Sunday, November 13, 2016

Ranking 'Black Mirror' Episodes


If anyone talks to me about Black Mirror a month ago, I would probably look like a fool because I've never even heard it ever. Then just two weeks ago, I saw an FB post and a tweet talking about a Black Mirror episode called San Junipero which featured Brandi Carlisle's Heaven is a Place on Earth, and how that song has its new meaning. That got me curious! I love when movies or TV shows feature a song that will always remind you of that particular scene and that its meaning has absolutely changed either for the better or worse (See Smoke Gets in Your Eyes for 45 Years, or Chasing Cars for Grey's Anatomy). Now that's probably a good idea for another ranking.

So I watched San Junipero without even knowing what Black Mirror is about and despite my ignorance, I still loved it and vowed to watch more episodes. Then I realized that the show is actually an anthology that depicts modern society, specifically modern or future technology, in a satirical and disturbing way.

That made it easier for me because I don't have to watch it in order and there are only 13 episodes, 13 brilliantly thought episodes to binge on. In just two weeks I finished all the episodes and here's how I would rank them based on their overall greatness.

13. Season 2, Episode 1 - The Waldo Moment
I like the scary idea of a filthy-mouthed CGI blue bear beating other candidates in an election if it hasn't happened before. But with the recent turn of World current events, it's actually not as strange as it sounds especially that it already happened except the blue bear is color orange. In fairness to Black Mirror, this was aired three years ago so Kudos to Charlie Brooker, the creator and writer of this series, for his foresight. At first, it's actually interesting. I love the irony of the man behind Waldo as depressed, and while I thought that his character development would go to a better direction, the conclusion of this episode got over-the-top, predictable and made for an eyeroll worthy ending.

12. Season 3, Episode 5 - Men Against Fire
This would have been more interesting if they didn't reveal the twist near the end because it's actually a great twisted one with a haunting message about technology in warfare. The only problem is it got too predictable. I also tend to love Black Mirror episodes that tackle a society wherein I can personally relate with. Unfortunately, Men Against Fire examines the future of military organizations which most of the time, I really don't care about. I'd rather watch a documentary about it than a fiction like this. Don't get me wrong, I'm aware that it goes beyond military orgs because it also tackles racism, but it doesn't change the fact that they failed to make it interesting all throughout the episode. My favorite part of this episode is me realizing that they feature the song Anyone Who Knows What Love is (Understands) in every season.

11. Season 1, Episode 2 - Fifteen Million Merits
This episode is one of the most creative thing they've ever done. It's set in a cute futuristic environment wherein people have to earn merits to have access in their community. It has a lot of important things to say about our future, and I guess, entertainment shows too. My biggest issue about this, which is probably debatable for some, is the execution. I could imagine if this was a Season 3 episode, which I suppose they were given bigger budget because of Netflix, this would have been more watchable, comprehensive and prettier. I thought Bing and Abi's romance was not thoroughly fleshed out, but if you know the episode, it's probably for the good. That's why when the "twist" happened, I wasn't too invested and affected by it. It's still depressing as hell but other episodes did a better job in making sure the ending will devastate its viewers. Maybe if it was 15-20 minutes longer, they'd be able to convince me that Bing and Abi actually like each other.

10. Season 3, Episode 6 - Hated in the Nation
I initially liked Hated in the Nation, and I still do, but it's also one of the first few episodes that I've seen and sadly, it got bumped off for other better episodes. Kelly Macdonald is my MVP here, and Faye Marsay is not far behind. They made this serious episode gripping. Just the idea of Kelly's heavy and cutesy accent combined with badass personality is worthy of watching the whole episode, even though at times, I found myself bored especially after they've figured out the mystery of the killings. Killer hashtags? It's a very interesting idea to the point where you'll actually think about all the posts that you make on Twitter. It really did affect me, and I like that! But yup, it's stirring, it's scary, but it's not super engaging.

9. Christmas Special - White Christmas
It's crazy how I love this episode yet it's this low. Just proves that Black Mirror has lots of great episodes. White Christmas stars Jon Hamm and Rafe Spall, and while I didn't care about the message of this episode and the twist (it's quite predictable), I love the three stories interwoven to make a fully realized episode. The stories vary from comedy to dark to touching to scary, and overall it may seem messy on paper, but the writing is so good, it makes for an intriguing and touching episode. Scary ending!

8. Season 2, Episode 1 - Be Right Back
Romantic and creepy and sad at the same time. This is one of the episodes that's actually devastating because it depicts grief, and both death and resurrection awow. The resurrection is where it gets interesting because if you watch the show and take time to think about it, it's actually not "resurrection", it's more of like double dead? Imagine your dead loved one coming back from the dead based on all the posts they made on social media or the internet. At first, it's going to amaze you, and then you'll realize they actually don't have the same emotion of a human being and all they had is records of your dead loved one, and you thought it will solve your problem of missing someone only to end up missing them so much more. I guess what's more sad about this is the main character got absorbed by this foolish idea. It's scary that it could happen in the future.

