With the new Black Mirror season out, replete with three engrossing episodes, it’s again created a ripple on social networks with audiences world over debating the finer details of the stories and what they meant to them. Perfect time then to look back at the best episodes from the first four seasons of this genre-defining Netflix series, created and written (all but one episode) by Charlie Brooker. [The list is in no particular order.]
The episode that won five Emmy Awards is a fascinating and entertaining account of a man leading double lives – one in his gaming office and the other inside the game he’s founded. Starring the always-terrific Jesse Plemmons, it’s also a fond tribute to Star Trek as the virtual world of the game is totally inspired by the much-loved 60s TV show.
Directed by Joe Wright (Atonement), co-written by Mike Schur (The Good Place) and starring Bryce Dallas Howard, this is that one episode which really got our obsession with social media likes and hearts right. Zooming in on a future where online popularity is equated to living currency, it really brings out the ugliness in the parallel lives we all lead.
The National Anthem
The first episode of the first season kicked off with a jaw-dropping premise – the Prime Minister of UK has to have sex with a pig on national television to save the life of a princess. In those 40-odd minutes, the show established that this series was not afraid to go to dark, dystopian spaces – both physically and inside the head.
In the way it moves you and warms your heart, it’s so different from all other episodes of Black Mirror and yet very much representative of everything the series stands for. It’s futuristic and yet uncannily nostalgic and above everything, it’s one of the best love stories you’ll see in any form of storytelling. No wonder it won everything from BAFTAs to Emmy Awards.
Be Right Back
The subject of a dead man living on through his social media accounts has found its way to films but not in a way Black Mirror tackled it. When her boyfriend is killed in a road accident, Martha has a customised android version made from his online identity. A haunting portrait of pain and loneliness, the episode stays with you more than most on this page. A personal favourite.
The Entire History of You
The only episode not written by Brooker – this was written by Jesse Armstrong – it again shows the effect of technology on something primal in mankind – jealousy and insecurity. Thanks to a grain behind your ear, you can record and later playback all the interactions you’ve had. So, when his girlfriend’s ex pops up in the scene, the man must react.
Fifteen Million Merits
Humans peddle on their stationery bikes to power the surrounding environment and earn individual merits, which they can use for whatever they fancy including participating on a reality talent contest. Starring Daniel Kaluuya, who would later become famous in Get Out, this is a searing look at fame and what it does to the human senses, even in an automated, entrapped world.
This one makes it to the list for the most satisfying twist of the series which thrives a lot on twists. At the start it’s like one of those Hollywood zombie thrillers where the last surviving humans are trying to escape death but the way it ends is purely gobsmacking. And it’s truly reminiscent of some of the evil joys we partake on a daily basis.
Hang the DJ
This episode has you engaged instantly with its unique conceptual dating system where numbers decide whether you should be with the other person. But more than the concept, it’s the celebration of love in a loveless world is what makes you feel so good. Georgina Campbell and Joe Cole are terrific as the couple trying to beat the system to be together.
It’s so much in one episode and yet everything miraculously comes together for a deeply satisfying watch. Constructed around three interlinked stories featuring Jon Hamm, Oona Chaplin and Rafe Spall with concepts that have had separate lives in other Black Mirror episodes, it’s a brilliant hide-and-seek game with memory and time. Truly interactive without the need to press any buttons.
Should Bandersnatch have been eligible for selection? Yes / No
(If you do select yes, the list unfortunately doesn’t change.)