being the shortest and most narrowly-focused, but it’s so well-crafted it’s hard to rank it any lower.
9/10 – Like Fifteen Million Merits, I loved the idea more than the execution, though I like the execution here even more. What works best about this is how real and grounded it feels, despite the tech on display being—when you really think about it—so far advanced from anything we could do. This is another oft-debated episode and I think your ability to enjoy it will depend on how willing you are to let the story play out, no matter how absurd it may become. In this case, the absurdity of it is the point. Black Mirror loves taking an idea that seems benign and showing how slippery the slope can be when we start letting technology control us. Arkangel isn’t the most riveting hour of TV, but it nails that aspect of the show.
10. THE NATIONAL ANTHEM
9/10 – The series’ first episode was probably the ballsiest first episode you could ask for. I suppose it’s exactly what the show needed to weed out anyone unwilling to let them be taken for a ride. There are episodes of Black Mirror that will devastate you, episodes that will make you question why you bother with the show (not because they’re not well-made episodes, but because they’re so uncomfortable to watch). The National Anthem is the perfect “If you can get through this episode, you can get through anything” trial by fire hour of television.
09. THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF YOU
9/10 – One of three (along with Nosedive and Hang the DJ) that, in my opinion, really nailed the concept of the show: Technology that is so futuristic it might as well be magic has a limited appeal to me but technology that seems like it could exist within a generation is much more intriguing; how people handle (and often, fail to handle) that realistic tech is where Black Mirror really shines. This episode promises that relationships of the future will unravel for all the ways and reasons they unravel today. It just uses the technology of the future to show how it will aid in that future unraveling.
08. SHUT UP AND DANCE
9/10 – Sad, depressing, shameful; I was disgusted after watching it. I was so turned off by the episode I almost swore off the rest of the show. And yet, I can’t deny how brilliantly-crafted the whole production was. Black Mirror will play games with you like you’re a puppet on a string. If you can’t handle that, stay away from this amazing hour of TV.
10/10 – The tech on display is not as prominently featured, but you don’t mind because you’re so wrapped up in watching the central character slowly go deeper and deeper into the hole she’s digging for herself. The screenplay is loaded with subtlety, the acting is stellar, the visuals are stunning. There is a lot to love about the episode, even if it lacks any sort of a shocker twist-ending.
10/10 – After two seasons of grit, the third season began with pastels and bubblegum. It was a stark change from the way things had been, but if you are willing to look past that, you’ll find one of the most Rod Serling-esque hours of the show’s library. The master of the Twilight Zone would be especially proud of this one, I think, because it—like his legendary anthology show—so excellently used a crazy idea to teach us a lesson about our own, present day, crazy lives.
See page 2 for the top 5…