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Black Mirror: Worst to Best

Netflix recently dropped season 3 of Black Mirror. Black Mirror is an anthology show much like The Twilight Zone. Each episode is a self contained story that shows how technology will continue to influence our lives into the near future. All of the episodes focuses on how technology may change and shape our future, mainly in a negative way. What makes Black Mirror so good is that each episode is designed to keep you guessing. Usually it throws you into a future that you don’t completely understand. Then by the time you kind of understand what is going on, it ends.

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Black Mirror is a British made show created by Charlie Brooker that originally aired on Channel 4 in England for the first two seasons. Season three had the show move to Netflix. Currently Black Mirror has a total of 13 episodes, which can easily be binged watched over a weekend.

Justification for Ranking

Ranking these 13 episodes was really tough for me. Even the “worst” episode I would give a B+ to an A-. And some episodes were so close in their enjoyment that I could make an argument for a completely different ranking. So to help justify my rankings I‘ll give a brief explanation as to why I place the episode where I did, but it will be 100% spoiler free.

Overall what it came down to was:

  1. The cleverness of the episode.
  2. The acting and overall story.
  3. The unique view of technology.
  4. The moral/ideological message it was trying to say.

Ranking

13) Hated in the Nation (S3 E6)

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Two female detectives that are investigating a series of murders that are linked to social media.

The problem was this episode almost exclusively comes down to two factors the length and lack of cleverness. This is one of two episodes that is 90 minutes long, but this one had no reason to be so long. The story felt stretched out and slow for no reason at all. And because it was so slow, all of the twists could be identified way before they happen. So when the twists come it’s more of a “yep” moment, than an “Oh my goodness” moment.

12) Fifteen Million Merits (S1 E2)

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A man lives in a slave-like environment prominent with micro-transactions and pay-per-view material. When he meets a woman he is interested in, he does everything he can to give her what she desires most. Only to learn that maybe it’s more complicated than that.

Honestly, there isn’t much that is particularly wrong with this episode, just that it is rather boring and slow. Much like the prominent activity, it feels like it never really goes anywhere (if you’ve seen the episode, you’d get that reference). Then when if finally does something, it’s rather predictable. I did enjoy the future it proposed though and would have loved to understand it a little more outside the narrow view we see.

11) Shut up and Dance (S3 E3)

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When withdrawn a young man falls into an online trap, he is quickly held at the mercy of persons unknown.

This episode was all too real and possible. In fact, a lot of what this episode depicts happens every day in our society. I don’t think it’s to the extent that it is taken, but knowing that it is right around the corner is eerie. The problem that this episode faced was since it could happen today, there was no interesting use of technology. Which isn’t a bad thing, just knocks it a little lower in my ranking.

10) Playtest (S3 E2)

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An American traveler short on cash signs up to test a revolutionary new gaming system, but soon can’t tell where the hoot game ends and reality begins.

Virtual and augmented reality is at the forefront of this episode with a horror video game storyline. The episode doesn’t really say or do anything special. It simply is an interesting look as to where video games may be in the near future.

9) White Bear (S2 E2)

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A woman wakes up in a strange dystopian world with no memory, where everyone is glued to their phones and there are hunters out to kill her.

This episode has nothing wrong with it, it just doesn’t have anything particularly good either. The cleverness of the twist is nice and completely unexpected, but other than that it is just a good suspenseful episode of a woman on the run.

8) The National Anthem (S1 E1)

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The British Prime Minister faces a shocking dilemma when the Princess, a much-loved member of the Royal Family, is kidnapped.

Much like “Shut up and Dance” this is another one that is all too real and possible. I could see someone kidnapping an important figurehead and forcing another important person to do something personally degrading. It ends kind of weird and I don’t know exactly what it was trying to say about society, but it was an interesting episode nonetheless.

7) Men Against Fire (S3 E5)

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A newly recruited soldier must help defend a small frightened village from an infestation of vicious feral mutants.

