With everyone obsessing over every possible ending in ‘Bandersnatch‘ and with season five just around the corner, Black Mirror is back in, well… black. Charlie Brooker’s sadistically brilliant anthology series might not be for the faint of heart, but there’s no denying that it makes for some devilishly juicy talk around the watercooler. With the recent addition of ‘Bandersnatch’, Brooker has graced us with a total of 20 episodes of Black Mirror (which, for the record, should not be binge-watched by any rational person) but which ones are truly the best? After much deliberation – and pondering over the futility of human existence – we’ve whittled down the very best of what Brooker’s twisted mind has to offer.
WARNING: Spoilers ahead!
10. Hated in the Nation (Season 3, Episode 6)
Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Faye Marsay, Benedict Wong
The premise: Feeling more like a high-end BBC One drama with a sci-fi twist, ‘Hated in the Nation’ is Black Mirror’s take on the classic whodunnit genre. When controversial columnist Jo Powers is found dead from a savage attack in her West London home, the gloves are off as to whom – of the many people who do want her dead – actually went through with it. What begins as a routine investigation slowly unravels as more victims start to appear, prompting even further questions. Before they know it, detectives Karin Parke and Blue Coulson find themselves chasing an unlikely enemy in a desperate rush to prevent a cataclysmic event.
Most terrifying moment: It’s one thing to know that a hive of murderous electronic bees are afoot, but it’s a whole other thing to actually see them. Seeing the hive gradually invade the safe house is terrifying, particularly as you begin to realise the impossibility of keeping such a small enemy at bay. All it takes is the slightest gap in the room for the bees to start pouring in, something which Detectives Parke and Coulson come to realise very quickly.
9. White Bear (Season 2, Episode 2)
Starring: Lenora Crichlow, Michael Smiley
The premise: You know how they say that revenge is a dish best served cold? Well ‘White Bear’ takes the complete opposite approach and cranks it up to 11. When a woman wakes up in a seemingly abandoned house with no idea who she is – it’s anyone’s guess as to how she got there. Things only get worse when a masked figure brandishing a shotgun starts to chase her, and any nearby pedestrians are obsessed with capturing the whole affair on their smartphones. Everything culminates in a shocking twist that makes us question the role of public opinion when dolling out justice.
Most terrifying moment: The most horrifying aspect of White Bear only becomes apparent after you start to digest everything that’s happened. If Victoria’s memories and personality are gone, then the the owners of the White Bear Justice Park are no longer torturing her, but instead an empty vessel that doesn’t understand what’s happened to them. It’s a terrifying concept that only gets darker the more you think about it.
8. Metalhead (Season 4, Episode 5)
Starring: Maxine Peake
The premise: Dropping us right in the middle of a bleak, dystopian version of the UK (not too dissimilar to the current state of things), ‘Metalhead’ wastes no time in explaining how its setting came to be or what even caused it. All we know is that things are bleak – highlighted by the episode’s use of black and white – and there are dog-like robots roaming around with an absolute bloodlust for humans. In what amounts to a frantic game of cat and mouse, ‘Metalhead’ plays like a fever dream that someone had after watching a video from Boston Dynamics. The action never lets up however, and we are treated to one hell of a ride in the process.
Most terrifying moment: It’s creepy enough to see the “dog” do just about anything, but what really hits home is when it stands on its hind legs to retrieve a knife from a kitchen table. The way in which the “dog” utilises the knife is also undeniably disturbing, latching on to what it believes is our main protagonist and drilling away like there’s no tomorrow.
7. Shut Up and Dance (Season 3, Episode 3)
Starring: Alex Lawther and Jerome Flynn
The premise: Unlike most episodes of Black Mirror, ‘Shut Up and Dance’ stands out for being grounded in the modern day, as opposed to depicting an obscured take on the future. The episode follows the downfall of Kenny, who becomes the victim of blackmail after a virus takes control of his laptop and records some rather unflattering footage. Before long, Kenny is asked to undertake all manner of tasks by an unnamed group who threaten to release the footage if Kenny doesn’t comply. It’s a horrific scenario that isn’t too dissimilar to real life accounts of digital extortion.
Most terrifying moment: Seeing Kenny’s mental state break down is one thing, but it’s a whole other kettle of fish to discover why he’s so paranoid about the footage being made public. The final revelation turns the whole episode on its head and prevents you from watching it in the same way again.
6. White Christmas (Christmas Special)
Starring: Jon Hamm, Rafe Spall, Oona Chaplin and Natalia Tena
The premise: It may be a Christmas special, but don’t expect any Yuletide cheer. ‘White Christmas’ is the first episode of Black Mirror to be broken up into several short stories (a style later replicated in ‘Black Museum’) and it covers several themes as a result. From the concept of in-eye dating assistance to artificial intelligence cloned from our own personalities, everything is told from the perspective of two guys having a fireside chat at Christmastime. As the episode gradually reveals its true nature, you’re left gobsmacked by the intricacy of it all.
Most terrifying moment: Without a doubt, it has to be the climax (or lack thereof) in the dating storyline. Seeing our protagonist gradually slip away as the poison courses through his veins, we are as helpless as Matt, yelling unheard instructions via the eye-link technology. I wouldn’t be surprised if the scene has put some people off dating for life.
