Black Mirror Season 4, the newest season of Charlie Booker’s dystopian horror series, just landed on Netflix. Between the vicious robot dogs, virtual reality hellscapes and nonstop technophobia, Black Mirror Season 4 gives viewers a fantastic feast of fear.
We previously ranked all the other episodes of the series, but how does Black Mirror Season 4 compare? Two of our biggest on-staff Black Mirror fans binge-watched the entire season to find out. Here are their rankings of every Black Mirror Season 4 episode.
Check out every Black Mirror Season 4 episode, ranked:
6. Hang the DJ
Frank and Amy are using “The System” to find their perfect romantic partners — but is it all it’s cracked up to be?
Daniel: This episode is basically an hour-long metaphor for dating in which everyone lives in a community of young, relatively attractive people who have no jobs or other purpose in life than to serial date until they find “the chosen one.” The entire dating process is overseen by a somewhat cold handheld assistive device called a “coach” that tracks who you’ll be with and for how long, even if you have no actual interest in your partner.
But because the episode deliberately withholds key information about the characters and their world — Why is everyone in this world so concerned with finding a mate? Why is the community surrounded by a huge wall? Why do the characters have no memories of their earlier lives? — it remains too metaphorical to be very compelling. It stretches the audience’s suspension of belief and not in an entirely effective way.
That being said, the episode may appeal to anyone who has ever been dissatisfied with dating and hookups (which is most of us). Dating sucks, not that you needed a Black Mirror episode to tell you that.
Matt: This one did not work at all for me. The episode felt like one of those awful fables like the song “One Tin Soldier,” where the central metaphor is the entire point, and damned if it makes any logical story sense.
“One Tin Soldier” tells a fable where the Mountain People have a “treasure” under a rock; the Valley People want it. Mountain People offer to share said treasure without saying what it is, and Valley People decide that’s not good enough. The Valley People kill all the Mountain People for the treasure which turns out to be the words “Peace on Earth” carved on the rock’s underside. While the point is clear — it couldn’t be clearer, in fact — the story doesn’t work since humans don’t act that way. At some point the treasure would be revealed, and the Valley People would realize the Mountain People were sanctimonious holier-than-thou types and move on; no one would be killed.
In the exact same way, I saw the twist in “Hang the DJ” coming 100 miles away. Why would anyone willingly put themselves in this situation? Taken at face value, The System is a bizarre, creepy cult with arbitrary, idiotic rules. Would you agree to live with someone you despised — and mutually despised you — for a full year? Even if you were promised the “99.8% perfect mate,” at some undetermined point in the future?
I had a similar issue with “Nosedive” — why would you opt in to that horrible system? — but that at least made sense in a frog-in-a-boiling-pot sort of way. But there wasn’t anything like that here. The “twist” was the only rational explanation. I held out hope for a “White Bear”-style gut-punch that would explain that everything you thought was wrong, but nope.
It almost feels like if someone set out to write a by-the-numbers Black Mirror episode. Dystopian nightmare — check. Technology ruling everything — check. Subtle things seeming awry — check. The only innovation is an out-of-place “sweet” ending. It’s bizarre how much this one misses the mark for me. This is down there with “The Waldo Moment.”
Fun Fact: Amy is bi — one of her partners in “The System” is another woman.
5. USS Callister
Thanks to the Infinity Software, massively multiplayer online role-playing games
(MMORPGs) have gotten more realistic than ever. You can even have a role in your favorite TV show! (But there are some serious drawbacks.)
Daniel: Games like The Sims allow players to customize every part of their world to their whims, but imagine if you could do that with actual humans, humans who remember and resent being part of your video game fantasy. It’s creepy — we enjoy acting like a god in these virtual worlds, but the Old Testament God was a vengeful, fickle dick (even his own followers hated and feared him).
This Black Mirror Season 4 episode is both frightening and funny mostly because of its cruel premise and amazing ensemble cast who balance their schlocky sci-fi schtick with an uneasy horror just under their forced smiles. And yet again, we get to see a new DNA technology creep into this episode, a beguiling new gizmo for Black Mirror‘s creepy toy box.
Matt: A wonderful start to the new season. The use of the 4:3 Star Trek: The Original Series look for the open was perfect. The set design was great — they combined the grandeur of the Star Trek universe with the cheapness of the Star Trek budget. And, I have to admit, Infinity looked like it’d be fun to (willingly) play.
As was the difference between Robert Daly in and out of the game. One of the things I thought that was particularly insightful is about that sort of nerd rage that Daly embodied. In the real world, he’d probably be hanging out on r/incels complaining about how his total Chad boss is totally cockblocking him, but like, they’re all bitches anyway.
Also, I have to give credit to the ending. Sartre was right, “Hell is other people.” And Sartre never ran into the horrors of online gamers with voice chat.
