This past Friday, Netflix released the latest season of British anthology series Black Mirror. With six episodes total, the sci-fi series that sets out to explore technology's societal impact came back strong. It would be difficult to summarize the series as a whole. So instead, I have decided to rank each of the top notch episodes from best to worst with reasons why this show continues to strike a nerve with TV audiences. It is The Twilight Zone for the digital age, and in a short time it has lived up to that name beautifully.
1. "San Junipero"
It isn't enough that this is the best episode that Black Mirror produced this season. It also is one of the best hours of TV in 2016 period. While at first it serves as a deceptively normal throwback to 1980's culture, things slowly evolve into a fascinating direction that inevitably becomes about the power of love. It is a beautiful, heartwarming hour that manages to show the overwhelming power of human connectivity in an unexpected way. Among this episode's many achievements will be getting "Heaven is a Place on Earth" stuck in your head as you cry. It's great TV that transcends genre programming.
2. "Shut Up and Dance"
The story is relatively predictable. A man gets caught looking at something suspicious online and is blackmailed by an anonymous group to avoid leaking footage of said act. The story that follows is a race against time as characters try to obey debased laws in order to stay out of controversy. For the dour conclusion that is on the more obvious side, the consequences of the story are disturbing. It inadvertently creates sympathy for characters who would otherwise be outcasts in the modern social sense. It's a cautionary tale, and one that works as a streamlined action story where the suspense comes in many forms.
The season opener featured a heavyweight team in director Joe Wright, writers Rashida Jones and Michael Schur, and actresses Bryce Dallas Howard and Alicia Eve. It mostly delivered on the potential by being the most aesthetically pleasing of the six episodes as well as one of the liveliest. While the premise is a rather uninspired look into how social media creates outcasts, the performances elevate the material and turns pseduo-Valley Girl culture into something comical and vapid. Like most of the other entries from this season, it's a cautionary tale where hierarchy and power are held by inconceivable constructs. The episode gets it across well enough, though the journey is far more interesting than the conclusion.
4. "Hated in the Nation"
In the extended final episode of the season, Black Mirror tackles their own form of a police procedural. This time it involves Twitter hashtag-inspired murders and killer mechanical bees. It makes sense then why it's the most tedious and bloated of the six episodes. However, the concepts are peculiar enough to work and the general mystery drives the episode through its more conventional stretches. It may have been better if reduced to just an hour, but it does feature some of the season's most striking images of chaos while raising other questions about security and violence.
The idea of exploring virtual reality is nothing new. However, its contemplative future in society is something to be scared of. It makes sense then why Black Mirror would do a horror-based episode that turns this idea into a haunted house story with some of the most disturbing images in the season. A lot of the set-up is equally endearing and captures the innocent sense of wonder that technology likely has for the gamer community. It is only in the closing minutes that the episode squanders its potential by making a jarring and ineffective twist that takes away from an otherwise very enjoyable episode.
6. "Men Against Fire"
The unfortunate reality is that there had to be an episode in last place. "Men Against Fire" isn't that bad from a narrative standpoint. It covers a militaristic account of trying to kill for a higher power. The issue more lies in that it's the most streamlined and simple of the six stories, choosing to cover easy territory. The twist at the end plays into the military brainwashing conspiracies that have been around for decades, and it does raise some provoking questions. The only issue is that it doesn't have much else going for it, and that's why it's at the bottom of the list.