Explaining the premise of Black Mirror to the uninitiated is tricky. Series without a through line never lend themselves to a run-down as easily as a one-hour network drama, but Black Mirror, the British Channel 4 original that now lives on Netflix, is beyond. Some episodes are dystopian, others idyllic; some seem to be decades in the future and a few could have happened last week. The one surety I’d tell people (and have, at least a half dozen, as I coax them into trying one of my TV go-tos) is that it will make you think. A lot.
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With season four landing on Netflix today, the timing was right to do the favor of highlighting which episodes you should start with. If you’re into them, the full canon is definitely worthwhile (but also worthwhile: understanding that you probably will be upset, disgusted, maybe even nauseated—hi!—by some of the stuff that goes down).
Since diving in with an unvetted episode is the surest way not to become a Black Mirror superfan, here are the five eps to start with (listed in the order they debuted)…because skip episode 1, seriously.
Season 1, episode 3: “The Entire History of You”
In a setting that feels utterly representative of today, implants allow everyone to record everything that happens to them. It becomes way too easy to literally replay moments over and over again, harmlessly obsessing over them but also noticing things that slipped by the first time.
Season 2, episode 2: “White Bear”
There’s a “what the heck is happening?” feeling throughout 95% of this episode that appeals to mystery lovers. Like the above, the setting/people/technology feels just like 200-something; the kicker comes at the end when the mystery is finally solved.
Season 3, episode 1: “Nosedive”
Big-name actors reliably pop up in episodes, though up until season 3 they were all Brit stars. Bryce Dallas Howard has the name recognition here and is the perky, picture-perfect striver anyone with an Instagram account will see themselves in in.
Season 3, episode 4: “San Junipero”
Probably the most talked-about recent episode due to its Emmy win for best television movie, “San Junipero” also has the nice distinction of feeling more sweet than terrifying. While the core of the story is definitely futuristic, the ’80s setting (and retro-fabulous beauty and fashion) offers an added bit of visual enjoyment.
Season 3, episode 6: “Hated in the Nation”
The reason I loved “The Entire History of You” is the reason I loved this last bit. It’s smart, feels plausible, and exercises your brain so much that I’d be willing to write a research paper or hold a discussion-group circa undergraduate to chat through it all.