The twist is a little predictable but the thought that government and military could go in this direction is both genius and scary. So even though I knew the direction it was headed, the logic behind it is pretty solid.

6) The Waldo Moment (S2E3)

Black Mirror The Waldo Moment l-r: Liam Monroe (Tobias Menzies), Gwendolyn (Chloe Pirrie), Robert (Jack Monaghan) and Simon Finch (Louis Waymouth)

A failed comedian who voices a popular cartoon bear named Waldo finds himself mixing in politics when TV executives want Waldo to run for office.

While I was watching this episode, all I could think of is the US 2016 election. The exaggerated and over-the-top character of Waldo is almost exactly how many view Donald Trump and it originally came out in 2013. So while I may have looked passed it in earlier years, the similarities to this election elevated it significantly in my rating.

5) Nosedive (S3 E1)

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In a future entirely controlled by how people evaluate others on social media, a girl is trying to keep her “score” high while preparing for her oldest childhood friend’s wedding.

This concept is something that any who wants a larger social media footprint completely understands. Those active in Facebook, Twitter, and especially YouTube and Blogs are always looking at social interactions. How interactive are their friends/audience? How they can increase their ratings? “Nosedive” takes this concept and ramps it up to 11 assuming that every interaction with a person is given a rating. S5 E8 of Community did an episode with a similar concept. The difference is that where Community went funny, Black Mirror goes dark. Definitely worth your time though especially with the performance by Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World).

4) Be Right Back (S2 E1)

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After losing her husband in a car crash, a grieving woman uses a computer software that allows you to “talk” to the deceased.

Hayley Atwell (Agent Carter) and Domhnall Gleeson (Ex Machina, The Revenant) are what make this episode stand out from the rest. Atwell’s emotional loss alongside Gleeson is nothing short of captivating. On top of that the practical progression of technology make the episode seem very plausible.

3) San Junipero (S3 E4)

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In a seaside town in 1987, a shy young woman and an outgoing party girl strike up a powerful bond that seems to defy the laws of space and time.

I initially didn’t like this episode very much, but as the story developed and I learned what was going on I started to like it more. It wasn’t until about a day after see it did I really appreciate the cleverness of the ideology. There is honestly nothing that I can give away because even a minor spoiler can completely unravel the plot. But I will say that while you are watching it, pay attention to the complexity of Kelly, the party girl’s, motivations.

2) The Entire History of You (S1 E3)

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In the near future, everyone has access to a memory implant that records everything they do, see and hear. These can then be shared with others. You need never forget a face again, but is that always a good thing?

This is the first episode of Black Mirror that really took advantage of the idea of future technology, and boy is it a good one. From the acting, the technology, but especially the cleverness of how the plot develops. And that’s pretty much all I can say about it. Just watch it!

1) White Christmas (S2 E4)

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In a mysterious and remote snowy outpost, Matt and Potter share an interesting Christmas meal together, swapping creepy tales of their earlier lives.

This is the other episode that is longer than the other clocking it at 73 minutes. While “Hated in the Nation” is hurt by it, “White Christmas” revels in it. Throughout the episode you begin to learn more and more about the two characters, one of which is played by Jon Hamm (Mad Men). While there doesn’t seem to be much of a through line in the stories, it all comes to a fabulous and remarkable conclusion that just has to be experienced.

Conclusion

As I stated before, all these episodes are really good and there is something good and interesting in each one. So I’d recommend just taking some time out of your day and enjoy the cleverness that is Black Mirror.

Black Mirror seasons 1-3 are available now on Netflix.

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Ian Hornbaker
Sometimes a film, no matter how much love is involved, fails to meet expectations. That’s where I jump in and break down “The Good,” “The Ehh” and “The Ugh-ly.” My purpose is to try to determine how the film succeeded and how it could have been better. I believe that this process can elevate the film industry and make the film going experience better for all.

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