Fun fact: Michaela Coel (the actress and playwright who created the hilarious and slightly queer series Chewing Gum) has a big role in this episode. She also appeared in the third season’s “Nosedive” episode.
4. Black Museum
A woman goes to a roadside attraction in the middle of nowhere to hear three tales of terror.
Daniel: The Black in “Black Museum” refers both to the mueseum’s dark, troubling exhibits and the episode’s overarching story about race and injustice. Until more recently, most of Black Mirror‘s episodes have had predominantly white casts and only a few of them really explore the technological and class divides separating people in their technophobic universe.
“Black Museum” begins to seriously make up for that oversight with three tales where technological solutions prey on human desire. The most haunting and heartbreaking tale of the set involves a possibly innocent death row prisoner who makes a torturous deal to help provide for his family after his execution. The deal is horrific and raises numerous, troubling real-world questions about how we exploit prisoners and black suffering in the name of justice, education and entertainment — you’ll be thinking about this episode long after you’ve seen it.
Douglas Hodge also does a great job playing Rolo Haynes, the museum’s devilish owner, and two of the three stories he tells are truly twisted — I even had to look away from the screen at one particularly gory scene. A really great addition to the Black Mirror gallery.
Matt: “Black Museum” is a weird Black Mirror Season 4 episode in that it had pretty solid bones, but wasn’t executed as well as it should have been. Too many callbacks to previous episodes made it feel a little too nudge-nudge-wink-wink. Though it’s clear Black Mirror episodes all take place in the same universe — and Brooker has said as much — the nods to the previous stories ended up coming off both as pandering and undercutting. Revealing that the name of the fictional resort town in “San Junipero” comes from the experimental hospital Saint Juniper makes it feel a little cheap. I’m also not sold on what this seems to do for the timeline — I like the idea of Black Mirror as being the same universe, but with a timeline you can’t pin down. “San Junipero” feels like the farther future than most episodes — but nope!
As for the episode itself, this is probably as close as we’ll come to a Tales From the Crypt style episode. The first and last stories of the trilogy felt particularly Crypt-y; only the second felt truly Black Mirror. That said, the stories were all engaging; it’s a weaker episode, but it had the potential to be so much more.
That said, I agree with your calling out of Douglas Hodge’s performance. While I’m not sure that Black Mirror really works with a carny acting as a narrator of sorts — the carny-sneer seems a little like gilding the lily tone-wise — the dude was a great fucking carny.
Fun facts: The museum also contains the dresses of Yorkie and Kelly, the same-sex couple from the beloved Season 3 episode “San Junipero.” Also, Douglas Hodge, who played Rolo, directed an off-West End stage production of the very gay Torch Song Trilogy.
A woman in a post-apocalyptic landscape needs to get a replacement item from a warehouse — unfortunately, it’s guarded by “dogs” unlike any you’ve ever seen before.
Matt: The shortest episode of Black Mirror Season 4, and one of the punchiest. The stark black & white cinematography was striking. It made it a little hard to see sometimes — but given that it was hiding some shocking amounts of gore in this episode, perhaps that’s for the best. The episode is a tour de force for Maxine Peake, the only actor for much of the episode’s runtime.
This is also one of the more anti-capitalist Black Mirror episodes — which is another point in its favor. The central thesis of the episode is about how fucked up it is to kill over property. (And not just kill but hunt down anyone who even tries to steal.) And given the post-apocalyptic setting, it’s sort of like a anti-capitalist take on Ray Bradbury’s classic short story “There Will Be Soft Rains.”
The final shot seemed a little on-the-nose, however — but given how tense and tightly plotted this episode was, I’ll allow it.
Daniel: I liked this Black Mirror Season 4 episode the more that I thought about it. It shows Black Mirror‘s willingness to explore the implications of all sorts of technology, not just social media, and it’s truly horrifying to think that one day Boston Dynamics-style robo-dogs will kill people in the name of “security” (they undoubtedly will).
This episode also reminded me of Stephen King’s rabid dog novel Cujo, which was a plus. But even though the female protagonist was incredibly tough and clever, I just didn’t find this episode particularly scary. Most of the time, I was thinking, “Either the dog is going to kill her or not. And if it kills her, the episode is over, so the real question is how she’ll stay alive and what’ll happen at the very end,” which is a boring thing to be thinking while watching a Black Mirror episode, especially when the ending didn’t turn out to be that revelatory.
Fun fact: The end of the episode makes a visual reference to “White Bear,” another Black Mirror episode in which a woman is ruthlessly chased.
Mia is an architect with a dark secret. However, when she witnesses a traffic accident, all may be revealed.
