Television potty-mouth Charlie Brooker has done good; he’s found a literal side to cutting-edge technology, and he’s found better use of his sarcasm and cynicism by poking fun at our postmodern behaviours with Black Mirror. It’s been over 50 years since The Twilight Zone made us this ticklish, and Brooker’s thriving in those comparisons. With the third season now done and allowed us to sit back and collectively reflect, our team looks back on their favourite episodes of Black Mirror‘s genius. Thank you, Charlie, and point proven.
Nosedive (Season 3 Episode 1)
Don’t let this pastel-hued universe fool you. While our current technology-ethics balance scale might be a mere upgrade away from teetering over to a point of no return, there’s nothing about Lacie’s nightmarish downward spiral we cannot already recognise and identify with. Nosedive sees the anthology’s obsession with techno-paranoia and raises it one helluva harbinger. While the trajectory of most techno-progressive tropes contemplate societal alienation and its crueller ethical extremities, Nosedive runs amok in the other direction: a bright and cheery utopia masking our shallow and baser impulses.
Imagine an entire social structure taken over by vapid, self-obsessed social media celebrities — you hate their guts but you can’t seem to look away — yes, those. It’s a philosophical conundrum, you’ve heard ‘to be is to be perceived’, but what if all you care about is being perceived, that you forget how to be? Honesty has little part to play in Nosedive’s soulless world where every interaction and every path crossed can be judged, publicised and numerically rated. Repression bleeds through every forced smile, squeal and status update. Lacie is wound so tight trying to upkeep her ratings that her eventual outburst was an unravelling waiting to happen. Props to the creators for that wink at the hysterical female trope, a satirical take on the immensely #blessed Insta-lives we cannot keep up with. Truth be told, aren’t we all a flat-lay and yoga-pose away from screaming and clawing our eyes out?
White Bear (Season 2 Episode 2)
A suicidal woman finds herself in a dystopia where humans have become passive footage-recording voyeurs. She finds herself, alongside another unaffected survivor, on the run from “hunters” – controllers of this new social order who seem to have a death wish for our protagonist.
White Bear had the makings of every other doomsday flick with that unequivocal English twist. Of course, being a Black Mirror episode, Charlie Brooker had to take it to the next level – and boy, did he deliver. Aside from aptly addressing the smartphone era and the rising need to video document live events on our camera phones, it gave us an ending with probably one of the biggest plot twists since Shutter Island.
But it’s not just the crazy twist that made this my favourite Black Mirror episode. What sets this apart from the others is its ability to have you fully invested in the story and its main leads, and then challenging all these assumptions at the climactic “heroic” moment. The final “behind-the-scenes” reel is an in-your-face reminder that our world is a Gordian knot of contradictions. White Bear gives us a lesson on modern technology, and poses questions on the matter of justice, punishment, shame, showmanship and even tourism economics. Unsettling but extremely telling, this is one episode that expertly intertwines nail-biting suspense with an equally distressing question on ethics.
The National Anthem (Pilot)
Now it’s just prophetic upon revisiting the pilot seeing as we’ve already had a British PM who has tea-bagged a pig, but The National Anthem does eerily well to preamble the discomfort the rest of the series now promised to deliver.
The series starts with an outrageous hook, and just five minutes of watching and observing should have you wondering if it will be worth carrying on. It is.
The premise is simple; the Prime Minister must have sex with a pig on national television to save a member of the royal family. The progression, however, was going to be something so far out of left field; relentlessly toying with your disgust at the proceedings of the episode, by eliminating every damn plothole you’d wanna think of to make sure you weren’t actually going to witness a grown man getting frisky with a pig.
Yeah yeah, we get it – Brooker’s perfection at questioning morality in society’s new-found obsessions with technology is satirical; arguably even comedic, or like the darkest rendition of it. There’s nothing that you’ll hate about Black Mirror, but there wasn’t going to be anything you’d necessarily like about it either, and like in this episode, it proves a point.
The Entire History of You (Season 1 Episode 3)
If there can be one criticism of Black Mirror, it’s the show’s propensity at times to “satirise with a sledgehammer”, in the words of AV Club’s Todd Vanderwerff. But at its most effective and relatable, Black Mirror reflects not just the perils of always-on technology, but the perplexity of the human heart. That the iPhones and the Facebooks of the world are but conduits; amplifiers of our deepest insecurities. We don’t trust others to accept us for who we are, and project that same distrust to the people around us.
That cynicism plays out in The Entire History of You to traumatic effect. Liam, a young lawyer portrayed astoundingly by Tony Kebbel, spirals into a cycle of paranoia in his marriage to Ffion, played by the equally incandescent Jodie Whittaker. His descent into disillusion is abetted by a “grain” – an implant that records every single memory that can be played back.
As Liam delves deeper into a playback of a seemingly innocuous conversation between Ffion and an old fling, his suspicions lead him to a devastating discovery. Here in lies the core dilemma that the show does so well – is ignorance bliss, or will the truth set you free?
Be Right Back (Season 2 Episode 1)
Black Mirror has a knack for killing you softly with its brilliance. Ridiculously heartbreaking and haunting, this particular episode has left a lasting imprint on my heart.
A grieving woman attempts to get over the sudden death of her significant other, already starting off depressing, and It gets worse. She’s introduced to an online service that pools information to mimic the deceased – probably a new service by Facebook (jk). Her cautious skepticism quickly fades as she dives into the deep end by purchasing a clone of him to properly fill the void.
Agonising from start to finish – the episode takes you on a realistically wild ride. Although ecstatic as well as initially gratified, she eventually has a colossal meltdown when it hit her; he’s gone, and can never truly come back.
Be Right Back is downright depressing yet beautiful at its attempt to discuss the idea of loss and grief. The tiny little touches of her pregnancy with a dead man, her daughter, her inability to truly let go of him, and his clone…a true reflection of how loss ironically never leaves you.