I was first introduced to Black Mirror through – (funnily enough) – the news of Brexit. All my English friends were at home, tweeting their angst and anxieties, and one tweet stood out: *”This is the worst episode of Black Mirror.” Black Mirror? I looked into it, and it hit home – Charlie Brooker is inside my head! Originally a primarily English show, it’s now a hybrid of American and English due to a recent Netflix deal.
“If technology is a drug – and it does feel like a drug – then what, precisely, are the side effects? This area – between delight and discomfort – is where Black Mirror, my new drama series, is set. The ‘black mirror’ of the title is the one you’ll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone.” – Charlie Brooker
Down to business, the thing I like most about Black Mirror is the unsettling, uncomfortable feeling I get after I watch the show. I love the haunting nature of it. It’s also impressive the team manages to tackle issues surrounding: social media, virtual/mixed reality, human condition, LGBTQ relationships, desensitization, mob mentality. So for my personal ranking (and it seems like no one can agree with what’s the strongest/weakest episode), the way I am ranking the shows is mixed on:
- Strength and execution of themes
- Entertainment value and engagement levels
- Story structure
To be fair, I found Season 3 to be extremely enjoyable, thoughtful and entertaining. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but production and execution would make up for it in small gaps.
With that said, here’s my personal ranking of Black Mirror’s Season 3 from Best to Worst
- San Junipero
- Hated in the Nation
- Men Against Fire
- Shut Up And Dance
If you are strapped for time and want to check out Black Mirror, here are my top picks (in order) from what’s available on Netflix: White Christmas, Nose Dive, Playtest, San Junipero.
Interested? Check out the official Black Mirror Season 3 trailer:
SPOILER ALERT. Thoughts on individual episodes below
Just to confuse folks even more, I’ll talk about these episodes in cannon order.
A strong season starter. Immediately intriguing and hitting home for so many of us (all of us) who are on social media. This is definitely an attention grabber and will get anyone new to Black Mirror hooked. Sprinkled with “Pleasantville” aesthetics, the obsessive, controlling nature of a person’s social media ratings and influence is shown as a norm, leaving it to the viewer to feel how they relate. (I would probably be a 2.832 by that society’s standards, haha!) We’re shown a world of people who act and live their lives solely for their ratings whether it’s composing that perfect Instagram latte/biscuit photo, siding with the right group of people, or keeping yourself in the closet. Check out Charlie Brooker’s AMA on Reddit for the rating ringtones for your own mobile device.
This is the most entertaining episode to me, but funnily enough many people list Playtest as their last choice. Wyatt Russell’s performance was outstanding, being able to convey an extremely likable character dealing with an unfortunate passing of his father and best friend, but also nailing the physicality of stress and horror. The concept of a horror game that learns from your own brain’s registered fears in a virtual/mixed reality ‘game’ is jsut so fascinating and scary. I loved so much of the story structure, ideas, and pacing, but the ultimate ending was unsatisfactory despite the last “called mom” jab that albeit wrapped up things up quite nicely.
Shut Up And Dance
Although somewhat entertaining, it was stressful and the ending had no payoff – only lingering cynicism. However Alex Lawther’s portrayal of Kenny’s character that seemingly had done nothing wrong (the whole episode, I was thinking it was no big deal and he should just let the video leak), had the tables turned. How quickly a viewer can see a character as likeable, but turning so quickly after it was revealed Kenny had a wank over child pornography. A frustrating episode, but still engaging.
One of the best episodes of Black Mirror in its entirety, but also required trust from its viewers. As a strange aside, I was so excited to watch Black Mirror on Netflix – San Junipero was actually listed as the first episode around midnight Pacific Time. Thinking that this was the first episode of the season, I was pretty surprised – it definitely makes sense as mid-series episode. The pacing for the first half was unconventional and very slow, subtle. Definitely would not appeal to all viewers, especially those who may be new to the series. Upon a second viewing, I noticed so many more details that escaped me the first time. I think about virtual reality as therapy a lot, and this one nailed the concept. And then some. The reveal that the characters are old – the deathbed kind of old – floored me. I had such an emotional connection to the characters, and such sympathy for both characters: the backstory of homophobic parents, to what it’s like to be in a long long “till death do us part” relationship. San Junipero hit so many marks.
Men Against Fire
This one is oddly enough, the most UN-Black Mirror episode, if that can make sense at all. This episode had a lot of action and violence, as well as a great appearance by Michael Kelly (House of Cards fans may recognize Stamper). I am not a huge fan of military themes but the concept of changing human enemies into something non-human was a fascinating twist. It’s something I think about when it comes down to animating targets that you shoot in virtual reality games – somehow it feels weirder to shoot at a ‘human’ target than it is to shoot a cartoon character or monster. With that said, I think if ‘humans’ are the targets in virtual reality, it’s very possible to “get used to it”, essentially becoming desensitized.
Hated in the Nation
I swear this was just a Scott and Bailey episode (which I welcomed since I almost miss that show). I love seeing women in the face of responsibility and this episode tackled the consequences of Twitter’s “mob mentality” online in an exaggerated, but effective way. The bees situation was sort of… strange? They took an environmental issue that makes me paranoid: bees and their role in food production, but then added killer robot bees in the mix. Silly but OK. The two lead actresses nailed their parts, and it was a pleasant surprise to see Kelly Macdonald (Trainspotting).
*Normally I would embed the original tweet but I can’t find the original author of the joke! My apologies.