After the lacklustre fifth season, I got to reminiscing previous Black Mirror seasons. I began watching Black Mirror earlier on this year and after watching the first episode, titled ‘The National Anthem’, I seriously doubted that I would continue though many warned me to not begin with the first episode – my own fault! It took me a long while to recover after this, but I finally resumed my Black Mirror journey. It was season two that finally had me hooked, and I think much of why I didn’t enjoy the latest season is because it lacked elements of the psychological thriller that Black Mirror is notorious for. Black Mirror has a brilliant way of holding a mirror up to the audience and, funnily enough, directors and writers too.
Here is a countdown of my top five Black Mirror episodes!
1. Shut Up and Dance
“After a virus infects his laptop, a teen faces a daunting choice: carry out orders delivered by text message, or risk having intimate secrets exposed.”
I consider this episode to be one of the greatest tricks a show has pulled on the audience – to have you rooting for a character only to pull the rug out from under your feet.
We go through the journey with Kenny as he, under threat of being exposed, struggles and agonises over tasks set out by a hacker. He’s young, he seems sweet and vulnerable, we’re not quite sure what was fully going on with that webcam recording, but we root for him anyway.
Kenny works in a restaurant, and one of the first things we see him do is wave goodbye to a little girl. Now, for me, there was far too much lingering in that scene and my brain set off alarm bells… which my heart turned off by urging me to more hopeful, trusting and compassionate. Yeah, I should have listened to my brain, I should have listened to my intuition, it knew something wasn’t right. My gut instincts turned out to be correct.
Lesson? If, like me, your intuition is usually correct, listen to it. If you were fooled without any alarm bells going off prior to the final reveal, don’t be fooled by first impressions. A person can seem nice without actually being good.
I’d recommend this episode to fans of Game of Thrones who saw that Daenerys end coming. Actually, I recommend this episode to anyone as a supplement to ‘The Bells.’ It holds a mirror up to the audience, a cautionary tale to warn the audience to not blindly root for characters on the basis of seemingly good intentions or sweetness of character.
2. White Bear
“Victoria wakes up and cannot remember anything about her life. Everyone she encounters refuses to communicate with her.”
I wasn’t all too invested at the start of this episode, but as it progresses, it becomes disturbingly agonising and by the end, you’re left feeling traumatised and shell-shocked. White Bear is complete and utter mental torture. It’s the kind of episode that leaves the audience in a state of shock and a desperate need for recovery.
It’s similar to Shut Up and Dance in the sense that you root for Victoria, you feel her pain, you feel her confusion, and you are right there with her. It was at the moment when help arrived for Victoria in the form of a male driver that I realised that neither of Victoria’s two helpers were genuinely there to help her, and that Victoria may not exactly be a ‘victim.’ I can’t explain why I had an inkling, perhaps I had already become too cognizant of how Black Mirror works with the addition of years and years of watching Game of Thrones, that I learned to, as a viewer, be sceptical.
The ending raises questions for the audience to answer, to discuss: should ‘an eye for an eye’ approach apply to convicted criminals? How much punishment is too much? Victoria undergoes her punishment with a wiped memory which parallels her victim’s – a child – state of mental capacity and understanding. We see the fictional audience in White Bear revel in humiliating Victoria and it is very much in vein in how we, with the help of technology, can hide behind a screen to enact the same behaviour. In all honesty, I cannot, in good conscience, support ‘an eye for an eye’ mentality unless self-defence applies. Otherwise, lock them up, that’s enough.
Recommend? Not for the faint-hearted. Be warned, this episode will leave you feeling sick.
3. USS Callister
“Capt. Robert Daly presides over his crew with wisdom and courage. But a new recruit will soon discover nothing on this spaceship is what it seems.”
Better known as: Revenge Against the Incels! Reddit was shooketh. White male sci-fi directors of the past were shooketh. A broke Tyrion Lannister would be shooketh too (yes, if Tyrion didn’t have a rich daddy, he would be a low-functioning incel, instead he was a high-functioning incel who killed his ex-gf for ‘betraying’ him – read the books!) (yes, I’m not over how Tyrion is lauded) (yes, I’m not over Game of Thrones).
This is the most feminist episode of the entire series. Challenging old-school notions of rewarding entitled and nerdy ‘nice guys,’ USS Callister upends how cinema has consistently portrayed male nerds, and by extension male nerds of various sci-fi fandoms, in a positive light, feeding their entitlement which bubbles to the surface and explodes when reality doesn’t meet those expectations. USS Callister uncovers the dark side of this particular fandom which is much closer to reality.
I recommend this episode to everyone, male nerds and women alike, but I do worry knowing that there are Robert Daly’s out there. Lesson? Don’t fan the egos of entitled toxic men no matter how sympathetic they seem, to do so is to fuel their rage, a rage that is directed towards perpetuating the oppression of women.
4. 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.”
Deliciously sweet. Even those of us who aren’t romantically inclined will find it difficult to dislike Hang the DJ. I’m not quite sure what the message is, but it’s like some sort of Tinder trial where you’re repeatedly tested, only to find out that your ‘type on paper’ will not necessarily be the person you have chemistry with. Throw the whole checklist out of the window, love can’t be explained – the only thing you can count on is chemistry and connection. It’s something that you feel. It’s everything Ted Mosby has been teaching us over the years – the heart wants what it wants.
Okay, that got cheesy real quick. You get my drift: chemistry is chemistry. And that’s another message for the ‘nice guy’ incels. Being nice doesn’t necessarily equal chemistry.
Recommend to anyone who wants to watch a light-hearted and feel-good romance. Not your typical Black Mirror episode.
5. Hated in the Nation
“The death of a journalist at the center of a social media firestorm leads a veteran detective and her tech-savvy apprentice to a chilling discovery.”
Well, well, well, if it isn’t the consequences of trolling. We get so caught up in internet drama that we forget that we’re typing behind the screen, that many of us wouldn’t have the guts to insult people to their faces – I exclude myself from this category (but you would really have to cross a line). The internet allows people to become judge, jury and executioner and Hated in the Nation is a compelling thriller on how terrifying a place the internet and trolls can be and what a vicious cycle of bloody revenge it can create.
Condemn the harmful deed, yes, relentlessly bully? No. I think Ned Stark put it best (and it is truly the best line from the series): “If you are to hate, hate those who would truly do you harm.” And if they don’t intend harm, but you can’t seem to get through to them? It’s time to let go. You don’t need that stress like life isn’t stressful enough already.
Recommend? To anyone who’s an active Twitter, Facebook and/or Instagram user.
What are your favourite Black Mirror episodes and why? What lessons did you learn from Black Mirror and from the episodes on my list? Do you believe in ‘an eye for an eye?’ Did you root for Kenny before the reveal? Do you think TV and films have portrayed male nerds too kindly and set unrealistic expectations? Hang the DJ or San Junipero? Are we too harsh on the internet? Lots of questions, but lots to learn, so let me know in the comments!