'Black Mirror' Season Four Episodes Ranked From Worst To Best
Warning: This article contains spoilers. Obviously…
‘Black Mirror’ season four dropped on the 29th December, and by late afternoon on the 29th, I had finished it.
Charlie Brooker’s Twilight Zone-esque, science fiction anthology series is a no-holds barred, social commentary on our dependency on modern technologies, offering a dark insight into what things could be like if things, you know, get a bit out of hand.
The previous three seasons have been brilliantly bleak and I’m glad to say that, for the most part, this is true of season four.
Now, I’ve had a lot of time to think about the individual episodes, and now that the dust has settled I thought I’d share some of my musings on it.
Here’s my ranking of season four’s episodes from worst to best; it’s purely scientific, and completely definitive, so go tell a friend…
Before I’d seen any of season four – aside from “USS Callister” – “Metalhead” was the episode I was most eager to see. Having said that, the grainy, black and white cat and mouse chase between Maxine Peake’s lone survivor character and the relentless, Terminator-esque robot dog was one that ultimately failed to live up to expectations.
The episode is remarkably lo-fi (serving as an interesting juxtaposition in terms of cinematography with “USS Callister”) following the blueprint set out in earlier seasons by “White Bear” and “Shut Up And Dance”. Unlike its predecessors, though, “Metalhead” lacks both an affinity for its protagonist and any real tension, meandering through its 38 minute run time like a pooch with no home.
Thematically it’s one of the weakest too; devoid of any real social commentary, the markedly minimalist episode sets its stall out for simplicity, yet slips into mediocrity.
Dare I say it, but I zoned out during the episode, holding out for a final reveal that would make the pursuit worthwhile. Disappointingly, it never came, petering out predictably and ending with a half-arsed attempt at something remotely emotive.
What I will say is that, visually, its compelling and Peake’s performance offers up the kind of desperation synonymous with a post-apocalyptic world, but at this point in Black Mirror’s history, I expect a lot more.
As a self-confessed nihilist, I can deal with bleak. Bleak is, sadly, a bit of me.
But that doesn’t mean to say I like it for the sake of it, and with “Crocodile” one couldn’t help but feel that the depressingly dark tone had been shoehorned into the series to remind people that ‘hey, although we might do episodes like ‘San Junipero’ and ‘Hang the Dj’ every once in a while, this is our bread and butter.’
The thing is, the show has come so far that I’m not even sure bleak is what they do best anymore, which is a pretty staggering admission for anyone that’s watched the original series that aired on Channel 4.
While the neo-noir Nordic background is unquestionably stunning and perfectly encapsulates the icy bleakness of the episode, “Crocodile” is almost too Black Mirror for its own good. Furthermore, the plot leaves a lot to be desired, exploring technology that we’ve already seen (“The Entire History of You”) while failing to offer up anything in the way of innovation apart from a worthless killing spree that fizzles out in the most dissatisfying way possible.
That’s the crux of the “Crocodile’s” problem; it’s so dark and so predictable that there’s almost no reward to the episode, and I was left with a frustrating sense of indifference and apathy towards the whole thing. To be honest, I can’t imagine anyone being invested in “Crocodile”, especially when you take into account that murderous architect Mia is probably the least endearing and likable character in BM history.
“Arkangel” might be one of the most polarising episodes to date, proving difficult to place on this list because it adopts many of the usual Black Mirror tropes that make the show so good.
Perhaps that’s the episode’s biggest strength and weakness; it’s rife with ethical conflicts to ponder (just how morally justifiable it is to track people, let alone our children?) and deftly tackles the perils of adolescent life, but the premise – which has so much potential (why not allow the technology to control her and deal with the whole issue of free will?) – is barely explored, hardly scratching the surface of the technology’s potential to instead focus on the strained relationship between a mother and her daughter.
I realise that’s precisely why many people will love “Arkangel” – in that it’s more human than other episodes – but it just seems a little obvious and uninspired to me.
