There has been a noticeable tonal shift in Black Mirror ever since it moved to Netflix from Channel Four prior to the third season. The utterly bleak, morbidly wicked British Black Mirror went through an American makeover and became a rather subtle, darkly comic show with a dash of optimism. It was still fascinating and very watchable. But obviously, a lot of people who fell in love with the show because of its pitch-black, hopeless first two seasons (and the terrifying Christmas special episode) got miffed by its newness. I personally didn’t have an issue, as I have always seen change as a sign of growth. But I could always see the logic behind the “Black Mirror is not the same anymore” argument. Especially with the last season delivering arguably the weakest batch of Black Mirror episodes, there was even a proper justification behind the argument.
Well, four years have gone by since then, and Black Mirror has finally returned with five new entries. And if this fresh batch is anything to go by, then we can safely say that this is a glorious return to form for Black Mirror. Yes, it is still a mixture of dread and dream, but in many ways, it reminds you of the first two benchmark seasons. Here, we are going to rank the Black Mirror episodes from the weakest to the strongest. But truthfully, not a single one of these was actually weak. So maybe I should just say “from the good to the best” instead, as that would be far more fitting. In case you are here without having watched the episodes and trying to figure out an order to watch them, I should warn you that there will be mild spoilers, but those are not going to take anything away from the experience you are going to have.
5. Mazey Day
The only reason Mazey Day is at the bottom of the list is because it is the least Black Mirror-like an episode of the new batch. In many ways, it feels like the brainchild of someone like Jordan Peele instead of Charlie Brooker. Just to be clear, this is not exactly a criticism. I absolutely enjoyed Mazey Day, especially thanks to its final act.
Mazey Day, in many ways, feels like a wet dream for people who are into genre mash-ups. There is clear-as-day social commentary going on, which is laced with a ghoulish sense of humor. It also moonlights as a very effective thriller where the character, Bo, runs her investigation to find the starlet, Mazey Day. But the real deal is, of course, the climax, where it literally sheds its skin and turns into a full-on monster horror. And while the whole thing unfolds, the iconic Muse song “Supermassive Black Hole” almost acts as a recurring character in the background, which only makes it more awesome.
4. Demon 79
The signature fork symbol from White Bear (Season 2, Episode 2) is back, this time in the form of a talisman. Put a little drop of your blood on it, and voila, you are greeted with the Demon Gaap. That is exactly what happens with Nida, our shy, Indian-origin protagonist. The year is 1979, and we are in a Northern England town. The demon, despite appearing in a popstar costume thanks to Nida’s newfound love for the Bonnie M song “Rasputin,” has business with Nida. She has to kill three people, or else the world will end.
The central idea of this episode is probably not something you would expect from Black Mirror. Similar to Mazey Day, this one works as a standalone horror movie in many ways. The reason I am putting this over Mazey Day is because of its utterly satisfactory ending and, of course, the fateful symbol, which makes it a part of the ever-amusing Black Mirror canon. The symbol also appears in a more terrifying form later in the episode, which only makes the canon theory stronger. Demon 79 also has a bit of social commentary going on as Nida is an unfortunate victim of racism, but the approach is much different from Mazey Day.
3. Beyond The Sea
Alright, now we’re talking. Despite its American setting, Beyond the Sea could easily be passed off as a Channel 4 Black Mirror episode, if you know what I mean. It is everything you want from Black Mirror, really. When you are introduced to the two seemingly regular American families in the seventies, you keep wondering about the sinister twist that is waiting around the corner—because it is Black Mirror, after all. Instead of keeping it under wraps, the episode drops the curtain early on. Yes, these two men, David and Cliff, are actually life-like robots (they call them replicas here) with the consciousness of real men who are operating their machine bodies from space. These two astronauts are on some kind of mission up there, and we live in an alternative version of the seventies, which is obviously far more advanced than even our present time.
But Charlie Brooker and his team make everything look like the kind of 1970s we are used to seeing, which brings a sense of relatability to it for us. The characters we see start to feel like people we know. The narrative takes off from the point of revealing the twist. There is a certain amount of predictability, but when it ends, it leaves you with a shattered heart and a deep-fried brain. Isn’t that what most of the early Black Mirror episodes used to do to you?
2. Joan Is Awful
Kevin Feige should have taken a lesson from Charlie Brooker before attempting whatever he did in that abomination (not a pun, I swear) of a finale in She-Hulk: Attorney At Law. Yes, I am talking about going meta here. Black Mirror doing something meta is not at all surprising, but even then, what Brooker has managed to pull off here is so unbelievably good. And most of you wouldn’t see it coming.
If you think about it, the whole idea of an everyday woman suddenly stumbling onto a Netflix (it is called Streamberry here, for obvious reasons) show depicting her awfulness is simultaneously ludicrous and sinister. But the episode deftly tricks you into buying it, only to blow your mind with the absolute killer twist in the end, which completely makes sense and clears all your doubts. From the struggle of firing an employee to questioning the nature of an apparently safe relationship, Joan goes through things that a lot of us would find familiar. Especially because of that, you would find the whole thing particularly scary. And the way Brooker has addressed the very common fact that we are being monitored by our smartphones, which implies the idea of privacy is basically a facade, is signature Black Mirror.
Even though Beyond the Sea is artistically better, the reason I am putting Joan Is Awful higher is the extreme familiarity. The fact that what we see here can very well become our own reality, with things like ChatGPT becoming an integral part of our lives, is what makes this episode the most impactful one of the current crop. However, despite taunting us with the possibility of a bleak, unavoidable future, Charlie Brooker does give us a rather sweet, wholesome ending. This is 2023, and the world has seen enough darkness already, so I would rather have a kind of hopeful ending than something completely hopeless.
1. Loch Henry
This was an easy choice, to be honest. Even with all the strangeness and technological mumbo jumbo, Black Mirror has always been about humans and humanity at its core. That is what sets the show apart from any routine science fiction and makes it one of the greatest pop-culture creations ever. Loch Henry, the second episode of this season, is a burning example of that. This is peak Black Mirror, and it should sit right up there if a best episodes list kind of thing is made.
If you thought Joan Is Awful was the most meta Charlie Brooker could go, wait till you see this one. Only here, it is done in a much more subtle way, where it starts with a couple traveling to a Scottish town to film a documentary. Unlike Beyond the Sea, this episode keeps the major twist closely guarded and deliberately plays like a true crime drama and, at times, found footage horror for most of the duration. When it finally reveals itself, though, it makes your skin crawl and leaves you with an existential dread. It also establishes a proper connection with Joan Is Awful as you get a glimpse of the BAFTA-winning Streamberry documentary “Loch Henry: Truth Will Out” appearing on Joan’s TV screen while she is randomly scrolling. Funny thing is, while Streamberry is the Netflix equivalent of Black Mirror, we also hear the word “Netflix” in this episode, which makes us wonder whether this is based on an actual true story or not. Thankfully, with a bit of extensive research, I have found out that it is totally fictional after all.