“Oh, it’s like we’re in an episode of Black Mirror, isn’t it!?”
That’s a statement I’ve heard with alarming frequency over the last year. In fact, apart from the excruciating “this is the new normal” and the unofficial slogan of 2020, “These Unprecedented Times,” I don’t think any other exclamation has been barked down my ear quite as much.
But as over-stated as comparisons between the events of 2020 to Charlie Brooker’s hugely successful sci-fi anthology series have been, there’s no denying that a global pandemic that’s required us all to stay at home, to track and trace, and to wear masks everywhere feels like one of Black Mirror’s latest concoctions. To tell the truth, a nationwide closure of all branches of McDonald’s is probably the most surreally dystopian thing to happen in my lifetime.
It all got me thinking: if we’re living in a Black Mirror episode world right now, could we be waking up to a reality where any of the show’s actual plots are happening anytime soon? Only one way to answer that: by meticulously ranking the Black Mirror episodes by how likely they are to occur in our reality. You know, for fun! And also self-preservation!
20 – ‘Fifteen Million Merits'
If I was writing this in 2011 when Fifteen Million Merits aired, it would probably be in the top three. Chock full of social commentary on consumerism and the fickle nature of reality TV, Fifteen Million Merits tells of a dystopian future where people earn merits via constant cycling, and where their chance of a better life lies in auditioning for a huge X Factor-esque programme.
In 2011, X Factor was still dominating in a way that in 2020 feels harder to relate to (and it’s interesting to note that Konnie Huq co-wrote this episode whilst she was still presenting Xtra Factor). But with more and more former contestants speaking out about their treatment on reality TV competition shows these days, it seems unlikely that society in the future would hinge itself on Simon Cowell’s say-so in the same way it once did.
19 – ‘San Junipero’
Ahh, San Junipero: the preferred BM episode of those of us with taste. It’s the story of a queer couple jumping through decades in the land of San Junipero; a simulated reality for the elderly and the dead, consisting of pure sonic and visual euphoria.
It’s one of the very few Black Mirror episodes that ends in pure unadulterated joy, but honestly, everything’s so shite that ranking a simulated afterlife where you can be permanently young and beautiful any higher than 19 would be nothing more than wishful thinking.
18 – ‘White Bear’
White Bear positions you to sympathise with its lead character, who is being hunted down by violent assailants, only to flip the switch and reveal that she is a vicious child murderer, who an audience is paying to see endure endless attacks as punishment for her crime, before having her memory wiped and taking it all over again.
White Bear poses huge ethical questions about justice and cruelty that make it too outrageous for it to ever actually happen. It’s an absolute romp to watch, though.
17 – ‘Metalhead’
Metal robot guard dogs malfunction and chase Maxine Peake about in a black-and-white post-apocalyptic vista. Strong doubts on this one happening any time soon, but I’d watch Maxine Peake wash the dishes up, so if it ever does happen I’ll take it.
16 – ‘White Christmas’
Jon Hamm and Rafe Spall spar off in an isolated cabin in the snow, in a Christmas special where the frightening far outweighs the festive. The really fascinating thing in this episode is that the characters can permanently block unwanted people from their life. This makes the blocked person appear as a featureless, grey silhouette that can’t hear or communicate with its block-ee, emulating social media. Not sure this would be such a bad thing, for purposes of shutting up Katie Hopkins and the rest of Union Jack flag Twitter.
15 – ‘Hated In The Nation’
Malfunctioning mechanical bees created to counteract the decline in the world’s bee population turn homicidal when a hacker creates a #DeathTo trend, and people use social media to declare who’s next to go.
As frightening as the social-media-as-judge-jury-executioner narrative is, we can swerve the need for robot bees right off by SAVING THE BEES instead.
Save the bees, avoid the massacres.
14 – ‘Men Against Fire’
A hard plot to rank on this list: it centres on the way that war has used technology to demonise ordinary humans as enemies, in order to make soldiers more lethal when launching attacks. It’s horrifying, but you can’t help but think about how many politicians would be all for it, considering our current landscape.
I’m not ranking any higher with the hopeful perspective that this would be too technologically difficult and expensive to pull off, because the atrocities that would occur otherwise are too vile to comprehend.
13 – ‘The Entire History of You’
Next up we have in-eye cameras, which I’m more than sure are in development in some tech lab somewhere. It’s pretty volatile and emotional stuff when utilised for domestic drama in Black Mirror, but watching my eye camera back would be a far more tedious affair: just me eating Chinese takeaway and binging a Four in a Bed omnibus.
