The best episodes of ‘Black Mirror’ Season 4 ranked from worst to best

If the 1,267,800-plus Wikipedia searches for “List of ‘Black Mirror’ episodes” since Dec. 29, 2017, when season four of “Black Mirror” dropped on Netflix, is any indication of the number of people who’ve already binge-watched through the series, you probably won’t need this spoiler-free guide, but might want to talk or read about what you just saw as much as I do.

If you haven’t seen the series (and have been living under a rock for the past seven years), think of “Black Mirror” as “Twilight Zone” without the narrator and with most episodes in the British anthology sci-fi series predicting how futuristic tech can darkly impact humanity.

“Black Mirror” is easily one of my favorite T.V. shows and I love how each almost hour-long episode lives as its own mini-movie. Here’s a guide to the episodes in season four, ranked from my least favorite to favorite. Feel free to watch them in any order:

6. “Metalhead,” directed by David Slade and written by Charlie Brooker. (41 minutes).

This is by far my least favorite episode of “Black Mirror,” but also probably the one that you end up thinking about the most because it leaves you unsatisfied — with many more questions than answers.

As the episode begins, you’re introduced to Bella (Maxine Peake), Clarke (Jake Davies) and Anthony (Clint Dyer), three humans in a post-apocalyptic world. You don’t know much about their past: just that they’re in a vehicle trying to get something from a seemingly abandoned warehouse policed by these frightening highly intelligent small metal robotic killing machines they call “dogs.” 

“Metalhead,” which was edited in black and white (perhaps to wash out the blood and gore), feels vastly different from anything else in the series, existing in a larger unknown world rather than one that sort of resembles our own.

At it’s core, it’s a short about survival, pitting robot against human. (You can probably guess who wins).

But you wonder about the larger context: how this world (and these robots) came to be.

You never find out what you really want to know, which is enough to keep you up at night.

Bonus Easter egg for “Black Mirror” fans: A postcard from vacation town San Junipero is seen on a desk. “San Junipero” is an episode in season three.

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5. “Crocodile,” directed by John Hillcoat and written by Charlie Brooker. (59 minutes).

In real life, physical memories can be recorded anywhere anytime on handheld devices most Americans sleep with under their pillows, but what happens if we willingly allow police and insurance agents access to our smartphones, which hold some of our most private thoughts?

Would you give someone else access to your phone if they promise you that “they don’t care what you do in your own time?” Or if it would help solve a accident or murder?

What if the police didn’t have to ask you if they could get access to your phone and could obtain your whereabouts through others like AT&T and Verizon? 

Privacy (and the lack of it) is the rough premise of “Crocodile,” whose misleading title is one of the most puzzling things about this moral thriller.

In “Crocodile,” physical memories can be viewed and extrapolated through a non-invasive chip that records a person’s memories on a portable monitor. Smells, sounds and intense emotions enhance the memories recorded. As you can imagine, this is a highly useful tool for insurance investigators like Shazia Akhand (Kiran Sonia Sawar), whose job is to collect voluntary memories from witnesses after an accident is reported in order to figure out how much money is owed to the victim.  

Her investigation into a recent hit-and-run accident eventually brings her to Mia Nolan (Andrea Riseborough), who would do anything to keep her thoughts private. 

“Crocodile” is a brilliant look at the pricy cost of privacy, but if you like happy endings, best avoid this episode.

Bonus Easter egg for “Black Mirror” fans: “Wraith Babes,” which was a major plot point in the episode “Fifteen Million Merits” from season one, makes an appearance, hinting that the world of “Black Mirror” might be connected somehow:

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4. “Arkangel,” directed by Jodie Foster and written by Charlie Brooker. (52 minutes).

Today we have the convenience of attaching tracking devices to virtually anything, but what if you had the ability to add a more invasive tracking device (beyond the “Find your iPhone” app) on your child?

That’s the rough premise of “Arkangel,” experimental new tech that allows a parent to always track and see where their child is and what their child is seeing.

After single mom Marie (Rosemarie DeWitt) loses her daughter Sara (Aniya Hodge) after looking away for just a minute, she decides to have the “Arkangel” installed on her three year old.