Daniel: “Crocodile” is a slow burn despite the fact that a murder happens literally within the first two minutes of the episode, and its icy natural setting makes it one of the most visually striking episodes of the entire series. Best of all, the episode deftly explores the dark and shape-shifting nature of memory: how those memories can help define us or trap us like an icy prison. I also found myself rooting for the villain in this episode, which is always a nasty bit of fun in this series.
Matt: Ahh, so tense! I like the Black Mirror episodes that feel like they take place only a few years from now, rather in the distant future. (But then, I loved “Shut Up and Dance,” which is a controversial episode amongst fans.)
The brutality of this Black Mirror Season 4 episode is what makes it work, combined with the likability of all the characters. Even though they’re at opposite ends — and one is clearly 100% in the wrong, you feel for both. Daniel’s right in that you end up rooting for the villain. If there’s a flaw, it’s that the episode’s final twist feels a little silly. That said, my hat is off in that one of the seemingly irrelevant elements of the story ended up playing a vital role, as in a tightly constructed mystery. Even though the element in particular is a little absurd on its face (I could easily see the same twist played far differently in Brooker’s A Touch of Cloth), it did feel like a natural extension of the technology.
Fun fact: This episode also features two gay characters, an onscreen voyeur dentist and a reference to a reality show judge caught with a rent boy — fun!
A single mother tries to keep an eye on her daughter with the help of a cerebral implant.
Daniel: Arkangel plays around with the idea of helicopter parenting, mood stabilizing drugs and safe spaces while showing the drawbacks of trying to protect children from anything even remotely dangerous (and the corrosive spiritual consequences of having such oversight). It’s interesting to see a Black Mirror episode that shows how different technologies introduced throughout the series have developed over time (and yet characters still do old-fashioned drugs like cocaine). There’s also a really nice theme of “the lost child” that resonates throughout the episode — which one, the mother or her child, is truly lost?
Matt: I really enjoyed this one. Jodie Foster’s direction was great, and I found the character motivations believable. I like that while it was a criticism of the desire to keep all bad and ugly things for your child — a criticism I agree with — Marie’s choices and decisions all made sense. It’s hard to find fault with any (well, okay, most) of her decisions; the issue is that simply Marie had too much information. Her motives, keeping her child safe, are good. It’s just that she uses a tool she shouldn’t have which sinks her — and yet, it’s not accidental. She knows the Arkangel tablet is ultimately harmful.
Sure, you could dismiss this Black Mirror Season 4 episode as a Garden of Eden/Fruit of Knowledge parable. But what works here, unlike in “Hang the DJ,” and, let’s be honest, the original Biblical story, is that it’s a human desire. We all want to know everything. I don’t think there’s a person amongst us who wouldn’t eat — or at the very least be deeply tempted — to eat from the tree. Especially since every single one of us would tell ourselves “nah, I can handle it.” I know I would.
I could see arguments that the filtering technology is too close to the point being made by the blocking technology in “White Christmas.” However, the technology was used to different ends, being fine-tuned more on content rather than people, and “Arkangel” never went to that well, even as it flirted with it. It felt more like an additional application of the existing Black Mirror technology, rather than a mere retread.
Fun fact: Lesbian actress extraordinaire Jodie Foster directed this episode. Cool!
Overall Impressions of Black Mirror season 4
Matt: Overall, Black Mirror Season 4 was a strong, if front-loaded, season. However, more episodes had “happy” endings — or at least not the bleak-as-fuck endings Black Mirror is known for. I miss that element. Even though “San Junipero” is perhaps my favorite episode, part of the reason I liked that one is that anything even remotely resembling a happy ending was itself a twist for Black Mirror. I worry that the success of that episode has made Charlie Brooker think he should move away from utterly bleak endings, as that’s my whole favorite thing about Black Mirror.
Overall, Season 4 was probably the weakest of Black Mirror, but considering how great the season was and how high the previous seasons reached, that’s still a compliment. Bad Black Mirror is still better than most things. But, at least for me, more bleakness, please.
Daniel: I liked Black Mirror Season 4 much more than I liked season 2, and rumor is that they already have six more episodes pretty much ready to go for season 5 (woo hoo!). The show really is living up to its reputation as a modern-day Twilight Zone and yet, most of this season’s episodes feels like finely crafted films — they are just that beautifully shot and edited. Even the weaker episodes are still visually captivating.
Previous to this season, Black Mirror focused largely on social media technology, but season 3’s “Men Against Fire” and this season’s “Metalhead” and “Crocodile” show an increasing willingness to explore other types of dehumanizing technology, something that should provide ample fodder for hopefully countless seasons to come. I also applaud the show for starting to get into social politics. “The Waldo Moment” from season 2 predicted the rise of Donald Trump in a wonky yet ho-hum way, but “Black Museum” is evidence that Black Mirror can really sink its teeth into social issues, to literally shocking effect.