As with any anthology, on Black Mirror, the quality of episodes in a season fluctuates dramatically. Charlie Brooker has compared the show to a film festival, and just as not everything you’d watch at a festival would be equally worthwhile, neither is every episode of the newest season.
All in all, though, Season 4 offers a solid collection of stories, two of which are excellent, one of which is very good, two of which are average, and one of which is fairly disappointing. Let’s take a look at each episode of the newest season, ranking them from worst to best. We’ll then rank every episode to date, including the Season 4 installments.
“Metalhead” is a relatively straightforward post-apocalyptic thriller that lacks almost everything that makes Black Mirror so compelling. We basically understand what the episode is trying to accomplish within the first 10 minutes. From there, the rest is just going through the motions. There are some undeniably tense moments, but it’s not unlike plenty of other survival thrillers we’ve already seen. The only real Black Mirror spin is that the antagonist is a robot.
Additionally, there’s basically nothing for us to sink our teeth into, as the episode provides absolutely no backstory whatsoever. We have no clue about what brought society to this place or what the broader world outside of this situation looks like, nor do we understand anything about the robot dogs or how they work. There’s nothing inherently wrong with leaving audiences to fill in the blanks, but “Metalhead” is almost nothing but blanks.
The result is a hollow 40 minutes that’s not entirely unpleasant to watch, but that does not stick with us the way Black Mirror usually does.
At the center of “Crocodile” is a piece of technology with fascinating implications. For that reason alone, the episode is something of a success. What would the world be like if a machine could probe a person’s mind and put their memories on screen? How would that be used? And what effect would the unreliable nature of memories have on it?
“Crocodile” provides us with those answers. But the episode could have delved further into certain aspects of this technology for more impactful results. For instance, the idea that memories can be easily manipulated is only touched upon briefly when the color of a coat changes due to Shazia’s suggestion. This is the episode’s most alluring moment, and something it could have used more of. In the end, the crux of the episode is just a standard crime story that could have easily taken place without the memory machine.
Additionally, “Crocodile” reaches a point of absurdity somewhere around Mia’s third kill. At first, we can understand how a normal woman might be driven to murder to prevent going to jail. But by the end of the hour, her body count becomes downright absurd and unintentionally comical. Even just bringing her down to four murders from five might have helped.
Still, it’s impossible not to be tickled by the final twist, which is so bonkers it sort of makes the whole thing worth it.
Like “Crocodile,” “Arkangel” could have benefited from a more thorough examination of a different aspect of its central technology. With a device that can be implanted into a child’s head, there are basically two draws: Parents can censor what their child experiences, and they can spy on them using a live video feed.
The episode chooses to emphasize the latter over the former. But the former is much more intriguing. What would it look like for a child to grow up having never experienced anything remotely negative, from their mother crying to a dog loudly barking? This idea is only briefly explored. The larger focus is on Marie spying on Sara and tracking her whereabouts, which is just a more extreme version of something that’s already possible.
Due to the performances of the main two leads, it’s still an effective episode with arguably the most devastating ending of the season, and Rosemarie DeWitt’s strong performance is not one to be forgotten. It could have been an all-time classic, but instead, it’s just another good episode of Black Mirror.
3. ‘Black Museum’
“Black Museum” almost feels like a series finale, looking back on so many of the themes that drove the previous episodes and making a strong case for the shared universe theory. It’s an anthology within an anthology, giving us three crazy pieces of tech for the price of one: Technology that allows a doctor to experience a patient’s pain, that allows a coma patient’s consciousness to be transferred into her boyfriend’s body, and that allows a dead man to appear via hologram after he is executed. Connecting them all is the deliciously over-the-top narration of the museum’s curator, played by Douglas Hodge.
The episode masterfully weaves through each story, giving us a consistent amount of “WTF” moments before leading up to a final reveal that takes us by surprise. The ending, though, does make us question the purpose of some of what came before. If Nish went to the museum intentionally in order to kill Rolo, why does she act like someone whose car needs to charge in the opening scene? Also, what, ultimately, was the purpose of the “Pain Addict” segment?
Though entertaining and gruesome, it doesn’t end up contributing much to the overall story, whereas the second and third segments come back around and are important in the end. “White Christmas,” Black Mirror‘s previous anthology-within-an-anthology, managed to make all three stories build up to one conclusion. But “Black Museum” doesn’t quite accomplish that.
