The first thing that comes to mind when you think “science fiction” might be lightsaber battles or spaceships zipping from galaxy to galaxy. But the diverse genre has more to offer than just candy-colored thrills and new alien species. The other side of that coin is the slow-burning dread that can creep in around the edges of life. The changes to reality may be subtle, but they can still pack quite a punch.
Black Mirror is this second type of sci-fi, imagining a not-so-distant future with the technological advances that feel like a natural extension of the world we live in now. Against the backdrop of the unchecked tech, Black Mirror juxtaposes the human against the artificial. Some of these reveries on the human condition will leave viewers shaken up, while others might be more likely to induce an eye roll. Let’s take a look at the best Black Mirror episodes and the ones that probably should have remained a fever dream.
Season 4, Episode 2
Directed by Jodie Foster and starring Rosemarie DeWitt, the expectations for “Arkangel” were rather high. Unfortunately, the story beats are all too familiar, proving that sometimes you can see a Black Mirror twist coming. When new technology allows a mother (DeWitt) to censor what her daughter sees and also tracks her every move, things go expectedly awry. The danger that sets off the mother’s choices feels relatively low stakes compared to the horror in other episodes, making the violent end both expected and unearned.
19. “The Waldo Moment”
Season 2, Episode 3
While it feels surprisingly prescient following the 2016 election, “The Waldo Moment” just doesn’t have the cleverness to put it in the top ranks of Black Mirror. When a failed comedian (Daniel Rigby) and his cartoon character, Waldo, get roped into an election, the lines between entertainment and politics get uncomfortably blurred. Waldo was once a tool to poke fun of the stuffy political class, but that doesn’t mean that he is a better alternative in the long run. Despite these heavy themes, “The Waldo Moment” doesn’t have that much to say. Government is a serious business that shouldn’t be controlled merely by the loudest voices, but Waldo is probably not the best mouthpiece for that truth.
Season 4, Episode 3
Andrea Riseborough has been on the cusp of stardom for a while, and this episode is proof of why. Playing the increasingly desperate Mia, you can feel her start to fray as her perfectly constructed life (she is a celebrated architect, after all) is threatened by a dark secret from her past and a new sin in the present. Despite Riseborough, “Crocodile” still falls a bit flat. Black Mirror uses memory access to the detriment of its characters to greater effect in “The Entire History Of You,” so while “Crocodile” amps up the stakes, the emotional payoff just isn’t there.
17. “Shut Up And Dance”
Season 3, Episode 3
Sometimes Black Mirror leans a little too hard into nihilism, and “Shut Up And Dance” is the clearest example of that tendency. When a seemingly kind young man (Alex Lawther) accidentally downloads a program that records his every move through his laptop camera, he is blackmailed into a series of increasingly dangerous actions or a video of him masturbating to internet pornography will be released. He’s helped by another blackmailed man (Jerome Flynn) and things get increasingly bleak as the episode builds towards a devasting conclusion. Lawther and Flynn are both good, but the episode will make you feel like you require a Silkwood shower and is not for the faint of heart.
16. “Men Against Fire”
Season 3, Episode 5
In this look at military life and the political agendas behind it, soldiers are hunting down and eliminating “roaches,” mutated human beings that are seemingly a danger to society. As Stripe (Malachi Kirby) hunts down these roaches, an attack leaves him with a different view on the situation. After his government-issued interface ends up damaged, he starts to see the roaches for what they really are, rather than how the higher-ups want them to be seen. “Men Against Fire” has a lot to say about the extent of power given to the government and how that can corrupt, but unfortunately the ugly metaphor doesn’t quite land.
15. “White Bear”
Season 2, Episode 2
“White Bear” feels the more like a traditional horror film than any other episode of Black Mirror, as an amnesiac woman (Lenora Crichlow) is being chased by gun-toting “hunters.” With no memory of how she found herself here or why she is being pursued, she tries to piece enough information together in order to survive. As crowds record her struggle, she soon finds that the scenario is nothing like she could have imagined. The action of “White Bear” may feel a bit standard, but the twist ending is easily one of Black Mirror‘s darkest.