The Darkness of Black Mirror: It’s time to jump into the many dark futures of this soul-crushing show

By on January 3, 2018

Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Kelly and Mackenzie Davis as Yorkie in the episiode“San Junipero,”
which won the series two Emmy awards, including Outstanding Made for Television Movie.

So this is the problem: I want to talk about the physical act of picking up a copy of this publication, flipping the pages until you come across this column and reading these words printed on paper. But I really can’t do that, because while I know many of you will in fact be reading it that way, there will also be those of you reading it off a device of some sort, these words contributing to the soft glow that is lighting up your face. Sure, maybe I could ask them to put in an editor’s note for one version or the other, but if you’ve ever met my editor you know she’s too busy to deal with my weird shenanigans.

But that’s just how life goes in 2017. We still hold up novels to be the gold standard of high storytelling, but most are too busy watching the TV shows they compare to novels on their phones, which they then use to complain/celebrate said shows, to actually pick up a book. I’m about as anti-luddite as you can get, but part of embracing technology is accepting and admitting how we’ve become slaves to it.

This is perhaps why in a sea of well loved serialized TV shows like Game of Thrones, Twin Peaks and This Is Us, my favorite show is Netflix’s sci-fi/horror anthology Black Mirror, a show, I must note, can only be watched online. Black Mirror is a dark show, at times an incredibly unpleasant show, featuring one-and-done episodes that mostly center on how humans and technology are a bad mix. Creator Charlie Brooker regularly manages to pull the rug out from under viewers with story climaxes that are absolutely soul crushing. I love it.

A new season of the series is being uploaded to Netflix on December 29, and there’s no time like the present to jump into the many dark futures Black Mirror has to offer. If you’re ready to leap in, here are five episodes worth considering as you start the journey.

1×1: The National Anthem

For those of you looking to ease into the darkness of Black Mirror, the first episode of the series is naturally the best place to start. Of the different episodes of the series so far, “The National Anthem” is the episode that feels most grounded to our world, but be warned: Black Mirror goes from 0 to 100 real quick. This is, after all, an episode where a world leader has to decide whether or not he’s going to fuck a pig on live television. You read that last sentence correctly, and no, not every episode involves animal intercourse.

1×2: Fifteen Million Merits

And just like that, in the second episode of the series, Black Mirror takes a hard right turn into a world that’s very different from our own while featuring things that we understand immediately. In a world where exercise gets you money and most live in small cubes at the mercy of pop up ads, “Fifteen Million Merits” features one of the more unique yet relatable dystopias you’ll come across. And that’s before it gets to tackling TV talent shows.

2×2: White Bear

“White Bear” is not the most crushing episode of Black Mirror, but it’s pretty high up there. If you want to go straight to the bottom, go ahead and skip to “Shut Up and Dance,” but “White Bear” is a much better introduction to the bleakness, at times, of Black Mirror. Much more a horror short than the other episodes, “White Bear” starts off as the story of a woman being hunted while the people around her refuse to help and only gets darker from there. You’ll likely be considering the ending for a long while after.

3×1: Nose Dive

What if literally every interaction you had with someone could be graded by that other person? What if we judged each other like we do restaurants on Yelp? It’s not exactly a new concept, and actual humans in the real world have already tried launching similar apps, but Black Mirror’s take on the concept is particularly nasty. One of the more relatable episode of the series, it’s also a good starting point if you’re looking for a familiar face, as Bryce Dallas Howard anchors the episode.

3×4: San Junipero

“San Junipero,” for reasons I won’t discuss because of spoilers, occupies the weirdest niche in the Black Mirror canon. On one hand, maybe you have to see all the other stories the series has told to truly appreciate what Brooker manages to pull off here. On the other, it’s an incredible piece of storytelling, and winner two Emmy awards. Just know that once you watch it, you’ll want to talk about it, and you’ll never listen to Belinda Carlisle the same way again. PJH

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