Earlier this week, we let you in on British television’s best-kept secret: Black Mirror. The show has been called a 21st Century Twilight Zone because it projects a future where technology and media have intertwined in increasingly twisted ways.
However, we also realize that diving into such a strange and ambitious new show can be a bit overwhelming. So, we’ve put together your ultimate guide to Black Mirror. It’s perfect if you want to break down each episode while you’re watching it, or if you need a primer to fudge your way through the eventual conversation you’ll get into about it at your corporate holiday party.
One last thing. There are SPOILERS contained within. If you haven’t yet watched the episode that we’re referring to, be warned! (However, on the other hand, if you have no plans to watch but still want to know what happens, this will be save you loads of time!)
Season 1, Episode 1: “The National Anthem”
Basic Plot Summary: England’s Prime Minister is woken up in the middle of the night so he can deal with a strange crisis. The popular Princess Susannah has been abducted by a social media savvy miscreant. A disturbing video of the princess was put on YouTube that states that she will die if the Prime Minister doesn’t have sex with a pig on live television. The Prime Minister’s team has to deal not only with trying to find the princess in time, but they also have to contend with PR damage control. One of the Prime Minister’s staff decides that they will hire a porn star decoy, but he is caught on social media by a fan. The kidnapper knows they are breaking the rules and cuts off Susannah’s finger and sends it to a news agency. Public opinion demands that the Prime Minister buggers a pig on camera. He suffers through it and afterwards his wife is furious with him. There’s a disturbing twist: the kidnapper, an artist, releases Susannah a half hour before the broadcast. The finger was his own. The whole thing was to prove the point.
Most Uncomfortable Moment: Obviously when we discover that the princess was let go before the Prime Minister did that nasty deed.
Where You Know “That Guy ” or “That Lady” From: You probably recognize a number of faces in this episode. Rory Kinnear, who plays the Prime Minister, is in the James Bond movies and appears in The Imitation Game. Lindsay Duncan, who played Alex Cairns, has been in Sherlock, Doctor Who, Rome, Birdman, and more. You probably also glimpsed Maester Luwin from Game of Thrones (Donald Sumpter) and Branson from Downton Abbey (Allen Leech).
How Close Are We To This In Reality: Bizarrely, I don’t think any of the technology in this episode is out of our reach. The most implausible part of “The National Anthem” isn’t that terrorist groups would use YouTube to make bewildering threats (because they do that), but that a high ranking royal like Princess Susannah (or Kate Middleton?) would be ever out of sight long enough to kidnap. So, we’re very close.
Season 1, Episode 2: “15 Million Merits”
Basic Plot Summary: This episode takes place in a weird future where everyone lives in tiny rooms and most people are trotted out everyday to ride stationary bikes. The more effort you put in, the more merits you get. Every bit of food, entertainment, and article of clothing you own diminishes your merits. Because life is so dull, most people spend their credits on stupid toys for their Wii-like avatars and on vapid entertainment, like the pornographic show, Wraith Babes. We meet Bing, a quiet loner who has accumulated over 12 million merits. He falls in love with a beautiful young woman named Abi and is transfixed by her singing voice. He buys her an entry ticket for the American Idol-like reality show, Hot Shot. The ticket costs 15 million merits. Before she auditions for a trio of judges, she is given a concoction called “Cuppliance” that renders her dazed and impressionable. She sings, and she’s good, but not great. The judges offer her a choice: go back to the bikes or become a Wraith Babe. She gives in to the audience’s cheers and becomes a Wraith Babe. Bing plunges into a deep depression, crazily cycles and starves his way back to 15 million merits, and buys a spot on the show. However, he takes a shard of glass in with him, holds it to his throat, and unloads a bunch of truth bombs about their culture. In return, the judges offer him his own channel. He becomes yet another form of vapid entertainment and lives in nicer quarters.
Most Uncomfortable Moment: When Bing almost kills himself when he sees Abi’s Wraith Babes debut.
