Black Mirror has been rightly acclaimed, particularly for its warmest and cuddliest episode ‘San Junipero’. Many have suggested that this episode is Charlie Brooker’s greatest creation in Black Mirror so far. Are they joking? Black Mirror is all about the misery, the despair, and the destruction that comes from our collective addiction to technology.
So wipe away the memory of ‘San Junipero’ for a moment. Erase the semi-happy endings of the likes of ‘Hang the DJ’ and ‘USS Callister’. What are you left with? Only the best and very bleakest episodes that Black Mirror has to offer. Here’s my top five of the darkest, most depressing episodes of the show. Spoilers will follow!
‘Fifteen Million Merits’
Way back in season 1, this episode seemed to touch on what I think might be Charlie Brooker’s worst nightmare. Daniel Kaluuya plays Bing, a guy who finally gets his shot to rage against the machine. After helping a girl to get a chance to show off her singing voice in a talent show, the girl is humiliated by the judges. Bing takes the stage to give the judges a piece of his mind. He rants and raves at them in an impassioned speech. The kicker in the episode is that the suicidal Bing is then picked up by the judges as a sellable commodity. Bing is seen at the end of the episode, miserably spouting misanthropy in his own TV show. I think this is Brooker’s bleak vision of his own pre-Black Mirror career.
‘The National Anthem‘
Another one from the pre-Netflix years of season 1. This episode is the most disturbingly funny episode of Black Mirror ever. The Prime Minister is forced into having sexual relations with a pig live on television. If he doesn’t, a member of the Royal Family will be killed. Now it should just be funny to see the PM getting jiggy with a farm animal shouldn’t it? Turns out, even if you’re as strange as me, it’s not. It’s horrid. The episode doesn’t dwell on visualising the deed, but you hear enough about it, and see enough of the aftermath to realise it really is no laughing matter. An absolutely brutal work of art.
This special episode has three stories in one, all wrapped up with a prologue and epilogue featuring Jon Hamm and Rafe Spall. Surely Charlie Brooker didn’t want to spoil everybody’s Christmas cheer back in 2014 with another horribly Bleak Mirror episode? Of course he did. The twist ending is a cruel gut punch, with Rafe Spall’s character confessing that he is responsible for the death of his ex-partner’s father, and the death of a small child. It is then revealed that he will basically be forced to listen to ‘I Wish it Could Be Christmas Everyday’ repeatedly for what will feel to him like thousands of years. The wonders of technology eh? And really not so different to doing Christmas shopping every year.
‘Shut Up and Dance’
Poor Kenny. This is the ultimate nightmare for any teen boy. This episode from the most recent season of Black Mirror does exactly what Black Mirror does best. It starts bleak, and things just get worse and worse for the entire episode. Teenager Kenny’s computer is hacked so that the camera captures footage of him, um, pleasuring himself while watching porn. The hacker blackmails Kenny into doing a series of tasks. By the end of the episode, Kenny has robbed a bank, killed a man, and then finally, finally, he is arrested because the police have been informed by the hacker that Kenny was watching child pornography. It really doesn’t get any bleaker than that, or does it?
Not just the bleakest episode of Black Mirror, but also the very best. It’s a master class in manipulating and twisting out sympathies. It is the ultimate episode for holding a mirror up to society, and showing just how dark the world is. After a woman wakes up in a room with no memory of how she got there, she is followed by people all filming her every move. So far, so nightmarish. She is then chased by a masked man with a shotgun and other hunters. Her torturous ordeal ends when she learns that the whole thing has been staged for an audience. She is a convicted murderer, and her punishment is to relive this ordeal again and again.
This is the ‘White Bear Justice Park’ and this is how we want to punish those who abduct and torture children. The crowds love it. But the woman has become victim, and her screams as she learns she has to go through the process again are tough to forget. ‘White Bear’ is Black Mirror at its brilliantly brutal best.
What are the episodes that left you wanting to throw away all your technology and go and live in a hut in a forest?