If you love sci-fi and binge-watching shows, then chances are you're already a fan of Black Mirror. The anthology series has four seasons currently streaming on Netflix. Each episode is standalone, and introduces a new cast and set of characters. Technology is a constant presence on the show, but some episodes—like those that include time travel and virtual worlds—are arguably more steeped in sci-fi than others.
The following is a list of the best Black Mirror episodes for fans of science fiction. The storylines of the episodes might seem futuristic or far-fetched, but each comments on issues that people currently face, like social media obsession and phone addiction.
"Be Right Back" (Season 2, Episode 1)
Domhnall Gleeson of Harry Potter and Star Wars fame plays Ash in this episode, alongside Hayley Atwood—who sci-fi fans may already know as Agent Carter in the Marvel universe—as Martha. After Ash is hit by a truck, Martha finds an online service that allows her to communicate with the dead ... but not really. The service uses social media accounts and past texts to create an online version of the deceased.
Martha’s obsession with the artificial version of her deceased loved one consumes her life. When she’s offered the ability to put the constructed version of Ash into a physical body, she jumps at the chance. The episode is a futuristic ghost story that explores our current obsession with human-like technology (hello, Alexa) and how it can sometimes feel like an equivalent to person-to-person communication.
"Fifteen Million Merits" (Season 1, Episode 2)
Before starring in Get Out, Daniel Kaluuya appeared in the second episode of Black Mirror. “Fifteen Million Merits” is about a future world where most people spend their days riding on stationary exercise bikes, accruing points or “merits” to afford food, clothes, and experiences. This future world is an indoor, automated enclosure where screens dominate, and every person has a variation of a bitmoji that represents the physical self. Kaluuya plays Bing, who has collected 15 million merits, most of which he inherited when his brother passed away. When he hears the beautiful singing voice of Abi (Jessica Brown), he decides to spend every merit on helping Abi get a spot on Hot Shot, an American Idol-type talent show.
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The harshness of the Hot Shot judges will strike a chord with anyone who ever watched the early years of American Idol, when Simon Cowell commented on both appearance and voice. The twist ending of the episode is typical for Black Mirror, and you’ll inevitably stare blankly at your computer screen once the episode ends and wonder if this type of world is where we are headed. The episode features one of the flashier sets, which makes it seem super futuristic and almost otherworldly. Bing’s own bedroom, AKA the “box,” is covered from floor to ceiling with TV screens that he can control by flicking his hand and paying merits. The entire episode takes place indoors, demonstrating the controlling and isolating nature of Bing’s world.
"Hang the DJ" (Season 4, Episode 4)
This episode features “The System,” a more extreme version of modern dating apps like Tinder and Bumble. The System” determines how compatible couples would be, while “Coach” is the artificial intelligence system that actually tells users where and when to go on dates with potential matches. “Coach” tells Frank (Joe Cole) and Amy (Georgina Campbell) to meet, but “the System” determines that their relationship will only last 12 hours. The two hit it off, and are confused as to why they will only have such a short time together.
After getting assignments for other relationships that “the System” claims will last, the pair decide to go against it and do what makes them happy. The episode is a critique on how much emphasis we put on being compatible “on paper” (or in this case, on app) and how much time we spend on our phones, which limits our abilities to make connections in-person.
"San Junipero" (Season 3, Episode 4)
San Junipero is a simulated afterlife where the departed can occupy their bodies from younger years and live in a paradise with loved ones. The episode jumps around in time and centers on Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) who falls in love with Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) in 1987. The pair have an instant connection that withstands marriages, the birth of children, and tragedy—though they are only together sporadically when moving through time. In this world, people can elect to be euthanized to live full-time in the paradise of San Junipero.
The episode is one of Black Mirror’s most optimistic, as technology unites people in this episode instead of causing rifts.
"White Bear" (Season 2, Episode 2)
Victoria (Lenora Crichlow) wakes up every morning and doesn’t remember who she is. She is in a house where all of the TV screens show an unfamiliar symbol. Every person that she encounters seems to be in a trance, and none are willing to help her. Over the course of a day, Victoria faces tragedy after tragedy as she is hunted by people she doesn’t know for reasons she cannot understand.
The twist ending in this episode is considered to be one of the strongest and most dramatic in the entire series. The viewer must wait until the very end to know why Victoria is targeted—and knowing the truth will change the perception of her character. This episode is a must-see for sci-fi fans, as it plays on what we expect from a typical post-apocalyptic narrative.
"The Entire History of You" (Season 1, Episode 3)
If you could have a recording of every conversation you ever had or any action that you ever took, would you? This episode explores just that with “grains,” devices attached to the head which record everything a person sees, hears, or does. The user can play back any moment in time or look at any memory. Liam (Toby Kebbell) and his wife Ffion (Jodie Whittaker) both have these grains behind their ears, and after Ffion flirts with another man at a party, Liam wants to use the grains to figure out if Ffion knew the man before.
One would think that the grain would at least limit lying, but in this episode, everyone is deceitful. With the grain, Liam gets to know the extent of his wife’s deceit, but is that better than not knowing? Or is ignorance truly bliss?
Though in real life we do not have anything as extreme as “grains,” we are able to track people’s exact locations via their phones, and social media creates a trail of action and memory. Is this constant monitoring moving the world in the right direction? Or are we losing our humanity along with our privacy?
"Nosedive" (Season 3, Episode 1)
Bryce Dallas Howard stars as the ratings-obsessed Lacie in this episode, which was written by comedy powerhouses Rashida Jones and Michael Schur. In Lacie’s world, people constantly rate each other out of 5 stars: conversations are rated, service is rated, and appearance is rated. Lacie becomes overly obsessed with this rating system after setting her sights on a luxury apartment—but she needs to up her average in order to get it. She agrees to be the maid of honor in her childhood friend Naomi’s wedding in hopes that wedding guests will be struck with nostalgia and rate her speech, appearance, and friendship with the full five stars.
The episode looks different aesthetically from many of the others on this list; director Joe Wright selected a pastel theme to make Lacie’s world appear light and perfect. Our world doesn't seem too far off from Lacie’s rating system—Uber drivers and passengers rate each other out of five stars, and we mentally rate the people we see on Instagram or on dating apps by giving likes or swiping in the right direction. The episode has more comedy elements in it than others, making it a nice break from the heaviness of previous episodes. Lacie’s “friendship” with Naomi consists of one-line zingers that are really just backhanded compliments, and the moments when Lacie not-so-subtly tries to get others to give her a high rating are frequent, funny, and embarrassing.
Featured still from "Black Mirror" via Netflix