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Entertainment Reel talk #2: 6 best Black Mirror episodes to get started

Jul. 10, 2018
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I’ve come to realize that summer is the best time to binge-watch movies and TV shows. I don’t have a habit of watching shows, because a lot of them don’t catch my interest and I always have a huge workload. But in the summer, all the business and to-do lists come to a slight halt and suddenly you have all this time to kill. 

If you’re already working, this probably won’t apply to you. But if you’re in school like me, you probably feel pretty unproductive and lazy in the summer. Watching movies isn’t necessarily the most productive thing one could do, but catching up on good shows and films still makes for a fun addition to your summer list. 

At the beginning of summer, I wanted something to watch, but not a mega-long show that I’d get hooked on. Black Mirror came to mind. I’d seen a few episodes before, but I didn’t like it at first because the episodes don’t correspond to each other and I’m not a fan of short stories or short films. But at this point, I figured this would work better for me than a traditional TV show. 

This time around, I started with season 4. I began with “Crocodile” (S04E03). It wasn’t the best episode I’ve seen, but its thrilling sci-fi elements intrigued me. I progressed to “Hang the DJ” and “Metalhead.” Then, there it was: the finale of season 4, “Black Museum.”

“Black Museum” started it all for me, and it’s probably my favorite out of all the episodes I’ve seen. After watching it, I asked people on Instagram to send me their favorite episodes so that I would see the best ones only (I still didn’t want to commit fully to the series). Between that and my pure curiosity about what else this brilliant British show had to offer, I watched a lot more than I expected. 

By now, I have a pretty good idea of which episodes are best. The first rule is that you don’t need to watch any particular one first. That’s what great about it (although it might take a little bit of time to get fully immersed in the Black Mirror universe). It can be creepy and mind-boggling, I’m telling you. 

This list is totally subjective! The introductory summary is from IMDB. Some commentary can contain small spoilers.

6) Hang the DJ

“Paired up by a dating program that puts an expiration date on all relationships, Frank and Amy soon begin to question the system's logic.”

The first few scenes show a man and a woman taking part in a systematic dating program in which couples can see how long they have left until their relationship expires. One couple eventually develops deeper feelings for one another and tries to rebel against the dating constraints put on them. It all feels like two heroic lovers with a conspiracy theory against some technology corporation. This is one of the more lighthearted ones, especially since it has a happy ending. “Hang the DJ” fully delves into the advancement of online dating through technology, especially with the twist at the end—the reality of everything we had just seen hits hard and forces us to think about our current reality. For the entirety of the episode, you will truly root for the two main characters and witness how they change and grow together.  

5) San Junipero

“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.”

Similar to “Hang the DJ,” “San Junipero” is another love story which seems lighthearted compared to most of the other Black Mirror episodes. What I love the most about this show is its ability to blow you away and stun you with the potential reality our world may someday face. During the first few scenes, you wouldn’t expect any of the things that eventually take place. The episode begins with a seemingly old-fashioned young woman, Yorkie, walking into a nightclub. Here, she meets Kelly. Kelly is almost the opposite of Yorkie; she embraces her sexuality, acts confident and obnoxious with a YOLO attitude. It isn’t the typical meet-cute, although it surely has the love-at-first-sight glance, the engaged conversations, the laughter, and the intimate sharing of hopes and dreams. In the midst of the conversation, Yorkie reveals how conservative and protective her parents are and says that there are many things she still want to do. Kelly, feeling a deep connection between the two, asks Yorkie to go to bed with her. Yorkie refuses. As the story progresses, we learn of the complexity of both women and their different circumstances—the reasons why they are in San Junipero. San Junipero is later revealed to be not just an ordinary town. The stunning cinematography adds to the beautiful story of friendship and human connection.

4) USS Callister

“A woman wakes up on a Star Trek-esque ship where the crew praise their all-knowing and fearless captain.”

I didn’t want to watch this at first, because I thought the outfits in the thumbnail looked too costume-y. But several people suggested it, so I gave it a try. The story is actually nothing like what I expected. I should’ve known better than to judge Black Mirror by its cover, because the twist blew my mind. Again, it’s thrilling and has mystery elements; the episode balances itself with fast- and slow-paced moments. The first few scenes introduce the viewers to Robert Daly, the genius mind behind a fictional space game called Infinity. He’s presented as a shy, socially awkward, and friendly guy. Because of these qualities, he’s too much of a pushover and is, to an extent, bullied at the office. So far, we all naturally feel empathetic towards his character. The first disturbance happens when Robert’s work partner, Walton, interrupts Daly’s conversation with the new female employee. Walton asks Daly about the Christmas special update for Infinity. At this point, we know that they are both bosses, but Walton seems to be the frontman whereas Daly is the running engine. From this point on, we witness Daly’s increasingly unusual and creepy behavior. The acting is phenomenal, and you can tell that the show’s makers really focused on the characterization and depth of each character. Our empathy switches immediately when Daly collects the new girl’s DNA from her coffee cup, foreshadowing a darker side of his character. This episode makes you question your own moral values—who’s right, who’s wrong, and who to feel empathy for—as the story progresses. 

