Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Black Mirror Episode Rankings (Updated!)

For the sake of the list, I'm considering Bandersnatch as an episode, even though it's technically considered a movie by all involved.

While I generally enjoyed the latest batch of episodes, it struck me that I didn’t find any of them particularly rewatchable.  (This especially stood out in contrast to Bandersnatch, which was specifically designed to be rewatched/replayed over and over.). The central premises of Striking Vipers, Smithereens, and Rachel Jack & Ashley Too were interesting, yet all sort of turned on specific narrative twists that once you got what was going on, it sucked a lot of narrative air out of the room.  These episodes all spend a lot of time asking a question, but then providing you with an answer that leaves a viewer just saying “oh, huh,” rather than “whoaaaaa, what?”

My new list ended up being pretty similar to my old one, since most of the new episodes fell into that same better-than-average category.  This is actually a bit worrying, since it hints that Black Mirror may be running out of ways to really surprise the audience.  Smithereens and RJ & A2 both tread some pretty well-worn ground — hey everybody, did you realize that social media runs our lives?!  And that a pop star’s music and persona can be manufactured?! — whereas Bandersnatch is almost entirely a gimmick rather than an actual story. 

Striking Vipers was easily the most interesting and unpredictable of the episodes, though in terms of storytelling, the episode unfolded a bit too slowly and deliberately.  The creativity gets it ahead of Smithereens on my list, even though Smithereens is a better-done overall hour of television in terms of building tension (even if that tension is ultimately paid off in a flat way).  I did appreciate, however, that Smithereens was one of the rare Black Mirror episodes with no futuristic technology, and it simply told a story that could easily happen today in our real world.

I also made a couple of adjustments in my judgement of past episodes, perhaps influenced by the newest series.  Playtest drops since its title as “the Black Mirror video game episode” has been decidedly lost to Striking Vipers — predictability plays a role here too, since while Playtest was well-done, you could definitely see where the story was going.

23. Nosedive
22. The Waldo Moment

21. Fifteen Million Merits
20. Black Museum

19. Men Against Fire
18. Metalhead
17. Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too
16. White Bear
15. Playtest
14. Arkangel
13. Crocodile

12. Smithereens
11. Striking Vipers
10. USS Callister
9. Bandersnatch

8. Shut Up And Dance
7. Be Right Back
6. The National Anthem
5. Hated In The Nation
4. White Christmas
3. Hang The DJ

2. The Entire History Of You
1. San Junipero

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