The “Arkangel” promises peace of mind, allowing her to always know where her daughter is at all times. The “Arkangel” also allows a hover parent to apply filters that can block out violent, graphic, and profane images and sounds from what the child actually sees in everyday life.

As expected, technology changes the relationship between parent and child in ways we can’t even begin to imagine, especially as the daughter grows into a teenager (Brenna Harding) and wants to hang out with her sort of boyfriend Trick (Owen Teague).

If anything, “Arkangel” plays out like a cautionary tale, exploring the dangers of filter warnings and how protecting your children too much can actually hinder their emotional growth and understanding of things like pain or death.

Bonus Easter egg for “Black Mirror” fans: This episode features footage from season three’s “Men Against Fire”:

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Also spotted: posters for Tusk, an artist featured in “Hated in the Nation.”

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3. “U.S.S. Callister,” directed by Toby Haynes and written by Charlie Brooker and William Bridges. (76 minutes).

“U.S.S. Callister,” which opens season four, feels like an ode to “Twilight Zone,” combining good old cheesy sci-fi “Star Trek” escapism with infuriating misogynistic tech bro culture. Jesse Plemons stars as U.S.S. Callister Captain Robert Daly, who along with his crew Walton (Jimmi Simpson), Shania (Michaela Coel), Elena (Milanka Brooks), Nate (Osy Ikhile), Kabir (Paul Raymond) and Nanette (Cristin Milioti), defeat monsters and save the world.

By day, the team work at Callister Inc., which invented the massively popular virtual reality space MMORPG “Infinity.” Daly’s coding and role as the company’s CTO was fundamental in “Infinity’s” success, but he feels under-appreciated and mostly ignored by his co-workers.

He deals with his fury by escaping into his “Star Fleet” universe, where he captains a space ship with the unwilling clones of his co-workers.

“U.S.S. Callister” asks us to consider what counts as humanity. Does our definition include bits of coding if they contain a human consciousness?

The answer lies somewhere in a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity.

2. “Black Museum,” directed by Colm McCarthy, written by Charlie Brooker and Penn Jillette. (69 minutes).

“Black Museum” is “Black Mirror’s” magnum opus, combining everything we know about “Black Mirror” so far and housing it in a 69-minute highlight reel in a single museum. The museum is curated by Rolo Haynes (Douglas Hodge), a man who oversaw a team that pioneered controversial neurological tech that allows men to cheat death. The bulk of his experiments have to do with consciousness — whether you can plant one person’s pain or consciousness into another brain or device (or place like San Junipero). While many of Haynes’ inventions were banned, they currently live in glass exhibits which Haynes shows off for a fee.

This show and tell is central to how “Black Museum” is structured. As Haynes recounts his past failed experiments to his visitor Nish (Letitia Wright), he’s also introducing them to his invisible audience, us.

The most interesting part of this episode is how it gives us a glimpse into how the world of “Black Mirror” works — connecting past and future episodes and putting them all on display.

Bonus Easter egg for “Black Mirror” fans: The entire episode is full of Easter eggs, featuring exhibits hinting at other “Black Mirror” episodes.

1. “Hang the D.J.,” directed by Timothy Van Patten, written by Charlie Brooker. (51 minutes). 

“Hang the D.J.” is a riff on modern app-based dating culture, providing an alternative that eliminates choice.

The premise is an Alexa-like dating coach service that promises a 99.8 percent successful match rate, pairing you up on date after date to learn more your personal preferences until the service finds your ultimate soulmate.

We follow Amy (Georgina Campbell) and Frank (Joe Cole) on their first date with each other and through the tedium of dating — sometimes in long awful relationships with people they don’t like, other times in meaningless short flings. (Lack of choice is just as paralyzing as too much choice.)

Part of the reason this is my favorite episode of season four is because like season three’s “San Junipero,” it’s one of those rare “Black Mirror” episodes that get a hopeful ending.

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One thought on “The best episodes of ‘Black Mirror’ Season 4 ranked from worst to best

  1. Pingback: Reading ‘The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle’ feels like solving an escape room | Pass the Popcorn

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