Are you in too good of a mood? Do you need something to bring you back to reality, and maybe even deeper than that? We have the perfect show for you! In this unfortunate series of events, we’re going to break down Netflix’s original series, Black Mirror. Black Mirror is sort of your modern-day twilight zone in which technology is used not necessarily to benefit people, but to ruin them. Usually when you think of satire, you think of funny, “haha” moments, but this is the darkest satire you’ll ever see, as they make biting social commentary on how attached our generation is to technology today. Our greatest fears, such as being ostracized, being left alone, being socially destroyed, and other real life terrors, are used against us in this modern, mind-blowing anthology. So you’re probably wondering: Mark? Cameron? What are the best episodes to completely ruin me? Okay, well since you asked, here we go!
“Fifteen Million Merits”
Set in a dystopian future, this episode is centered around a talent show titled “Hot Shot,” which presents itself as the only escape from a physically demanding life. In this world, the members of this society are forced to cycle continuously on exercise bikes in order to power everything around them, as well as earn currency (merits).
Cameron: This is one of those episodes that is so hard to grasp because of the fact that nothing outwardly disturbing or shocking happens. The episode is centered around Bing who wakes up just like everyone else in a screen-covered box screening reality-style shows, and adverts that he has the luxury of skipping work because he’s inherited 12 million merits from his dead brother. During this episode’s journey, he falls in love with Adi and convinces her to audition for a show. She performs, and while the judges of the show think that her singing is above average, they suggest a position for her on a pornographic website instead, and she agrees. Bing, outraged, saves all his merits to go back on the show and present a speech that ends with him threatening to slit his throat. The judges are so thrilled with his “performance” that they offer him an entire show where he can continue to berate the system he’s apart of. He agrees, and this is where you throw your computer across the room and scream and cry, because BING. YOU JUST FELL VICTIM TO THE SOCIETY YOU CLAIM TO DESPISE. HOW DO YOU NOT SEE IT?
This episode was a brilliant commentary on how enthralled and obsessed we are with reality television and media. Everyone that’s a fan of reality TV claims that they love it because it’s “so bad, it’s good,” but the entire industry runs off of us. We put hours and hours into something we claim to not even enjoy that much, and our time (our merits) are what powers these predatory shows to continue to run. So yeah, this episode pretty much makes you want to drop out of school and quit your job and question your entire life, but what’s an episode of black mirror without all of that, right?
Mark: This was the first episode of Black Mirror that I saw, and I must say that there’s a reason it’s stuck with me, even after all the other episodes I’ve seen since. It’s powerful because its seemingly absurd reality actually isn’t too absurd at all. Here, humanity rides fitness bikes all day as a profession and spend their free time in tiny rooms of solitude, but it’s astonishing to see that, aside from these futuristic features, many aspects of the day-to-day in this episode are similar to ours. Of course, it’s quite satirical, but the essence of humans being controlled by technology, slowly turned into machines of the system, still haunts me. Like Cameron said, the humans depicted are motivated only by getting through the day, and seem forever destined to slog through their existence, watching reality television and porn. It’s interesting that these are really the two main options that they’re given; there’s really nothing more inauthentic than either of these two. Yet, society, for the most part, is enthralled by them.
This episode captures what is so heartbreaking about “show-business:” that people are willing to sell out their dreams and their morals for higher status/fame. Adi’s character, someone who represented the ideal of hope—the only pure thing in Bing’s life—is shattered and corrupted by the promise of fame, when a singing role turns out to be a smut feature. Despite her beautiful singing, society is shown not to appreciate her worth as a talent, but her looks as a seductress (a role she never held before). This is the quintessential Black Mirror episode; not only will you feel disgusted by the outcome of the character, but you’ll also wonder how much of it applies to you.
“The National Anthem”
In this episode, the young Princess Susannah, beloved by the public, is captured and held for ransom. In exchange for her release and life, her captors demand the Prime Minister release a video of him engaging in uncensored bestiality with a pig on national television.
Mark: This is probably the vilest and most bizarre episode of the series, but only because it’s so very plausible. Unlike other episodes that delve into the hypothetical (i.e., the backdrop of human cloning, or the hyper-dependence on “likes” controlling society), “The National Anthem” uses the very real Twitter and YouTube to forward the story.
Mob mentality is key to this episode—especially as social media does not affect the nation at large, but the reputation of one man. For the Prime Minister, there are only two outcomes: scorn for the indirect death of a famous philanthropist, or the degrading act of having relations with a pig. Either outcome contains some form of public humiliation, and the Prime Minister must choose.
Cameron: Okay, so I’m not going to come right out and say that I skipped all my classes the day I watched this episode, but… This was the first episode of Black Mirror I’d ever seen, and it’s also the first in the series, and like Mark said, it’s so terrifying because it’s set in our real world. There’s no utopia or dystopia; it’s just real life.
While the idea of a man having sex with an actual pig is terrible, it’s just a vessel for the actual horror that comes with society itself. The Prime Minister is forced to choose between two truly awful fates, and the entire world is there to watch. Media feeds off of whatever they think is going to grab our world’s attention—which is almost always something negative—and we almost always watch. Everyone watching was repulsed, but they still watched, and that’s the part that put a pit in my stomach: the idea that maybe, if I was there, I would be watching, too.
