'Black Mirror' Season Three Episodes Ranked From Worst To Best
Black Mirror season four is right around the corner, and with all the marketing that comes with that, you can’t help but think back to how incredible season three was.
Charlie Brooker’s science fiction anthology series is a frighteningly dark, no-holds barred, social commentary on a number of contemporary topics and modern issues, providing a pessimistic and bleak outlook on the future of humanity and our dependency on technology.
For anyone that’s seen it, it’s must-see TV, so in celebration of the upcoming series (which looks incredible, by the way) we thought we’d whet your appetite for more episodes by going over series three with some expert analysis.
It was a lot more difficult than you’d think, but have a read through them, and let us know what you think.
It’s not hard to see why the first episode of the third season is the most polarising of the series, and depending on where you look or who you ask, it’s either ranked in the top half of Black Mirror episodes, or resigned to being a ‘meh’ episode that fails to live up to the more denser and ambitious episodes that follow.
Don’t get me wrong, visually, the pastel-coloured world that Bryce Dallas Howard’s character inhibits is as stunning as the one we see in San Junipero, with the perfect, cheery environment of a society so fundamentally hinged on the dreary world of social media and individual ratings proving to be an effective juxtaposition that we’ve seen Black Mirror play on so many times before.
It’s a thought-provoking and pertinent concept, and one that’s perhaps closer to reality than any of the other episodes in the series, but ultimately, its laboured point loses momentum halfway through, the ending is both predictable and unrewarding, and while its lighter tone does provide an unexpectedly refreshing start to the season, Black Mirror is at its unremitting best when set in a world that’s as bleak as it is hopeless.
Men Against Fire
With dystopian and post-apocalyptic themes aplenty, Men Against Fire is an alarming and poignant commentary on a future military landscape devoid of all compassion where soldiers kill without conscience or remorse.
While exploring the subjects of augmented reality and the potentially dangerous uses of technology in warfare, the episode focuses on the extermination of “roaches”- at first, appearing as zombie-esque monsters – but in reality, and in classic Black Mirror fashion, turning out to be normal, undesirable humans victim of a mass genocide on behalf of the government.
The physical and mental demise of Malachi Kirby’s protagonist, Stripe is an undoubted highlight of the episode, with the increasing turmoil his character faces providing one of the most finessed character developments in the whole series.
While the action may be a little less grandiose than other episodes, the intensity and anguish is palpable throughout, and the message of humanity – in light of the dehumanising of refugees in mainstream media today – makes the episode more frightening than you’d first think, resulting in a climatic ending that will call into question your own morality.
Playtest and Men Against Fire are almost two sides of the same coin. Playtest, though, like the equally mind-bending films it clearly alludes to (The Matrix etc) is about virtual reality rather than augmented reality, and the terrifying blurred line between the real world and the simulated one.
By far the scariest episode of the season, Playtest abandons the subtlety that Black Mirror usually adopts and jumps head first into the horror genre as we witness American backpacker Cooper wrestle with his own personal demons – and those of virtual reality – in a series of hellish scenarios.
His relationship with his mother becomes a bit weary after a while, but the success of the episode comes from watching the restless traveller slowly lose his marbles and become trapped in a virtual labyrinth both in the real world, and in his own mind, which leaves viewers deeply uncomfortable with the prospect of virtual technology and its infinite possibilities.
Black Mirror isn’t exactly known for its enduring sense of optimism, heartwarming love stories and wistful emotion, but with San Junipero – which is without doubt the biggest anomaly in the series, and the most ambitious episode to date – Charlie Brooker has somehow managed to deliver a profoundly warm and human tale of regret, love and loss.
With 1980’s California as the stunning backdrop, San Junipero reeks of nostalgia and the hazy memories of summer’s gone by, telling the tear-jerking story of two dying women who are able to live out their youth in the virtual world of San Junipero, as we bask in the innocence of young love and revel at the truly heart-warming final resolution – which is perhaps the least Black Mirrorish we’re ever likely to see.
The performances of star-crossed lovers Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis are utterly enthralling, propelling their relationship from a one-time fling to a thoroughly believable and touching relationship that stands the test of time.
This is Black Mirror at its most reflective and philosophical, and even though its a remarkable diversion from the tried and tested method of other episodes, San Junipero not only works, it triumphs.
Hated in the Nation
The final episode of the season is a deluxe, 90 minute murder-mystery that I was in engrossed in from the first scene to the last.
Hated in the Nation is a melting pot of just about every impending social predicament and moral issue we face, from surveillance, to the governments use of personal data (the episode is decidedly Orwellian in its ‘Big Brother is watching you’ framework), mob mentality, and above all else, the potentially devastating power of social media and the mindless behaviour of those who hide behind its cloak of invisibility.
In short, a social media trend started by a serial killer (who happens to control a legion of synthetic bees originally designed to replace a dying bee population) becomes a sickening game where people ‘vote’ on who they want to die, with the bees locating the victim and killing them in the most inhumane way possible. Eventually, it turns out that a larger plot is afoot to exterminate the users who voted using the hashtag, resulting in huge casualties around the country.
Kelly MacDonald as the uncompromising and foul-mouthed Detective. Karin Parke was an inspired casting, with her captivating game of cat and mouse with the depraved killer ensuring that the 90 minute run time flashes past in the blink of eye.
It’s gripping, suspenseful and terribly believable in equal measure, and in terms of a premise, I’d argue it’s the most impressive of the series.
Shut Up and Dance
It’s interesting that for all the big budget production on season three of Black Mirror – with some episodes feeling like they’d be more at home in Hollywood than on TV – it’s probably the simplest episode that’s the best.
Following apparently innocent teen, Kenny who’s secretly videotaped by unknown hackers masturbating on his laptop, the adolescent quickly finds himself blackmailed into carrying out a range of tasks from delivering a cake to robbing a bank.
There’s no fancy cinematography, no obvious theme tying the whole narrative together, no blockbuster action sequences, just an absolutely heart-pounding, frantic, edge-of-your-seat story that never slows down for you to question what the hell is going on.
The twist will leave you dumbfounded, with Kenny – who is played superbly by Alex Lawther – going from the guy you’re rooting for, to a character you feel complete disdain for (despite everything he’s gone through) in a matter of moments.
Shut Up and Dance encapsulates everything that’s phenomenal about Black Mirror, and will play on your mind for days after watching it.
Images via Netflix