While a bit uneven, this is still a fun grab-bag that reminds us of everything we love about the series.
2. ‘Hang the DJ’
Like most classic episodes of Black Mirror, in ‘Hang the DJ,’ Charlie Brooker takes a piece of technology we’re all familiar with – dating apps – and pushes it to the extreme. The algorithms of these services are already so complicated, with many telling you exactly how likely you are to get along with a person, Brooker asks, what if they advanced to the point that they could actually predict how long that relationship will last?
As the episode progresses from this unique hook, we continue to get tantalizing hints that things aren’t what they seem. It all builds up to the final twist. It turns out, this episode wasn’t really about taking a piece of modern technology to its logical conclusion; instead, it offers an explanation for how a piece of existing technology could already secretly work, or at least how it might work in the future. Next time you’re on OkCupid, just imagine that your 95 percent match represents that in 950 separate simulations, you and this other person escaped an oppressive society together.
Brooker does telegraph that ending a bit too much by having the characters ask whether they’re in a simulation. But the exact way the twist unfolds is definitely not what we would have expected. Like with “San Junipero” before it, “Hang the DJ” works because of the chemistry between the two leads, who we desperately want to see end up together despite this app telling them that it isn’t to be. With cool sci-fi ideas, memorable performances, and a killer twist, “Hang the DJ” is everything Black Mirror should be.
1. ‘USS Callister’
Unfortunately, with Black Mirror Season 4, it’s all downhill from the opening episode, which is by far the strongest outing. Part Star Trek spoof/homage, the episode is ultimately about a man who appears meek and introverted in his real life but who, in his private time, takes out his psychopathic tendencies and severe sense of entitlement on artificial intelligence.
It’s also the story of a woman rebelling against misogyny and, in an unexpectedly happy ending, winning back her autonomy. And it’s a look at how technology might develop to the point that it allows us to create our own realities, which become preferable to the real ones and allow us to hide away in fictional worlds more than we already do.
The episode doles out information at just the right pace, hinting that something isn’t right in the opening sequence and slowly providing answers over the course of the next half hour, ultimately leading to a thrilling prison break sequence unlike any other. Although the ending leaves us smiling, there are certainly still dark implications as we contemplate the consequence of real-life Nanette’s actions and wonder if we’re much better than Robert Daly for taking joy in drowning our Sims.
Although there are some things the episode could have made clearer — did Robert imbue the crew with their memories intentionally or are all A.I. cloned from DNA like that? — this is ultimately among the great episodes of Black Mirror, and a hell of a way to kick off the new season.
Bonus: How Season 4 compares to the previous seasons
Overall, Season 4 is not a disappointment, and it’s about as consistent as Season 3. Additionally, it adds at least two classic episodes to the Black Mirror canon. It’s not without its stumbles, but that’s always been the case with this series. And it ultimately starts and ends on such strong notes as to make the binging experience into a fantastic ride.
Now that we’ve ranked all the Season 4 episodes, let’s rank all episodes of the entire show to date:
- “San Junipero” (Season 3, Episode 4)
- “Be Right Back” (Season 2, Episode 1)
- “White Christmas” (Christmas Special)
- “USS Callister” (Season 4, Episode 1)
- “The Entire History of You” (Season 1, Episode 3)
- “Nosedive” (Season 3, Episode 1)
- “Hang the DJ” (Season 4, Episode 4)
- “Playtest” (Season 3, Episode 2)
- “Black Museum” (Season 4, Episode 6)
- “Arkangel” (Season 4, Episode 2)
- “Fifteen Million Merits” (Season 1, Episode 2)
- “Shut Up and Dance” (Season 3, Episode 3)
- “White Bear” (Season 2, Episode 2)
- “The National Anthem” (Season 1, Episode 1)
- “Crocodile” (Season 4, Episode 3)
- “Men Against Fire” (Season 3, Episode 5)
- “The Waldo Moment” (Season 2, Episode 3)
- “Hated in the Nation” (Season 3, Episode 6)
- “Metalhead” (Season 4, Episode 5)
Check out The Cheat Sheet on Facebook!