black mirror nosedive

9. Nosedive (Season 3)

Quite possibly the most stylized episode of the entire series thus far, “Nosedive” benefits from its stellar production values and director Joe Wright‘s eye painting on a larger canvas. Most episodes of Black Mirror feel like snapshots into the corner of a twisted world, but this is more of a panoramic road trip through a very special kind hell. The core concept, that everyone rates every person they meet with a five-star scale and that everything from their job to their social circle to how they can travel is dependent on their rating, sounds outlandish until you realize that China is already looking into a similar program. It sounds implausible until you remember that getting Twitter and Facebook likes feels so good and that the gamification of our everyday lives has already begun.

I’m reminded of Jon Ronson’s incredible book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed (a necessary companion for anyone who watches Black Mirror), which explores how a single bad tweet or one ill-thought-out Facebook post can destroy an entire life – our lives are online, we live in the public eye, and everyone is scrutinized by default. There is a lot on this episode’s plate and “Nosedive” occasionally veers towards obvious conclusions in between scenes of incredible discomfort and quiet horror, relying on Bryce Dallas Howard‘s fearless performance to smooth over any rough edges. The final scene, where two characters find themselves literally disconnected and rediscover the joy of honesty, is simultaneously cathartic and on-the-nose.

black mirror hated in the nation

8. Hated in the Nation (Season 3)

So much of “Hated in the Nation” is smart and weird and fascinating that it’s a shame the whole thing isn’t just a little bit tighter. At 90 minutes, it is more of a film than a television episode and much of the story feels like it would have more punch if the fatty bits were stripped out entirely. Still, this is a quality detective story set in a truly unique science fiction landscape that is just alien enough for characters to shrug off robotic bees and just recognizable enough for the audience to have an emotional stake in it.

The best thing “Hated in the Nation” has going for it is that the murder mystery that Kelly Macdonald‘s detective is genuinely intriguing on its own. The commentary on social media abuse and the how the internet reduces people to names instead of human beings is ultimately window-dressing for watching an appealing cop and her mismatched partner (Faye Marsay) tackle a case, with each one of them contributing their own unique skill sets to the case. Come for the scathing takedown of Twitter pile-ons, stay for the surprisingly good buddy cop story.

black mirror the entire history of you

7. The Entire History of You (Season 1)

This is bread-and-butter Black Mirror: you introduce a piece of science fiction technology into a real-world setting or relationship, allow that technology to amplify the emotions that would already be present, and watch as those involved circle the drain, their lives undone by their own actions and feelings that were simply enhanced by the presence of that technology. In “The Entire History of You,” that tech is the “grain,” a tiny implant behind the ear that records everything you see, allowing you to keep a database of your memories on hand to revisit and share with friends. It also means that everyone essentially has a perfect memory and that lies, of both the white and non-white variety, have become impossible to hide. Strip away the science fiction and you’re still left with a skin-crawling tale of marital infidelity and toxic masculinity that bruises the soul. Here is Black Mirror doing what only Black Mirror can do – it packages that emotional turmoil in genre concepts that ease you into the trap and only make the final gut punch all the more painful.

Black Mirror fifteen million merits

6. Fifteen Million Merits (Season 1)

When I think about “Fifteen Million Merits,” I think about how we’ve decided that microtransactions are okay and how insane that is. At some point, we decided that paying a little extra to skip an advertisement or make a digital avatar look a little cooler is perfectly fine. People are becoming increasingly cool with not owning things, with relying on the free entertainment presented to us and waving away potential inconveniences with a buck here or there because it’s just a buck, right? “Fifteen Million Merits,” the first great episode of Black Mirror, takes the world of YouTube and mobile gaming and pushes it to hellish extremes, presenting a future world where money simultaneously means nothing and everything, where ads literally invade your home and will pause if you close your eyes. But more frightening than this theoretical hellscape, which exaggerates current ideas for satiric effect, is the ultimate conclusion: when you do fight against the system, the system will fight back by simply co-opting you, taking your rage and your rebellion and packaging it and selling it and making it the new normal. And that’s real enough to be terrifying beyond the theoretical.

black mirror playtest

5. Playtest (Season 3)

Many episodes of Black Mirror are disquieting or uncomfortable, but “Playtest” is truly scary in the more visceral sense of the word. Director Dan Trachtenberg, whose 10 Cloverfield Lane is a claustrophobic gem, has made a new kind of haunted house movie, where the ghosts that haunt us are only those that we carry with us. Literally. Because it’s about an augmented reality video game that reads your thoughts to generate your greatest fears. Most episodes of Black Mirror make the show feel like the natural successor to The Twilight Zone, but “Playtest” has more in common with The Outer Limits – it’s gnarlier, spookier, and more concerned with giving the audience a nasty and mean-spirited jolt than laying on the social commentary. Ultimately, all of those scares climax with an ending that is inscrutable in the best possible ways, complete with a final shot that is simultaneously hilarious and downright evil. And one more thing: Wyatt Russell, who spends much of the episode alone in an empty house, is a future movie star. Mark these words.

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