Where You Know “That Guy” or “That Lady” From: Did you spot everyone’s favorite gay British best friend from the 1990s? Yep, that was Rupert Everett playing the Simon Cowell-esque judge. And of course, Abi was played by Downton Abbey’s Lady Sybil, the enchanting Jessica Brown Findlay.
How Close Are We To This In Reality: Well, we’re not living in boxes like Sims anytime soon. But we do live in a world where most people live the same dull routine every day and entertain themselves with meaningless hock. The one way for many people to get ahead (especially amongst the working class in Britain), is to be famous. And if people aren’t talented enough to be famous on merit, many break their own moral codes to get ahead.
Season 1, Episode 3: “The Entire History Of You”
Basic Plot Summary: Liam lives in a world where most people have an implant that records all their memories. This means that you can relive your best and your worst moments and obsess over every tiny detail. Liam uses his memories to dissect whether or not his wife, Ffion, is having an affair with an old college flame, Jonas. The couple uses their memories against each other and explode into a crazy fight. Liam gets morning drunk, and then drives over to Jonas’s house. He threatens to kill Jonas if he doesn’t delete all of his smutty memories of his wife. Jonas does so, Liam leaves, and crashes his car into a tree. When Liam comes to, he relives the last few hours and is horrified by his actions, but is more upset by a detail that he had previously overlooked. He confronts Ffion with his memory of Jonas’s memories. It’s revealed that Ffion and Jonas had sex recently and that there is a good chance that Ffion’s child is actually Jonas’s. The next time we see Liam, he is living in an empty house, obsessing now over his happy memories of his ex-wife. In the final scene, he tries to gouge his memory implant out.
Most Uncomfortable Moment: Oh, it’s a toss up between the weird sex that the couple has (they are both reliving a better sexual encounter with one another in order to get off) and the stomach churning scene of Liam removing his Grain.
Where You Know “That Guy” or “That Lady” From: If you’re a nerd for British TV, you might know Tom Cullen, who played Jonas, from Downton Abbey, or Jodie Whitaker, the suspected cheater wife, from Broadchurch. However, you should get ready to see a lot of this episode’s leading man, Toby Kebbell. He’s going to be in the Fantastic Four, Warcraft, and Ben-Hur.
How Close Are We To This In Reality: Just this week it was announced that cops will have to start wearing cameras while on duty. What happens if other jobs demand this oversight? What happens if recording every single moment of our day becomes popular? Sure, we’re not exactly close to implants like the ones in this story, but we are recording more and more of our lives. How many photos of food do you have on your Instagram?
Season 2, Episode 1: “Be Right Back”
Basic Plot Summary: Martha has a realistically imperfect relationship with her partner, Ash. Meaning, they love each other, but sometimes he ignores her to check his phone, they sing dumb songs together, and occasionally have bad sex. But they love each other. One day, Ash dies in a roadside crash. After a grieving Martha discovers she’s pregnant, she starts using a service that cobbles together Ash’s online personality into an interactive AI. She upgrades so she can hear his voice. Then, she takes the ultimate leap and purchases a version that uses synthetic skin to create a robot Ash. At first, things are great. He’s helpful, attentive, and great in bed. However, then things get bad when she starts to notice all the ways he can never be like Ash. He’s too helpful, too attentive, and too complacent. They fight. Years later, we learn that she keeps him in the same attic that his own mother kept photos of dead family. Her daughter is comfortable with robot Ash, but Martha is conflicted.
Most Uncomfortable Moment: Probably when Martha has to put the synthetic body into the bath in order to awaken the AI.
Where You Know “That Guy” or “That Lady” From: If you don’t recognize Hayley Atwell (Martha) or Domhall Gleeson (Ash) yet, you soon will. Atwell played Captain America’s one true love, Peggy Carter, on the big screen and she’s getting her own TV show on ABC in January. Gleeson is co-starring in Angelina Jolie’s Oscar bait flick, Unbroken, and has an unspecified lead role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
How Close Are We To This In Reality: While the technology shown in this episode is still a little bit ahead of our time, I doubt it’s super duper far off. The really eerie part of this episode for me, personally, was how we will live forever on social media posts.
