WARNING: Spoilers ahead (but if you haven't caught up on Black Mirror yet, what are you waiting for?!)
It says a lot when real life is much bleaker than this Black Mirror episode, where a failing comedian voices a cartoon bear ends up running for political office and coming in second place. "The Waldo Moment" is praised by some for inadvertently predicting someone like Trump becoming the U.S. president three years before it happened, but there's nothing within the episode itself that is comparable to that grueling intensity.
There is nothing you can say that will convince me that "Metalhead" is a worthy Black Mirror episode. It was basically a robot witch hunt that dragged along for way too long. The idea of surviving in a post-apocalyptic world has been done so much on TV and in movies, and (save for those annoying killer robot dogs) this episode didn't do much to refresh that idea. And what was the point of Bella trying to save a box filled with teddy bears for her sister in the first place?
Yeah, yeah, I get it: the episode is titled "Crocodile" because Mia cries but shows no remorse for her murderous actions just like the reptiles. But that is pretty much the sole exciting part of the whole thing! The episode starts off strong, as Mia and Rob enjoy a leisurely car ride in Iceland but end up having to cover up a hit-and-run. After leading a fairly simple life with a husband and child, Rob comes out of nowhere 15 years later to fuck shit up, saying he wants to go public with their little death secret. Then, Mia basically becomes a serial killer as she tries to stop this secret from coming out. In the middle of this, an investigator uses technology to to see the recent memories of her clients. It's all too much for an episode that doesn't really end up going anywhere.
"Men Against Fire" is one of those Black Mirror episodes that leans heavily into political commentary. Stripe is a soldier in a weird dystopian world where he's instructed to hunt down "roaches" with a special implant that heightens the soldiers' senses. But Stripe soon realizes its—gasp—all a sham and the government is killing off innocent people for the fun of it. Sound familiar? The overall theme is interesting, but compared to the others in season 3, there's not enough punch to make this episode worthwhile.
When it was announced Jodie Foster would be directing "Arkangel," the expectations were naturally high. But there's only so much one can do with the helicopter parent theme before it gets boring. This episode was predictable from the start, from Marie catching her daughter Sara having sex using her surveillance tablet to the pair getting into an argument before Sara runs away. Wow...shocker. "Arkangel" had the potential to get really dark, but it failed to take things over the edge.
Okay people, it's time to push aside your love for sci-fi nostalgia. Just because "U.S.S. Callister" was inspired by Star Trek doesn't mean it's great! After watching this episode twice just to figure out what the hullabaloo was about, I still don't think it holds up to the caliber Black Mirror has presented in previous seasons, or even season 4 for that matter. Jesse Plemons stars as Robert Daly, a talented programmer who feels left out at his workplace. So what does he do? Steals the DNA of his coworkers to torture them in a video game simulation. Aside from the relevant post-Weinstein theme of fragile masculinity, if you take away the special effects and a few witty jokes, the episode is left baseless.
When you premiere an episode that is the longest in the series, it has no choice but to be great. "Hated in the Nation" (which runs for 90 minutes) reads more as a crime movie than a simple television show, as detective Karin Parke investigates the death of a high-profile journalist who was receiving constant death threats. It fuses X-Files themes with classic buddy-cop films, but still keeps things relevant with social media playing a significant role in the plot. And those killer robot bees were scary as hell!
What's bolder than kicking off your series with an episode where the prime minister has sex with a pig? This twisted debut rubbed our obsession with the media in our faces, as well as touching on the dangers of hive mentality. But while it was shocking, the first introduction to Black Mirror doesn't hold the same level of intensity that future episodes do.
"Shut Up and Dance" is a great example of what Black Mirror does best: punching you right in the gut with a plot twist towards the final minutes of the episode that you never saw coming. The viewer is rooting for Kenny throughout his whole journey as he does odd tasks in order to prevent himself from blackmail, because he seems like an innocent kid! Oh how wrong we were...
"Hang the DJ" may not have the same charisma as its influencer "San Junipero," yet it still tugs at our heartstrings. Black Mirror excels with horror but when they dig deep in their love pocket, they do it exceptionally well. "Hang the DJ" is one of those rare but very well-adored episodes about blissful, naive, "us against the world" kind of romance. It took everything we all love and hate about online dating culture (setting up dinners, wondering if this person is "the one," etc.) and flips that mentality on its head. And it surprisingly has a happy ending, which is refreshing!
Our society's obsession with video games was pushed to the extremes with "Playtest," which backpacker Cooper (Wyatt Russell) gets an odd job testing out a new game in order to buy a flight back home. He quickly realizes the virtual reality simulation gets very, very real. The episode is actually one of the scariest from the series thanks to its constant mindfucks. But it would've fared better if it dove deeper into Cooper's relationship with his mother and the meaning behind Katie randomly assaulting him in the game house.
