Ranked: Black Mirror Episodes
With the exciting return of Black Mirror on Netflix this Friday, here’s a handy ranking of every episode so far:
The Waldo Moment
The worst episode of the series by far. While the premise (a satirical cartoon bear runs for by-election and finds the joke spiralling out of control) has potential, Brooker fails to find much humour or intrigue. The problem isn’t even that the titular cartoon character is grating or that most of the jokes fail to land; it’s that Jamie (Daniel Rigby), the failed comedian playing Waldo, is such a pathetic sad sack of a character that he’s an absolute drag to watch.
It has its moments, and scores points for being more relevant in the wake of the 2016 Presidential Campaign, but The Waldo Moment is a pretty dull episode with a thoroughly ridiculous epilogue.
Despite being a Christmas special, those expecting anything other than Charlie Brooker’s brand of misanthropy were mistaken. Centred around two mysterious men (Jon Hamm and Rafe Spall) living in a cabin, White Christmas made the most of its feature length running time, telling three dark stories in one.
The first segment, featuring Hamm using ‘eye-linking’ technology to help a shy young man pick up women, is a little silly, but the second, in which Hamm tortures a woman’s digital clone (Oona Chaplin), and the devastating finale in which Spall is “blocked” by his girlfriend, are terrifically bleak. It’s not quite as sharp in its vision of the future or its resolution as previous episodes, but White Christmas is a great preview for the upcoming series.
The bleakest episode to date? Tackling themes of voyeurism, justice porn and mob mentality through an out-and-out horror story, White Bear is a difficult hour of television to sit through. Leading actress Lenora Crichlow gives an outstanding performance as the amnesiac who finds herself chased by psychopaths and filmed by onlookers, with no clue how she got there.
However, White Bear almost gets stolen by Michael Smiley as a disturbingly charismatic…well, to reveal his character would be to spoil the most brutal twist ending of the show so far. It’s an excellent episode only dampened by the fairly ridiculous vision of the future Brooker depicts. Bonus points for that ending credits sequence.
The National Anthem
How many other shows made their debut by forcing the Prime Minister to have sex with a pig? Played totally straight, The National Anthem is a work of black comedy genius as a beloved Princess is kidnapped and PM Rory Kinnear discovers the ransom is only one request; that he have sex with a pig on live television.
It’s audacious, jaw-dropping television; stomach-churningly disgusting in concept yet genuinely dramatic in execution. The tone is grim and the ‘climax’ may force you to look away, but you have to admire Brooker’s guts, and his foresight into David Cameron’s lowest moment.
Be Right Back
Black Mirror has made a name for itself as dark and hopeless, but Be Right Back is a romantic tearjerker. Hayley Atwell and Domnhall Gleeson are wonderful as an expecting couple, so lovable that you feel absolutely crushed when Gleeson dies a few minutes into the episode.
Atwell is heart-breaking as the pregnant widow trying to move on, and makes the sci-fi element of the plot (new technology can clone the deceased using their online presence) feel totally convincing. As both the real life man and his imperfect clone, Gleeson is stunning, giving one of the most effective portrayals of an android since Roy Batty. Brooker may often be deeply cynical (and the final minutes are brutal), but this is his most emotional writing to date.
The Entire History of You
As a glimpse into the future, Black Mirror is at its most effective when it stays grounded, using sci-fi technologies to tell relatable stories; The Entire History of You features ‘the grain’, a brain implant that records everything a person says and does, allowing them to constantly replay and obsess over their lives.
Disturbed by his wife (Jodie Whittaker, as good here as she always is)’s flirty manner at a dinner party, Liam (Toby Kebbell, able to go from lovable to creepy in a flash) becomes obsessed over every tiny interaction and facial expression, wading deeper and deeper into a secret he doesn’t want to find out. Perfectly escalating the drama, The Entire History of You takes a familiar story of distrust and unhappy marriages and twists the knife until it climaxes with a chaotic, eerie eruption of violence.
Fifteen Million Merits
Fighting off hard competition, Fifteen Million Merits claws its way into first position. Why is this episode, focusing on a world where people constantly pedal exercise bikes to earn ‘merits’ they use to buy meaningless digital rewards, better than all the rest?
It’s partly due to the searing leading performance of Daniel Kaluuya as Bing, a shy young man whose life is turned upside down when he hears the voice of an unfamiliar woman (Jessica Brown Findlay). It’s partly due to the hauntingly plausible vision of the future, in which everything real has been replaced by a digital screen and lives are dominated by TV shows. Most of all, Fifteen Million Merits is the angriest script Brooker (and his wife Konnie Huq) have ever written; a seething attack on talent shows, advertising, and desperation. From its quirky sci-fi opening to its ranting, nihilistic ending, Fifteen Million Merits was the first episode that really showed the world what Black Mirror can be.
By Harry J. Ford
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