7. Season 3, Episode 3 - Shut Up and Dance
This episode has one of the most aggravating endings of Black Mirror ever. You'll feel betrayed and drained by it, at least that's what happened to me. Aside from the ending, there are several things I like about this. For one, I really like how the narration makes you want to know more of what's going to happen with the main character, and as the story progresses, the story gets even more layered with the cast and dilemma also increase in number. Second, it makes you put yourself in the main character's situation. Then you start to disagree with his actions only to realize by the end why his actions made sense. I guess if you figured out the twist in the beginning you won't have the same reaction but if you didn't, it's a very gripping episode to watch. You'll question humanity after watching this. Great use of Radiohead's Exit Music too.

6. Season 2, Episode 2 - White Bear
It's hard to figure out where I should place this in this ranking because I have mixed reactions to it. Part of me thinks it's brilliant because it has an awesome mysterious premise that makes you want to know further what's going on, but then after the reveal of its twist, I'm not so sure if it's fantastic or just plain annoying. Either way, this is one of the Black Mirror episodes where its message is so strong, it's easy to look past its been-there-done-that twist.

5. Season 1, Episode 1 - The National Anthem
This is the first ever episode of Black Mirror and wow what a great pilot. It's not the first episode that I've seen though obviously, but I imagine being hooked too if this is the first one I've seen. Like in Shut Up and Dance, the best thing about this is it is enthralling, and the result is very satisfying, at least for entertainment purposes. It's still nothing short of grim for sure. Throughout the episode you'll wonder if they're ever going to be successful in fulfilling the blackmail they're facing and what happens next is the last thing you'll ever think of because it's so silly and degrading. But alas that's what happened, and the consequence is disheartening. This is also one of the episodes where I care about the message the same as I did with the story.

4. Season 3, Episode 2 - Playtest
Playtest is probably the scariest episode of the series, and I'm not only talking about its message, but the episode itself is horror. That's why I love it so much. It kind of reminds me of Cabin in the Woods except scarier and has more depth. By the end of this episode, I found myself breathing profusely.

3. Season 3, Episode 1 - Nosedive
Pick this episode if you want to recommend Black Mirror to a friend. Nosedive is easy to watch. Light and hilarious but it still has the other qualities of a great Black Mirror episode -- grim, depressing and twisted. This is also probably the most relatable episode of the series because what it mocks is already happening in our society. Pleasing others to have likes, favorites and retweets? I know I'm guilty! LOL and this episode absolutely captivates the hilarity and consequences of it all. Bryce Dallas Howard is a champ in fleshing out the fake and social climbing character named Lacey who for sure you're going to love to hate. It's fun, campy and even cliche yet it's still one of the most rewatchable episodes of Black Mirror.

2. Season 1, Episode 3 - The Entire History of You
Now this is probably the most poignant episode yet. Like Nosedive, it's easy to relate with this episode especially if you've ever been hurt by a past relationship involving a third party... or even just by having a romantic relationship with someone which I suppose is all of us. This also examines the saying Ignorance is bliss. But ultimately, like a classic Black Mirror episode, this shows the bad effects of future technology. An implanted chip where it allows you to rewind the moments in your life? Geez. Rewatching moments that have already happened sounds appealing at first, then it will also remind you of your mistakes and other bad memories. It's kind of happening now with On This Day of Facebook, and Timehop, etc. and I read an article that this nostalgic feature is already bringing up painful memories to some users. Hopefully because of this episode, we won't reach that far even though we're somewhat already marching to that direction.

1. Season 3, Episode 4 - San Junipero
Turns out, the episode that made me watch all Black Mirror episodes remains on top of my list. When I watched this, I watch it not because of the Black Mirror factor, I watched this because of the song. I rewatched this yesterday and there's really more to it than the Black Mirror factor and the 80's soundtrack, the story itself  and the concept is wow, wow, wonderful. Heaven is a place on Earth is eerily an apt song to this episode because it's actually about heaven as a place on Earth, except virtual. Imagine you could live an eternal life. That to me is not so appealing because who can make sense of forever? But the two characters in this episode have all the reasons to pass their life over this virtual heaven. It touches my heart just thinking about it lol. Aside from the fact that they (Kelly and Yorkie) love each other, Yorkie wasn't able to life her life fully in her real life because she was paralyzed from a car accident, and Kelly chose to be trapped in a committed marriage even if she had feelings for her same gender. Basically, their first try of living their life was a mess, and San Junipero offers them to have another chance at life, and of course, love. Isn't that a genius concept? Then it has Mackenzie Davis and Gugu Mbatha-Raw acting the hell out of these Carol-esque characters, and are both mesmerizing in it. Not to mention the great cinematography, a filming location I want to go to someday, and Clint Mansell's perfect score. This is a tough episode to beat, but I'm ready for Season 4!