12 – ‘USS Callister’
An unsettling Star Trek parody in the world of simulated reality and massively multiplayer online games, starring Michaela Coel!
As fantastical the plot sometimes becomes, you just can’t help but worry that with further advancements in game development, there’s a vicious little programmer out there, robbing your discarded chewing gum to virtually torture you because you didn’t match with him on Hinge.
11 – ‘Crocodile’
Gruesome killings and cover-ups ensue in one of Black Mirror’s bleakest hours: full to the brim of panic, gagged-and-bound detectives, and, oh yeah, infanticide.
The memory scanning in Crocodile would be an investigator’s dream; an easy way to confirm eye witness reports, and separate lies and truth. The ethics of that aside, its not hard to imagine developers attempting to create this type of technology.
10 – ‘Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too’
Miley Cyrus starring in an episode that centres around pop star Ashley O trying to break free from label shackles holding her back from independence feels all too real in a #FreeBritney world.
The malfunctioning virtual Ashley Too robot that Miley gets lumped in is suitably daft, but the casting of Cyrus – a real life pop star – in a role like this brings an extra depth to the coercive control exercised over her. It’s also outrageously bittersweet in an episode focussed around breaking free from manufactured pop label shackles, that Ashley O’s manufactured pop single “On A Roll” is such a massive bop.
9 – ‘Hang the DJ’
Tinder on steroids. Speed dating on acid.
In a world where there seems to be a new dating app competing for the coveted spot of being “the next best thing” its hard to believe this matchmaking fiasco isn’t already happening.
8 – ‘Striking Vipers’
I have no shame in stating this and, if we’re being honest, I think I speak for everyone who fancies men when I say this is one of the HORNIEST episodes of television I’ve ever seen.
Two straight men finding themselves in a sexuality crisis when they play a new video game that allows its players to feel the sensations of the characters on screen – and all they keep doing is virtually shagging each other? COR!
We have VR in our lives and now we need THIS.
7 – ‘Arkangel’
Incredibly boring episode about a mum getting overly paranoid about her child, and installing a tracking system on said child, via new technology that results in the usual violence.
As shite as the episode is, you just KNOW that the obscenity filter used throughout would be a favourite amongst the Karens nationwide.
The thought of signing up to a personalised VR horror experience that taps into your deepest fears through a scanning chip in the back of your neck sounds like my idea of hell. Getting chased through a derelict hospital by a manifestation of my irrational fear of Keith Chegwin is quite low on my list of priorities, I have to say – but if you want to traumatise yourself then I’ll keep my fingers crossed that a game developer is cooking this one up for you.
5 – ‘Be Right Back’
Would you put a dead loved one into an AI equipped android that looks just like them?
Be Right Back is sobering hour focussed around grief. I’d originally ranked this much lower until I did some research and discovered that, following this episode, AI researcher Eugenia Kuyda launched an online chatbot service that used old chat logs from her recently deceased friend Roman Mazurenko, stating that she was directly inspired by this episode. It received a positive reaction but some of Kuyda’s friends said they were disturbed by what she’d done and that she “hadn’t learned the lesson from the episode”. Yikes.
4 – ‘The Waldo Moment’
An episode about an animated bear running for Prime Minister just really doesn’t have the same ludicrous feel to it when we’re literally living in a reality where Boris Johnson is in No. 10 and Donald Trump sits in the White House.
3 – ‘Shut Up and Dance’
Black Mirror loves spitting out a dark twist and making the heroes into the villains all along and, like White Bear, Shut Up And Dance does just that.
The lengths the trolls go to for manipulation in this Season 3 classic are far-fetched, but when vigilante groups on social media are more active than ever, you can see the parallels between Black Mirror’s world and our own.
2 – ‘Nosedive’
Bryce Dallas Howard’s iconic turn as status obsessed Lacie and her plummet from societal grace is the stuff of Black Mirror legend, and the social rating system implemented in the episode is easily one of the most talked-about technologies the show has ever come up with, especially considering that it’s so comparable with existing tech, like Uber’s rating system. It’s the dystopia’s world, we’re just living in it!
1 – ‘The National Anthem’
If you ever need evidence of Black Mirror “predicting the future” then you can’t really look much further than this: when it pre-empted revelations from the Tory past.
I mean, David Cameron allegedly put his dick in a pig’s mouth – what more is there to say?