The very best Black Mirror episodes
What are the very best Black Mirror episodes as of Season 5?
Black Mirror has had a magnificent run over the years. The illest techno-thrillest series on television has made it to 5 seasons (plus a standalone feature Bandersnatch) and grumpy uncle Charlie doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. Black Mirror beat about the outer limits of the mainstream during its early years on Channel 4, with each new episode a grim delight for rabid sci-fi, horror and Charlie Brooker fans around the world. As an anthology series, there’s also a lot of white-hot debate about which Black Mirror episodes are the best.
To put this debate to rest, I’ve devised a list that should settle the debate once and for all. These are the very best Black Mirror episodes according to my opinion. Oh, and Yeezy’s opinion. Can’t argue with that.
1. The Entire History of You
Season 1, Episode 3
Black Mirror debuted back in 2011 with just three episodes. The firs (The National Anthem) was set in modern-day; its centrepiece technology was broadcast television. Next was Fifteen Million Credits; a far-flung dystopian sci-fi. And finally, there was The Entire History of You, a story set in the near future with an imagined technology that never seemed too far from reality: the grain.
The “grain” is an implant which allows users to record and playback everything they see, and everything they hear. It’s such a versatile idea and many episodes later present another version or iteration of the grain; White Christmas, Striking Vipers, USS Calister, Crocodile and Playtest all crib from The Entire History of You’s grain technology.
Starring Toby Kebbel (Fantastic Four) and Jodie Whittaker (the Thirteenth Doctor), The Entire History of You shows us the dark places a helpful, but ultimately intrusive, technology can take us when given that power. It touches on a number of deep-seated fear and answers the question: how much is too much information when passion, jealousy and paranoia are at play.
2. San Junipero
Season 3, Episode 4
There’s no two ways about it; Black Mirror is a bit of a bummer. That’s why San Junipero was such a breath of fresh air when it first released back in 2016.
When we first started following Yorkie’s time warp through the 80s in the idyllic beach town, San Junipero, we were waiting for the hammer to drop; some depressing revelation that it was all part of some twisted madman’s time-travelling torture scheme. But it never came. Charlie Brooker, the miserable bastard, actually managed to pull off one of the most heartwarming stories ever committed to the small screen.
The chemistry between the episode’s two leads, Mackenzie Davis and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, is absolutely electric. The circumstances of their stay in San Junipero are best left secret (so avoid the Wikipedia entry) but it creates seemingly insurmountable odds for true romance to blossom and when the big reveal hits, you’re left feeling all warm and fuzzy (which isn’t how things typically go with your run-of-the-mill Black Mirror episode.
3. White Christmas
Season 2, Special Episode
The Brits love a good Christmas special but there’s never been a Christmas special quite as glib as this. Black Mirror’s White Christmas is made up of three connected stories featuring Jon Hamm and Rafe Spall.
When two men (Hamm and Spall) stationed at a snowy outpost reluctantly spend Christmas Day together, they begin to open up about their lives before the cabin. As each story unfolds, the grisly details of their pasts begin to intertwine in shocking ways; resulting in one final twist that will sit with you long after the credits roll. Probably not a great idea to actually watch this on Christmas Day, as we did. White Christmas was the last non-Netflix Black Mirror episode and Brooker really went out with a bang.
You’ll never be able to listen to Wizzard’s “I Wish it Could Be Christmas Everday” in the same way.
4. USS Callister
Season 4, Episode 1
Over a year after Black Mirror Season 3 released, we were sat twiddling our thumbs wondering when news of the next season would drop. Then on December 6th, we got the news that season 4 would release no later than December 29th. The next few weeks were peppered with teasers and trailers for every episode from which we tried to dissect what nasty old Booker was up to.
The episode that caught the most interest was USS Callister; a colourful homage (or outright send-up) of Star Trek. The apparent clash of corny sci-fi scenes and dark and ominous undertones seemed like a strange tonal shift for Black Mirror. Could it be pulled off or was Charlie Brooker just taking the piss now? Thankfully, the end result proved the former.
Don’t worry, USS Callister gets dark. It boldly goes where no Gene Rodenberry had been before. But by the time the credits roll, you realise that, in true Star Trek spirit, USS Callister is more concerned with camaraderie and overcoming impossible odds as a unit.
Not only does USS Callister have one of the series’ best villains (Breaking Bad’s Jesse Plemons) but it also features some truly heroic performances by the episode’s wider cast Cristin Miloti, Jimmi Simpson and Michaela Coel.
USS Callister is the one Black Mirror episode that Charlie Brooker has shown interest in creating a sequel for, and by the end of the episode, you’ll know why.
Season 3, Episode 1
Ever since Netflix came into the picture, Black Mirror has hopped back-and-forth between stories set in the UK and stories set in the US. History has shown that original UK TV shows rarely benefit from the migration to the US but this wasn’t a reboot, just a different flavour. Still, we went it with middling expectations.
The first episode of season 3, Nosedive, managed to blow those expectations out of the water.
The technology at Nosedive’s core is a social network where anyone can have their manners, appearance, lifestyle and personality rated by people they come into contact with. This creates a bubble of high-class users who all benefit from each other’s interaction, lifting each other up, and low-status users that the system works against. Conceptually, it seems a bit on the nose at first glance, a bit “old man shouts at cloud”. But Bryce Dallas Howard’s ratings-obsessed (we mean, obsessed) Lacie single-handedly makes Nosedive one of the most enjoyable episodes to date.
The episode was adapted from a Charlie Brooker story by Rashida Jones and Michael Shur (who worked on Parks and Recreation together) so as you could imagine, it’s a little lighter in tone.