3) The Entire History of You

“In the near future, everyone has access to a memory implant that records everything they do, see and hear—a sort of Sky Plus (Digital Video Recorder) for the brain. You need never forget a face again—but is that always a good thing?”

The technological aspect of this episode is simple: humans have the ability to recall their own memories at the press of a button. We can rewind, zoom in, and examine every detail of our lives in painstaking detail. The episode starts in the middle of a work appraisal which Liam, one of the main characters, thought went poorly. Because of the ability to rewind his prior memories, we see his obsession with this ability as he repeatedly rewatches the appraisal, extremely conscious of what his employers were saying and how they were acting. Later that day he meets up with his wife and friends at a dinner party. The trouble begins when Liam grows suspicious of a man he doesn’t recognize, as his wife was a bit too friendly and reacted too fondly to him. From this point, Liam follows his instincts and becomes obsessed with finding out the truth about their relationship, forcefully demanding answers and explanations from his wife. What makes this episode stands out is how real it feels. We experience a spark of a problem and watch it all the way through to a relationship’s deterioration. It’s human nature to empathize with others’ frailty and weakness. This episode explores human weaknesses: pride, love, trust, betrayal, obsession, fear, and loss. The technology that seemed so useful and essential becomes a curse, enhancing our cruel nature. 

2) Hated in the Nation

“In near-future London, police detective Karin Parke and her tech-savvy sidekick Blue investigate a string of mysterious deaths with a sinister link to social media.”

“Hated in the Nation” is my second-favorite episode. I’m sort of a sucker for detective-type movies with a creepy, sick killer who murders in a disturbing or weird way. Black Mirror doesn’t often show disturbing deaths or murders, although the method showed in this episode is interesting when combined with the plot. The police force is faced with a unique case of murder when an ADI bee (Autonomous Drone Insect) is found inside the head of a woman who had cut her own throat. It becomes a serial kill when more victims surface. After some investigation, the police find the trending hashtag #DeathTo which explains the deaths. The person behind this calls it “Game of Consequences”; the basic rule is that people post the hashtag with somebody’s name online, and by 5 PM the most voted person will be killed. It’s about who is most hated in the nation. The chase is exciting, and the plot twist really adds to the rising action. If you’re into detective and crime movies, this is definitely for you. Because the story is only shown from the detectives’ perspective, you fully sympathize with them. I think the episode’s ultimate message is very relevant in our time (something Black Mirror regularly achieves). The twist near the end proves that this series is attempting to initiate conversations about current issues, from social media’s effect on us to anonymous hate/bullying. 

1) Black Museum

“A woman enters the Black Museum, where the proprietor tells his stories relating to the artefacts.”

The summary here doesn’t do this episode justice. If you’ve decided to watch only one episode, I would suggest this one. It’s sort of a summary of what Black Mirror is all about: there’s the plot twist, the debatable hero, the villain, the murderous technology, the mind-boggling futurism, and the moral values that we had to come to terms with. In the first few scenes, we’re introduced to a black young woman stopping at a deserted station to fill up her car. While waiting, she walks to a nearby tourist attraction, Black Museum. Tension begins to rise as she approaches the museum, a dark building which looks quite haunted and creepy. This story is told like an old tale, one that is dark but mysterious enough to keep you intrigued. Our protagonist is greeted by a middle-aged man, the proprietor of the museum who happens to be a retired neurological research recruiter who has accumulated artefacts relating to his field throughout his career. Because there are no other visitors, it feels like something bad is going to happen. Thus, the proprietor’s descriptions of the artefacts sound even more creepy, as they tie in with some sinister and disturbing events that have happened. For a moment, we’re caught up in listening to the stories he’s telling, disregarding why this girl is actually here. The ending of this episode felt like more than just a plot twist—your feelings will also begin to jumble, and you will try to determine who you should really root for. 

Other notable mentions include “White Christmas,” “Nosedive,” “Fifteen Million Merits.”