Break into Black Mirror with these great episodes.
In 1959, Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone hooked the nation. While its special effects were… perhaps reflective of the time it was created, it drew us in with clever writing and deep cutting social commentary. Many have tried to recapture that magic formula in the past half century, but few have imagined it so elegantly for a modern audience as Black Mirror.
Formerly a short series on British television, Black Mirror has become one of the poster children for Netflix’s exclusive content. Like Twilight Zone, each episode of Black Mirror is a standalone story with thick social commentary about the state of modern society and technology. While the horror and shock of many episodes are top notch, it’s the bleak realism of Black Mirror‘s writing that gets under your skin. Even the most farfetched of scenarios depicts a sad state of humanity that isn’t that far off from where we are now. It really is like looking into the mirror and being horrified by what you see.
Question is, where should new viewers start with this series? Sure, episode one is the logical beginning, but… let’s just say it’s a tough one to get through right off the back. But never fear! To help you decide where to start your Black Mirror journey, here are 10 episodes that new fans will love.
10: Fifteen Million Merits
What would you get if you combined a futuristic dystopia with American Idol and… video game style repetitive grinding? It’s an insane premise, especially considering this is literally episode 2 of the series, but somehow “Fifteen Million Merits” works and works well.
The episode’s plot doesn’t exactly end or resolve the way you would think, but it’s one you’ll want to dive deep examining after you watch it. Plus the dark and unsettling visual style of the world is great, even compared to the show’s later episodes.
9: Be Right Back
Ever heard of uncanny valley? If you haven’t, then buckle up, because “Be Right Back” is an entire episode about it.
To be fair, it’s a very real story about how we deal with loss in an age where our digital footprints are all over the internet. Sure, we can’t relive our past memories to the… um, extent that this episode’s protagonist does. But we can still connect to the feeling of being unable to move on without someone we’ve held dear to us.
8: Hated in the Nation
Black Mirror has forged a tradition of ending each season with a double-length finale. These episodes typically build on the series’ lore for hardcore fans to dissect, but “Hated in the Nation” instead opts to be a mystery thriller that spins wildly out of control the further you get into it.
This is one I can’t describe in too much detail without ruining the numerous twists and turns. But I say that the episode challenges viewers to consider the real world repercussions their actions online can have on others. So yes, it’s an hour and a half lesson of why you shouldn’t go on Twitter and call people stupid dumb idiots. I guess I did spoil it after all.
7: Hang the DJ
“Hand the DJ” bares a lot of similarities to another episode I’ll be describing further down this list. Still, I gotta say, this eerie romantic drama is surprisingly optimistic by Black Mirror standards.
Okay, okay, it’s no rom-com, that’s for sure. But for those who are put off by Black Mirror’s usual horror elements, this one’s rather palatable. For series fans, the tone here is a nice change of pace too. If you’re looking for a date night movie, I’d maybe recommend this episode if you’ve already seen The Princess Bride about a dozen times.
Want to relive all the memories of growing up with helicopter parents? “Arkangel” is one of those episodes that can be either immensely horrifying or darkly cathartic, and it all depends on the perspective of the viewer.
There are no obvious villains and protagonists in Arkangel. While the mother who literally installs a microchip to spy on her daughter is easy to hate, you can also understand how and why she makes her decisions. And by the end, it’s hard not to have sympathy for everyone. This one might be a bit “love it or hate it,” but its themes are so close to reality that it’s easy to resonate with it.
I’ll be frank: “Nosedive” is the most “what if phones but too much” episode of Black Mirror there is. The plot surrounding a society that votes on and judges people in real time is such an opaque commentary on social media that it feels gauche at times. But despite its flaws, “Nosedive” remains impactful thanks to its fantastic visuals and great dialogue.
There’s real catharsis here for anyone who’s ever been annoyed by social media. While the protagonist Lacie might grate on you at first, her journey to slowly discard the person she pretends to be is reminiscent of fantasies we’ve all had before. As someone who is actively pretending to be smart on the internet as I type this, I can, in fact, see the irony in my analysis.
But fun fact! The teleplay credit’s for this show includes The Office writer Michael Schur and Parks and Recreation star Rashida Jones. Ann Perkins!
4: The Waldo Moment
“Bi-partisan political commentary” is one of those holy grail endorsements for any form of media. But “The Waldo Moment” doesn’t just talk about politics, but rather the flawed ways we talk about politics.
Yes, this episode is about a cartoon bear who accidentally becomes an influential political commentator. But the way fans latch on to this character bares striking parallels to modern day pundits and politicians. In fact, considering this episode originally aired in 2013, it’s straight up unsettling how prophetic it wound up being. Some critics say this is a lesser episode of Black Mirror, but the deep cut of its message elevates it for modern audiences.
3: Shut Up And Dance
I won’t lie, “Shut Up And Dance” is really hard to watch. It’s about a kid who’s blackmailed into doing crazy and bizarre favors which only get worse as the episode goes. I recommend watching this one as blind as possible to get the full impact of its story arc.
Series fans may note that “Shut Up And Dance” bears striking resemblance to the fan favorite episode “White Bear,” which I didn’t rank on this list. While that episode is also fantastic, it’s the dark realism of “Shut Up and Dance” that makes its plot chill us to the core. We’re challenged to sympathize with characters we may have never looked at favorably otherwise. Yet at the same time, you can see yourself cheering on the antagonists if this story was presented from a different point of view.
2: San Junipero
On its surface, “San Junipero” is a love story between two women who have little in common. But underneath this facade is a story with layers of depth and complexity that are masterfully unveiled to the viewer over time. And by the end, you’ll be seriously contemplating what it even means to be alive.
Of all the episodes of Black Mirror, I find myself reflecting on “San Junipero” the most. It’s such a striking juxtaposition of happiness and bleak undertones that two people could interpret the tone of its ending in two completely different ways. There’s virtually no horror here compared to other Black Mirror episodes, but trust me, it’s just as wild of a ride.
1: USS Callister
It’s often said that a great parody doesn’t just make fun of its source material. Rather, it also emulates all the things we love about said source material. Not only is “USS Callister” possibly the best Star Trek parody since Galaxy Quest, it also retains all of Black Mirror‘s signature horror in one of the most fresh and familiar cocktails ever served in a TV episode.
No matter what genres you like, you’ll find something to love in “USS Callister.” Action, humor, suspense, you name it, it’s all here. Yet all the while, “USS Callister” is a striking examination of whether or not Artificial Intelligence will one day deserve as many human rights as all of us in the real world do. It’s a theme Black Mirror often plays with, but “USS Callister” is both a great examination of and a great introduction to the question. Series newbies and veterans have just as much to enjoy in this episode.
As always, “USS Callister” isn’t number 1 because it’s wholesale better than every other episode of Black Mirror. In fact, there are episodes of Black Mirror I didn’t list here that could easily rank in top slots on another person’s list. But the strength of Black Mirror is just how diverse each episode is while being linked together by certain common themes and set pieces. I believe “USS Callister” is the best starting point of the series, but don’t think you’ll have wasted the series’ best moments by watching this one first. Because the truth of the matter is, you haven’t seen anything yet.