6. Be Right Back
Season 2, Episode 1
One of the jerkiest tearjerkers in Black Mirror’s back catalogue. This heartfelt isn’t as dark and depraved as most other episodes, it’s just tragic. Be Right Back introduces us to two young lovers, Ash and Martha, played by Domnhall Gleeson (Star Wars Sequel Trilogy) and Hayley Atwell (Agent Carter). When a car accident takes Ash’s life early in the episode, a heartbroken Martha begins to try out a new technology that uses social media feeds to recreate Ash’s voice and personality.
As the technology advances, Martha is given the opportunity to completely recreate a synthetic version of Ash, but she soon discovers that there are certain nuances that the technology simply can’t recreate.
It’s heartbreaking, sure, but also a bittersweet reminder that we’re not defined by our online/public personas and that a small part of our personality is usually reserved for someone special.
Season 4, Episode 5
Season 5’s Metalhead didn’t seem to land with most audiences when it first released; maybe its the monochromatic colour grading, maybe its scarce amount of dialogue, or maybe it’s the way the episode withholds so much from the audience (When is it set in the Black Mirror timeline? What went wrong? Why is the teddy bear so important?).
Those were, specifically, just a few of the reasons I loved Metalhead.
Black Mirror sometimes has a bad habit of overexplaining its technology, big expositional dumps to get the viewer on board, to believe it’s a possibility.
Metalhead just asks you to strap in and enjoy the pursuit.
It feels a lot like a homage to the original Terminator. What made the OG Terminator more of a thriller than an action movie, was the unrelenting chase, the helplessness of our protagonists. From beginning to end, it’s one long, terrifying pursuit; an unstoppable killing machine, constantly hounding our heroes. Same goes for Metalhead.
Charlie Brooker’s stories are almost always a tale of “technology gone too far” and it’s no coincidence that the most apocalyptic episode to date is centered on military-sanctioned tech.
Fun fact: Charlie Brooker has gone on the record stating that Metalhead is Kanye West’s favourite episode.
Season 4, Episode 3
Crocodile… Crocodile, Crocodile, Crocodile. What a tricky, tricky episode. On one hand, it deals with some of the most horrific (explicit and implicit) subject matter on the entire show, on the other, it’s one of the most beautifully shot episodes and locations in Black Mirror’s catalogue with two standout performances from the episode leads, Andrea Riseborough (Mandy) and Kiran Sonia Sawar (Murdered by my Father).
Crocodile kicks off with a young couple, Mia (Riseborough) and Rob (Andrew Gower) driving home down a winding mountain road after an all-nighter, clearly still drunk. You guessed it, they end up running down a cyclist and chucking the body off a cliff and into the churning sea.
The serene locales of Reykjavík, Iceland are the perfect backdrop for a murder cover-up job; cinematographer Lol Crawley (The OA, Four Lions) manages to capture the sheer beauty and nightmarish isolation of the mountainous vistas in equal measure.
In such a remote location, Mia and Rob’s cover-up feels like a clean sweep.
And it is, for many years, until Rob, now estranged and sober, visits Mia in a bustling city hotel and suggests they confess their crime. Unlike the mountainous retreat Mia calls home, this claustrophobic city is teeming with surveillance cameras and safety nets for insurance disputes; a technological world is lying in wait to snap Mia up.
When it does, Mia is willing to do whatever it takes to free herself from its deathroll.
9. Hang the DJ
Season 4, Episode 4
When San Junipero received unanimous praise from critics and fans, Brooker woke up to the fact that viewers are actually partial to a serving of heartfelt joy. Black Mirror fans don’t mind being repeatedly whacked across the head with the old technofear paddle, but even the kinkiest sadists need a bit of a breather.
So in Season 4, Brooker once again prescribed a soothing romance romp to help manage the pain from back-to-back bummers Arkangel and Crocodile. Hang the DJ was just what the doctor ordered. It’s nowhere near as potent as San Junipero but it’s a good over-the-counter remedy.
Frank (Joe Cole) and Amy (Georgina Campbell) are introduced via The System (imagine a compulsory Tinder). The System’s artificial intelligence is so advanced, it can pinpoint a relationships expiry point and uses data from failed relationships to match users with their ideal partner (with a 99.98% rate).
Frank and Amy hit it off and the two agree they won’t check their expiry date. Curiosity gets the better of Frank, who discovers the relationship’s expiry is set to 5 years. However, the mere act of observing the expiry date reduces the expiry to a couple of hours.
Despite the chemistry between them, the two are obliged to go their separate ways and have faith in the system.
The ending to this one is another warm and fuzzy one. Which isn’t a spoiler, but I think it is important to note. Otherwise, you’re sat there the entire time expecting something horrible to happen.
10. The National Anthem
Season 1, Episode 1
In the early days of Black Mirror, my general advice was “don’t start with the first episode”. It’s a great episode, don’t get me wrong but it’s the least palatable for a broader audience. I still stand by that too. If you’re only just getting into Black Mirror, maybe start with the sci-fi American Idol one and not the, well, you know, the pig loving one.
The National Anthem stars Rory Kinnear as Prime Minister Michael Callow. The PM finds himself in a bit of a pickle when a fictional member of the British Royal family is kidnapped and held for ransom.
The kidnappers demands? To have the Prime Minister go the full hog live on television (make love to a pig).
Will he do the deed to save a life? Or will he run away squealin’ like a little pig?
You’ll have to find out for yourself. Just don’t watch it over breakfast, or any meal for that matter.