With Black Mirror set to return to Netflix this fall, I figured it would be a good time to talk about the cultural importance of the show as a whole, as well as rank every episode the show has produced thus far.
Now, I should mention that I’ve never seen The Twilight Zone. I know it’s highly regarded. I know it was groundbreaking for its time. I’m sure my parents could school me on how entertaining it was, or how eerie some of the episodes are. And, if the mood ever strikes me, I can hop on Netflix and binge through the show myself.
So, while I don’t have any actual opinion on The Twilight Zone, it has my respect.
I preface this piece with that because in today’s world, Black Mirror is often referred to as “The Twilight Zone of the digital age.”
For the uninitiated – Black Mirror is a sci-fi anthology series created by Charlie Brooker. Previously owned by BBC, it’s now been picked up by Netflix. I use the term “sci-fi” cautiously here because this series, while largely fictional, is not far from reality.
The show largely tackles technology, and the potential pitfalls of tomorrow’s gadgets. Though it’s not the actual technology that serves as the boogeyman here. It’s us.
Society is the problem.
Black Mirror isn’t scary because of a potential threat from robots, zombies, or alien invasions. Black Mirror is scary because it takes us to a not so distant future where the technology used is either not that inconceivable, currently being developed, or something we actively have today. And if the tech is there – the possibility for human evil is there.
Some of the episodes, if not consciously influenced by actual world happenings, are ironically, unknowingly, inspired by events that have actually happened!
Some episodes ask curious, pointed questions like “If you could purchase a lifelike replica of a deceased loved one that not only looked exactly like them, but talked and acted like them as well, would you do it?”
And other episodes muddy the waters a bit and ask darker questions like “Is it considered “torture” if the person being tortured had previously tortured a child?”
Despite the series being anthological (so you can just close your eyes and pick any episode to watch because it’s a stand alone), and despite it being a very lightweight 13 episodes so far – it’s been one of the hardest shows for me to binge.
It’s far from digestible, accessible programming.
It’s fucking bleak, dude.
It shows us the worst of humanity. It rides on the dark side of the human condition.
How far can we take our anger? Our jealousy? Our lust? Our greed? Our rage? Our self-righteous quest to bring about justice?
The social commentary and themes in most episodes largely boil down to the same idea: “Humanity is fucked, y’all.”
They do this with episodes centered around social media, and how we may lose ourselves in the quest to be liked by people we don’t even give a fuck about.
Episodes that deal with our collective bloodlust to see certain people brought to justice, or what we consider to be “justice.”
Hell, there’s even an episode about a comedian who voices a cartoon bear, running for political office despite being clearly unqualified – and then ending up having a loyal base of supporters. It was made in 2013.
Yeah. You can’t make this shit up.
The episodes show us just how bad things can get when we have a morally questionable hive mind mentality. No seriously, there is one episode that literally deals with bees. Robotic, remotely-controlled bees, of course. This is Black Mirror we’re talking about here.
Showrunner Charlie Brooker says the name “Black Mirror” refers to the devices we have. Smartphones, laptops, tablets. When they’re off, they become mirrors. When you watch the show and are sitting there devastated, and the screen cuts to black – you’re now looking at a reflection of yourself.
But I also take the name to mean that the episodes themselves are a dark (or black) reflection of society. Of who we are now. Not who we may become in the future.
When shows make us laugh, cry, or generally excite us for that moment in time, they are entertaining.
When they make us think, challenge us, and get us to question our positions on moral issues, they are important.
And Black Mirror is important.
The writing is so sharp, the commentary so biting and relatable, the episodes keep me thinking long after the credits have rolled.
After watching “Nosedive,” I considered abandoning my Instagram account, or walking away from social media altogether.
After watching “Shut Up And Dance,” I sat in silence for 20 minutes, debating whether or not to end the night on that note and stare blankly at my ceiling until I fell asleep, or watch one more episode to get the bitter, extremely dark taste out of my mouth (the ending of the episode is the darkest ending to a show I’ve ever seen).
A lot of these points sound like I’m knocking the series. I’m not. I love it. It’s one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen. It’s just admittedly not for everybody.
But, if you’re a fellow lover of dark, thought-provoking commentary – crack open the Netflix and get to work.
Because the series is a mere 13 episodes so far, I will rank them in order of my least to most favorite, though keep in mind, they’re all great. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil them for you. I’ll just list the titles of the episodes.
And without further ado:
12. “The Waldo Moment”
11. “White Christmas”
10. “The Entire History Of You”
9. “Men Against Fire”
8. “Hated In The Nation”
7. “National Anthem”
6. “San Junipero”
5. “Be Right Back”
4. “Fifteen Million Merits”
3. “White Bear”
1. “Shut Up And Dance”
Here’s hoping the next crop of episodes are just as thought-provoking (and painfully depressing) as the rest of the series.