What makes "Fifteen Million Merits" so memorable is that it takes place in a world we've never seen, but are completely fearful of. It stars Daniel Kaluuya as Bing, a member of a futuristic slave-like society where the people are forced to live in small, enclosed quarters. The only way they make money, or "merits," is by exercising on stationary bikes (a not-so-subtle statement about body image). There's nothing to do to entertain yourselves, besides being forced to watch the porn show WraithBabes or the game show Botherguts that humiliates overweight people. And Bing's only shot of making it out of that world is by saving up 15 million merits to buy a ticket for Hot Shot, a cheeky American Idol-inspired talent show. If you win (which many people don't) you are able to move into a large living space. So any way you work it, there is no escape. Isn't that so frightening?!!
It's a shame most critics didn't understand or blatantly looked over the depth that made "Black Museum" the best episode of Black Mirror's Season 4. It begins with Nish (Letitia Wright) visiting the museum as a rest stop on her road trip. She meets Rolo Haynes (Douglas Hodge) who explains all of the technology-fueled memorabilia he's gathered from being a neurological research recruiter. A doctor uses his patients' pain for pleasure, a man shares his mind with his vegetative wife (it doesn't turn out well) and an exhibit where visitors gleefully electrocute the hologram of a black man who was put on death row for murder. The way the episode runs definitely makes you think there's more to the story, but you can never guess what's about to be unveiled. It turns out that Nish planned to visit the museum to seek vengeance for her father's wrongful death, who happens to be the prisoner that Rolo held captive. As a Black woman in a post-Trump America, this hit too close to home as our fellow brothers and sisters are dying at the hands of racism every day. I could only think of Erica Garner's recent passing, as she fought to save her late father's legacy before dying of a stressed and broken heart. The sole element that held "Black Museum" from being outstanding was the incredibly slow lead-up in the beginning of the episode that was difficult to maintain the viewer's attention. But man, that plot twist was oh so sweet.
Many Black Mirror fans put the Emmy award-winning "San Junipero" at the top of their list, and I totally get it! But there are better episodes in the series that have more of a gripping feel to it than this one. Party girl Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) meets the shy Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) in the beach town—which is revealed to be a simulated reality—and they quickly fall for each other. But they have to decide if their love in the simulation is worth the sacrifices in their real lives. "San Junipero" was a shift in the series that focused on hope, nostalgia and unconditional love. And having the episode set in the '80s was the perfect touch.
We've all been there before: you fall in love with who you presume is the love of your life, you spend years together with this person. Everything seems to be going swell! You get married, have a baby or two...but then you soon discover your partner has been cheating on you this whole time. Well, "The Entire History of You" takes that heartbreaking concept and ups the emotion to about 10 more levels—all thanks to technology. A couple lives in a future reality where they have implants that record every second of your life. When the husband (Liam) suspects his wife (Ffion) is being unfaithful with a guy from a dinner party, he goes down an obsessive spiral of paranoia where he over-analyses every detail of their world. The breaking point he has is something that hits a little too close to home for many of us...
This episode is taking social commentary to the extreme! Victoria (Lenora Crichlow) wakes up in an unfamiliar place where she doesn't remember who she is. As she goes outside, people begin to record her on their phones as she's being chased, instead of helping. The episode turns into a story of unexplained survival from the television signals. But then the plot twist comes! "White Bear" is actually a symbol of the young girl Victoria and her boyfriend abducted, and she is being punished for her crimes by being forced in this theme park where people mentally and physically torture her. It's a message of "an eye for an eye," but just way grittier.
"Nosedive" immediately stands out among the other Black Mirror episodes, due to its gorgeous pastel colors and the on-point comedic elements. Bryce Dallas Howard shows off her impeccable acting skills as Lacie, a woman who lives in an alternate society where people have to rate others from one to five stars from every single encounter they have. It's a hilarious and relatable look at how much we are obsessed with Instagram likes, Twitter retweets and even Uber scores. It'll make you think twice about that terrible facade you try to maintain to keep up with the Kim Kardashians of the world.
"Be Right Back" is an unforgettable episode because it toys with a tender life event that we've all try to cope with: the loss of a loved one. A grieving Martha (Hayley Atwell) attempts to recover from the death of her boyfriend Ash (Domhnall Gleeson), but nothing is helping. A friend signs up for a technology that scrapes the deceased person's internet files and compresses them into a synthetic body. The android is comforting at first, but it ends up doing more harm as you obviously cannot substitute a human for something that cannot compute necessary feelings. It's hard to let go, and "Be Right Back" drives that notion home.
I brought up mindfucks before, but "White Christmas" doesn't just toy with your brain—it completely demolishes it! The holiday special combines three mini episodes into one, as Matt (Jon Hamm) and Joe (Rafe Spall) are abandoned together in a snowy outpost. Joe doesn't understand how he ended up in the house, and Matt tries to ease his mind with some small talk about their past. Matt's profession was to basically torture "cookies" (or digital personal assistant copies of real people) to do their job, and a sleazy dating coach by night. Joe's wife left him after a fight about her pregnancy. Both men were "blocked" by their partners, which is another minor theme in the episode. There's just too many twists to count in "White Christmas," and they all knock you out like sucker punches. It gives a new, demented meaning to happy holidays.
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