Season 2, Episode 2: “White Bear”
Basic Plot Summary: A woman wakes up in a chair to discover that she can’t remember anything about herself and things only get worse. She’s awakened to a nightmare world where a man in a mask is chasing her with a shot gun, and where no one else will interact with her, but they are all gleefully watching her on their phones. The only clues she has to who she is are a photo of her and a guy, and a photo of an adorable little girl, whom she has to assume is her daughter. She teams up with a plucky survivor chick and they go through a series of harrowing near-death experiences – as if they are in a horror film. The plucky friend explains that a signal on everyone’s phone and TV screens made everyone go nuts, so she proposes they break into “Whitebear” and torch the tower sending the signal. When they finally arrive there, it’s revealed that our leading lady has been trapped in a theatrical prison for a horrible crime: she and her boyfriend kidnapped the little girl and she filmed him murdering the girl on her smartphone. And so, her punishment is to relive this nightmare everyday while everyone watches.
Most Uncomfortable Moment: Well, it’s a toss up between that murder pit in the woods and the big reveal that our heroine has been the monster the whole time (or are we the monsters?)
Where You Know “That Guy” or “That Lady: From: You might know leading lady Lenora Chichlow from Being Human or playing “sassy British friend” on failed sitcoms like Back In The Game and A to Z. There really isn’t anyone else big in this, but there is someone with the name Tuppence Middleton. So, watch out, Benedict Cumberbatch. You have competition in the “most British name ever” category.
How Close Are We To This In Reality: Technologically everything is plausible, but I doubt we’ll make punishment parks anytime soon. The thing that Brooker is commenting on here is that we as a society do have a propensity to want to watch and record train wrecks instead of stepping in and helping. Does that make us culpable? Yes, “White Bear” says. Yes.
Season 2, Episode 3: “The Waldo Moment”
Basic Plot Summary: A British TV network commissions a pilot for a popular computer animated character called “Waldo” after he spars with a Tory Member of Parliament. The producers decide that if Waldo runs for the same Parliament seat, he can follow the Tory politician around in a truck and heckle him. However, Waldo’s creator and operator, a depressed and failed comic named Jamie, is reticent. Jamie has a romantic encounter with the Labour party’s candidate, but she’s advised to stay away from him. Jamie explodes during a roundtable panel. He calls out all the politicians and the moment goes viral. Soon, there’s a call for Jamie to position Waldo not just as a populist mouthpiece, but as a political symbol for the whole world. Politicians can’t be trusted, but a likable brand can. Jamie hates this and tries to encourage the people to ignore Waldo, but it backfires. Waldo is bigger than Jamie and as the show ends, we learn that Waldo is bigger than anything. The final shot is a homeless Jamie being beaten to a pulp by foreign cops in an Asian city overtaken by Waldo propaganda.
Most Uncomfortable Moment: Anytime Jamie got beaten up. Which was twice.
Where You Know “That Guy” From: You might recognize Tobias Menzies from Outlander, Game of Thrones, or Rome. You should also take note of Christina Chong. She’s the pretty Asian producer, and she reportedly has a juicy part in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
How Close Are We To This In Reality: Well, Stephen Colbert did run for office. And we do live in world ruled by mascots and corporations. So, actually, we’re already here.
Christmas Special: “White Christmas”
Black Mirror is returning this year for a very special feature-length Christmas special. Unlike most holiday specials, we don’t think this one will warm your heart. Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm, Game of Thrones‘ Oona Chaplin, and Rafe Spall star in the creepy installment that will ask us what would happen if we could “block” people IRL?[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TDFcTmdQqIc]
…and in case you’re wondering, here’s how Decider ranks the episodes:
1) “The Entire History of You”
2) “The National Anthem”
3) “White Bear”
4) “Fifteen Million Merits”
5) “Be Right Back”
6) “The Waldo Moment”
[Watch Black Mirror]
Feeling overwhelmed by all that the world of streaming has to offer? Enter Decider Streamline. It’s our weekly video that will feature our top five picks for what you should be streaming this week.
[Photos: Channel Four]