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Black Mirror Episodes Ranked

So apparently listing all of the Black Mirror Episodes in the order from best to worst is now a thing.  So I’m getting on it.  For me best to worst does not mean I don’t like the episodes on the bottom of the list, I just mean, in terms of Black Mirror episodes, they were not as good as the ones ahead of them.

I was trying to think about what my ranking criteria are.  One element is how believable it is, not in terms of the technology, but the ethical dilemmas and decisions people find themselves facing as a result of the technology or the aspects of the human condition the technology reveals.  The more those dilemmas seemed to capture the truth of humanity in this moment in time the better I thought the episode was.  But I also coupled that with how interesting the technology / world created by the technology was.  So while I thought Shut Up and Dance captured the truth of humanity, the technology seemed pretty much already possible so the episode didn’t seem that imaginative to me.

I’m also interested in the structure of Black Mirror episodes.  I think that they often begin with a person who is a little bit outside the social structure and they seek power through technology and they end up controlled by it.  Episodes often have a twist, and the twist often seems to double down rather than escape the reality of the situation–15 Million Merits is a good example of that, although USS Callister offers an escape.  The “twistiest” of the episodes for me was White Bear, although I do wonder whether its twist also double downs on the sense of empathy for the protoganist even though the ending suggests that your perspective of empathy should change.  I think whether Hang the DJ has a twist or not is up for debate.  Also, I’ve been working on this post for awhile, and up until right before I posted this I’ve been rearranging.  I think this means it is really hard to give a definitive ranking and reconsidering and rewatching any Black Mirror episode can change your thinking about it, and if that isn’t a sign of good television, then I don’t know what is.

  1. National Anthem
  2. Nosedive
  3. USS Callister
  4. The Waldo Moment
  5. White Bear
  6. Black Museum
  7. 15 Million Merits
  8. San Junipero
  9. Man Against Fire
  10. Hated in the Nation
  11. Arkangel
  12. Playtest
  13. Be Right Back
  14. Hang the DJ
  15.  White Christmas
  16. The Entire History of You
  17. Crocodile
  18. Shut Up and Dance
  19. Metalhead

Some notes on the ranking:

Playtest was underwhelming to me, though Leigh Johnson makes a convincing case that it is about fear.  Her reading made me think it was interesting when my viewing of it did not provoke interest, but I still wonder whether it says anything new about fear, though perhaps Johnson is right that is says something specifically about a certain fear that ends up being the driving fear of the main character.  I guess it wasn’t clear to me how that fear was further examined through the technology.  I can be convinced that the penultimate scene reveals that the main fear is also in fact the fear of what the technology is doing, which in fact it is.  The episode only becomes meaningful for me upon serious reflection and dissection which I suppose should make me think it is good insofar as it motivates thought.  But I’m not sure it motivates that thought unless you see the really rather subtle connections between the character’s fear and what the technology is doing.

One thing I find interesting is the way that episodes return to themes in various ways.  Johnson left White Christmas off the list for being White Bear redux.  My view is that it combines themes from White Bear with the technology of USS Callister and the teddy bear sketch in Black Museum.  This episode also combines two technological innovations to explain the plot line, not unlike Black Museum.  Arkangel and The Entire History of You have similar concerns with our capacity for secrets and privacy, as does Shut Up and Dance.  Shut Up and Dance and Crocodile are about the limits you would go to protect yourself from exposure even when that means killing someone.  In both episodes the show suggests that even if you will do anything to keep from being caught you cannot be protected.

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