Nevertheless, the semi-plausible story feels eerily close to home, confronting a multitude of divisive social issues that come together in a relatively enjoyable watch.
Not the best Black Mirror episode you’re ever going to see, but still a decent effort by director Jodie Foster.
3. “Black Museum”
Black Mirror has a history of almost symbiotic episodes that exist on different sides of the same coin (for example, in series two, “Playtest and “Men Against Fire”are paralleled in their exploration of augmented/virtual reality.)
Despite various allusions and nods to several previous episodes, “Black Museum” takes what “White Christmas” did with its mind-blowing vignettes and gives them a neural twist which pays off with a brain-battering final reveal.
It’s a quasi-anthology within an anthology – an anthology inception, if you will – with each shocking story coming together for one glorious climax. In particular, the subplots about the doctor who gets addicted to pain for sexual arousal and the deceased woman whose consciousness is implanted into her husbands mind are both disturbing and haunting tales, and ones that could have feasibly been given their own episodes.
Rolo Haynes (Douglas Hodge) is the master of macabre as the sinister museum proprietor, while duplicitous Nish (Letitia Wright) serving up the ultimate act of revenge and riding off into the sunset is one of the most satisfying finales so far.
A real highlight of season four – and indeed the show in general – and a perfect way to end the series.
2. “USS Callister”
I toyed with putting this as my number one but I guess my softer side won out in the end.
“USS Callister” – the first episode in the new series – is by far the most ambitious episode of Black Mirror to date, boldly going where no episode has gone before.
The feature-length instalment is the show’s first real attempt at crossing over into the world of sci-fi, adding exquisitely written parodic elements and dark humour to the familiar, ominous forebodings about modern technology to create a wholly unique and memorable TV episode.
The ensemble cast is superb, with the likes of Jimmi Simpson (Westworld) and Michaela Coel (Chewing Gum), but really it’s Jesse Plemons who steals the show as the dastardly and deprived ultra-boffin Robert Daley who goes around nicking his co-worker’s DNA to replicate them in his diabolical VR game.
There’s plenty of amusing moments (nobody having genitals in the simulated world is pretty hilarious), as is Daley’s God-like ability to turn dissident crew members into hideous space creatures.
The spoof-of-an-episode is littered with cameos, Easter Eggs and oh-so-fulfilling Star Trek references, and stands as a nostalgic thumbs up to the sci-fi shows that inspired it.
“USS Callister” is unlike any other piece of television I’ve seen, and I’d be totally onboard for a potential spin-off.
1. “Hang the DJ”
I must be getting soft in my old age, but for whatever reason, “Hang the DJ” really struck a cord with me.
I say whatever reason, but it’s probably because the technology in the episode seemed the most relevant and believable; the incessant swiping, the emotionless algorithms of modern day dating apps and the drastic dating rituals that people put themselves through in order to find ‘true love’ – it’s become so laborious and meaningless that an app professing to set you up with your ‘ultimate match’ – 99.8% in fact – is a concept that particularly resonated with me.
In many respects “Hang the DJ is this season’s “San Junipero” – a heartwarming and surprisingly optimistic love story chronicling the up and down relationship of two star-crossed lovers.
What makes the episode a roaring success, though, is the chemistry between its two leads (Georgina Campbell and Joe Cole) who you genuinely root for despite their unfavourable odds.
This alone, however, would not be enough to sustain the interest of us sceptical Black Mirror fans, with the technological twist/revelation that they are just one of a thousand simulated versions of themselves being tested for their compatibility, only to meet in real life, is a befitting and touching conclusion to a pretty faultless episode.
This is Black Mirror at its most optimistic and philosophical, maybe indicating a softening of creator Charlie Brooker since the show’s inception.
Perhaps episodes like “Hang the DJ” are what we should expect if potential further seasons are to come.
Black Mirror might not be so ‘black’ after all…
Images via Netflix