5. San Junipero (Season 3, Episode 4)
Starring: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mackenzie Davis
The premise: After two seasons of depressing takes on the dangers of technology, I don’t think anyone believed that Charlie Brooker could actually write a script with a more uplifting tone, which is exactly why ‘San Junipero’ became an instant hit with fans of the show. Asking the question, “what if the afterlife was digital?”, ‘San Junipero’ takes a far more understanding approach to how technology could help elderly citizens who are dealing with loneliness, or worse, dementia. Add on the fact that ‘San Junipero’ also boasts a banging soundtrack and you’ve got yourself a winner.
Most terrifying moment: There’s nothing really terrifying about ‘San Junipero’, but that doesn’t stop it from playing with your emotions. One of the most heartbreaking moments comes from a simple conversation over coffee, as we learn the backstory of Yorkie and come to fully appreciate what the San Junipero simulation means to her.
4. Black Museum (Season 4, Episode 6)
Starring: Douglas Hodge, Letitia Wright
The premise: When Nish stops to recharge her car by a dusty roadside, a nearby museum grabs her attention. With several hours to kill and not much else to do, she enters the strange building. Much like ‘White Christmas’, ‘Black Museum’ offers up multiple storylines that gradually intertwine into a fantastic ending. The episode also features multiple callbacks to previous episodes, some of which will probably take a second viewing to spot.
Most terrifying moment: Even though it’s the least gory aspect of the episode, there is something about being trapped inside a stuffed monkey that really gets under your skin. Seeing the entire range of human emotion funnelled into saying “Monkey loves you” or “Monkey needs a hug” is as absurd as it is horrifying. To then see the monkey forgotten about is something that’ll leave Toy Story fans in tears.
3. Hang the DJ (Season 4, Episode 4)
Starring: Georgina Campbell, Joe Cole
The premise: What if a dating app had a 99.8% success rating in finding you “the one”, but it would take up several years of your life in the process? That’s the central conceit of ‘Hang the DJ’, and one would assume that Brooker might have a lot of distaste for the world of modern dating apps, after all, there’s no shortage of material from real life tinder stories. And yet, what we get is actually quite a heart-warming take on how dating apps have the potential to do great things. In an episode that shows a great deal of maturity in its understanding of how love and relationships can change over time, ‘Hang the DJ’ only gets better once its fist-pumping final twist is revealed.
Most terrifying moment: Again, as with ‘San Junipero’, there are no scares to speak of here. The only part that really gets your heart racing is when Frank goes back on his promise and takes a peek at his and Amy’s expiry date, only to cause it to shoot down rapidly from five years to just a few hours. You’d have to be made of stone not to root for their relationship, so to see it potentially go down the toilet will have you yelling at the TV in frustration.
2. Playtest (Season 3, Episode 2)
Starring: Wyatt Russell, Hannah John-Kamen, Wunmi Mosaku, Ken Yamamura
The premise: With the exception of ‘Black Museum’, no Black Mirror episode left me quite so traumatised as ‘Playtest’. When American backpacker Cooper finds himself stranded in the UK after some dodgy activity on his bank account, he turns to an app for local odd jobs. After accepting a mysterious offer from a high profile video game developer, things soon go from mildly inconvenient to ‘someone help me, my eyes are melting’ pretty quickly. The problem here is that the first half of ‘Playtest’ gives no indication as to the horrors that await, which in fact only makes them all the more terrifying when you realise that there’s no turning back.
Most terrifying moment: The ending, without fail. Seeing Cooper die – and in such a horrific fashion – feels like a total gut-punch because its completely undeserved. I mean sure, it’ll teach him for not giving his Mum a call back, but it seems a bit harsh in the grand scheme of things. I’d hate to think what would have happened if he hadn’t tidied his room.
1. Fifteen Million Merits (Season 1, Episode 2)
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Jessica Brown Findlay, Rupert Everett
The premise: Things seem pretty bleak for Bing, stuck in a dystopian confine where humans are used to power some unknown source by cycling all day. To make matters worse, he (and his fellow cyclists) are bombarded by advertisements at almost all hours of the day. Everything seems stagnant until Bing spots newcomer Abi, whose singing voice is enough to convince Bing of her potential, and implores her to enter a reality TV show called Hot Shot. ‘Fifteen Million Merits’ is everything you’d want from a Black Mirror episodes, tackling multiple themes including the false hope of reality TV and society’s twisted relationship with porn, there’s a lot to unpack here. It’d be amiss to not mention the incredible set design of the episode, which paints an existence where screens are massive, inescapable and designed to keep people distracted from what’s going on around them. Sounds a bit familiar, right?
Most terrifying moment: While ‘Fifteen Million Merits’ is light on scares, there is an undeniable sadness that goes along with Bing’s fate. Despite his incredibly rousing speech, the Hot Shot judges are still one step ahead of him, and in the end, the allure of “freedom” proves to be too much. To see an act of pure revolution repackaged and commercialised is just downright depressing, but what else could you expect from episode of Black Mirror?