I recently finished watching the science fiction show Black Mirror. Created by Charlie Brooker, it’s a dark look at what our future could be, focusing mostly on our obsession with technology. Each episode is a self-contained story — so you can watch them in any order without missing a thing — depicting a different version of our current world or near-future.
I’ll admit the first episode was pretty jarring. I mean, (SPOILERS!) it centers on a government official being blackmailed into having carnal relations with a pig, so that’s about as disturbing and don’t-wanna-go-there as it gets. However, the second episode hooked me with its strange conception of the future, and I got my boyfriend to start watching it with me from there. Some people love the first episode, and it’s certainly a wild introduction to the show’s weirdness — but I actually recommend skipping it if that premise is too much for you. The show has such amazing sci-fi later on, I think other episodes make for better viewing.
So, if you’re new to the show, these are the episodes I most recommend watching. This is obviously a bit of personal bias, as I tend to prefer episodes with emotional stories and realistic technology. I believe these episodes are a great place to start watching to see how amazing the show can be. They are also worth watching even if you don’t dive into the entire series, as standalone stories that will get you thinking about life and what our future holds…
With actress Bryce Dallas-Howard taking the lead, “Nosedive” is all about our obsession with “likes” and ratings on social media and apps. In this world, your value as a person is based on your social media rank. Getting lots of likes makes you not only popular, but someone who is trusted. It affects your rates when you try to buy a house, what kind of car you can rent, your flight bookings and loans and everything. When the protagonist tunnel-visions on increasing her rating so she can get a house in a luxury living community, her shallow obsession turns her into a desperate monster. It’s really fun to watch how she reacts to everything. And though it’s over-the-top, this theme certainly feels relevant to our love of “likes” today.
4. Be Right Back
This is one of Black Mirror‘s more moving stories, centering on a young woman who loses her fiance and starts using a software that mimics him to keep in touch. It’s not him, but by mimicking his personality, it’s supposed to help her through the grieving process. This becomes an even bigger idea when she can order a robot in his likeness.
The question is, do we really want to keep someone “alive” that way, for ourselves?
3. San Junipero
This episode reveals itself gradually. I didn’t know what was going on at the beginning, but I loved the shy girl (Mackenzie Davis, who I love from Halt and Catch Fire) meeting a crush in an 80’s club, being afraid to dance, being too timid to go home with the girl she likes. A love story ensues that is much more than it seems — and so is this “party town” the two are living in. Without giving away the whole story, I’ll just say that I loved the unique take on virtual reality, which focuses on its potential to help people live lives they couldn’t in real life. Personally, I enjoyed the idea of this technology more than some of the others presented in the show. But this is also one of the more emotional stories in Black Mirror, so it’s a great choice if you want an episode with real heart.
2. The Entire History of You
One of Black Mirror’s darkest episodes, what I like most about this is that it focuses on a couple, jealousy, and the ability to rewind our memories to review them anytime we want. An implant that records every part of our day seems like something that could become real for us — it doesn’t feel like something far-fetched or too far in the future — which makes this episode even scarier. I don’t know if any of you have a jealous streak, but I think there’s this human part of us that has a tendency to obsess over insecurities. Having the ability to rewind a memory and see if our fears are confirmed seems like a way of bringing out this drive in us, until it could ruin our lives…
1. Fifteen Million Merits
This is the second episode of Black Mirror and the one that made me want to keep watching. It has the most in-depth worldbuilding, depicting a future where people generate power by cycling on exercycles day in, day out. They live in tiny cells, where walls are television screens and watching reality shows and porn is not just everywhere, but required viewing unless you can pay to turn them off.
When the down-to-earth protagonist meets a sweet girl with a beautiful singing voice, he makes incredible sacrifices to help her achieve her dream of singing on a reality show — but things don’t go as planned. I won’t give away the whole story, but it’s a poignant look at how shallow society can be when it puts so much attention on virtual products and mindless entertainment that have no real meaning.