In the future, older people—or rather, their subconsciouses—are allowed to go back in time to re-experience their lives. The episode follows two women, Yorkie and Kelly, as they fall in love in the ‘80s.
Mark: This was an interesting episode because I was waiting to see when the poop would hit the fan and everything would turn dark and uncomfortable. This is Black Mirror, after all. But the darkness, unlike “The National Anthem,” never came, and I was instead treated to one of the most beautiful and stirring episodes I’ve seen. It’s comparable to the Season 2 episode, “Be Right Back,” in which robots/androids are used to “resurrect” loved ones, but “San Junipero” is a much sweeter affair, as melancholy as it is.
It’s remarkable how a meet-cute can blossom into a beautiful relationship, filled with both awkwardness and genuine longing. If there’s something audiences can relate to, it’s Yorkie’s loneliness. I’m sure everyone has experienced it. I have. That’s why the relationship is satisfying: because of the yearning of something fulfilling. Yorkie finds that in Kelly. I really liked this episode because it was more about the interpersonal relationships rather than the effect of technology itself.
Cameron: This was one of the most chilling episodes, in my opinion, because you were seeing the entire show from the main character’s perspective—meaning, you knew as little as she did. The plot is set around a woman who wakes up unaware of where she is, or who she is. She is surrounded by photos of a man and a little girl who she assumes is her husband and her daughter. Throughout the entire episode there are mobs of people recording her with cell phones while masked characters chase her with shotguns. She runs throughout a sort of movie set while the audience follows her. The thing about this is that, the watcher at home also has no idea who she is or why everyone is treating her the way they are, and it isn’t until the end that it is revealed that the character you’ve grown to feel sorry for committed the heinous crime of aiding the murder of her own child.
The concept itself is horrendous—a punishment for a crime being ostracizing someone and humiliating them—but it unravels another layer of horror, which is the mob mentality that surrounds the plot. I found myself tackling between two sides: do I feel bad for the woman who is being brutally tortured day in and day out? Or do I feel as if it is justified because of the extent of her crime? I’m going to leave this description at that because this is the kind of episode that you need to see to believe.
This episode is set in an alternate reality where people are able to rate each other on a cell phone app. Your rating effects your social status, and ultimately, your entire life. The episode is centered around Lacey who is obsessed with her rating and social standing. After being chosen by an extremely popular childhood friend with a high rating to be her maid of honor, Lacey sees this as an opportunity to increase her own rating and improve her livelihood.
Cameron: I watched this episode with a friend, and right when it started, we both laughed to ourselves because it was already so painfully real. It opens up with a shot of Lacey ordering a coffee and a cookie, sitting down, breaking off a piece of the cookie (in order to enhance the aesthetic), and then taking a photo of her meal to post it. It was one of those “it’s funny ‘cause it’s true” type of things. This episode is a painfully accurate comment on social media and how attached we are to the little apps on our phones.
Being a college student especially, Instagram and Snapchat are such huge factors. We rely on what we’re posting, when and where, and with whom in order to show everyone else that we’re having a good time. Throughout the show, Lacey goes to ridiculous lengths in order to increase her rating, but honestly, the way we’re so accustomed to living our lives right now isn’t much different. This episode forces you to step aside take a look in the mirror (lol), and reevaluate your priorities and where your self worth comes from. It’s easy to equate self love to likes and views, and often, because of this, we lose sight of the people and things that genuinely matter. Social media works its way into relationships and situations far too often and are an issue of conflict way more than they should be. So don’t get me wrong—I really love social media (like, I really love it) —but it’s okay every now and then to put your phone away, not post a picture of your pasta, and just because he liked her picture, it doesn’t mean you’re not still his #1.
Mark: I don’t know if anyone watched the show Community (you should), but there’s an episode in season 5 where the school is introduced to a social networking rating system that allows people to rate each other with “Stars.” Eventually, the students of Greendale were all stratified into different social circles based on their rating. While Community did it first (and did it funnier!), Black Mirror’s “Nosedive” is similar, but also delves deeper into societal issues more wholeheartedly.
As Cameron noted, “Nosedive” is a scathing critique on social media and how much it controls our lives. Here, the idea of YouTubers, Vine stars, and Instagram models rule society, but everyone has adopted it. You’re only as part of society as how much you’re willing to reveal, and people in this episode reveal everything. What they’re eating, who they’re with, what social circle they spend time in, etc. By doing this, you allow yourself to be rated, which is really the only way to climb to the top. The goal is to become a five-star person, which really is hard to do without being genuine.
Like “15 Million Merits,” themes of genuineness come into play in “Nosedive.” The community depicted here seems to be the opposite of what is “real,” where the visual affirmation of others is more important than self-worth. It’s a dangerous game, especially when the characters are shown to be ingratiating, even to jerks, at the risk of losing stars. While this episode doesn’t quite depict where we are as a society or where your social class is controlled by ratings, we’re not that far off, and that’s frightening.
SEASONS 1, 2, AND 3 OF BLACK MIRROR ARE AVAILABLE OF NETFLIX.
CAMERON PAYNE & MARK BAUTISTA | Name a More Iconic Duo… | KXSU Arts