5 Great Starter Episodes for Those Who Want to Start Watching Black Mirror

I love Black Mirror! You might be surprised, given that it’s often a very dark and dystopian show and, in general, I try to be a bright and sunny person and thus tend to not like entertainment with pessimistic overtones and dystopia. What sets Black Mirror apart is the insane amount of intelligence the show has. Each episode considers how advanced technology has negative consequences on both society and the individual, and the best episodes STILL have me thinking about its events, morals, messages, characters, and themes. No two episodes directly take place in the same universe (save for maybe "Hated in the Nation" and "White Bear"), though Easter eggs referring to other episodes are peppered throughout the series.

Here’s the thing about Black Mirror, though: It is imperative that new watchers, particularly those who have minimal information about the show, do NOT start with Season 1, Episode 1, which is called “The National Anthem”. This episode is infamous for a particular scene involving the British prime minister...and a pig. It’s an extremely gross and degrading scene on purpose, but often those who start the show with that episode--thinking the show moves chronologically; most of us start shows at Season 1, Episode 1, anyhow--tend to believe that the rest of the show stays that gross and degrading, and then they stop watching the show. The rest of Black Mirror is very unlike its pilot! That’s why it’s better to start with any other episode (although I personally would not recommend starting with any episodes in season 5, because I believe that season 5 is far inferior compared to other seasons). And since almost each episode takes place in a different universe (more or less) with completely different characters, you won’t be missing any story if you start later! So here are the 5 best episodes to start with.

 

  1. “Nosedive” (Season 3, Episode 1).

This was the episode I first watched! Starring Bryce Dallas Howard, “Nosedive” takes place in a future America where everyone lives by a social-media-based rating system, and the higher your rating, the more privileges you have in society. Bryce’s character, Lacey, has a main goal is to boost her rating in order to get a discount on a new and more luxurious home, but disaster due to human error--and natural human behavior--strikes again and again. The episode’s themes are both relevant and important, and the episode has a pastel color palette along with some very funny moments. It’s one of the lighter episodes of Black Mirror and a great one to start with if you’re looking for a less dreary but still extremely-well-crafted storyline. 

  1. “USS Callister” (Season 4, Episode 1)

An INSANELY smart episode, this one tells the story of Robert Daly (played skillfully by Jesse Plemons), the CTO for Callister, which is a VR gaming company. Robert is an unrecognized genius, to the extent that he’s able to create a whole, closed off mod for his game just for himself...along with some other very sinister things. The storyline is one of the series’ strongest, the Star Trek allusions are aplenty, and I still think about this episode constantly. It’s one of the darker episodes, but by far not the show’s darkest, and the ending makes everything worth it. LGBTQ broken mirror Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Pexels

  1. “San Junipero” (Season 3, Episode 4) 

Another lighter episode, this one takes place on an island and deals with a love story between two females! If you’re a big fan of 80s-theming you’ll definitely enjoy this episode. I’ll admit it can get a bit confusing--it took me maybe two or three rewatches to fully understand what was going on--but the relationship between the two protagonists (played by Mackenzie Davis and Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is very well written and it’s a breath of fresh air in a series where love is often tarnished for its characters. 

  1. “Fifteen Million Merits” (Season 1, Episode 2)

One of Black Mirror’s best, but also darkest, episodes, and also one of the furthest from reality in the series (or at least it feels that way). The main character, Bing (played by Daniel Kaluuya!) lives and works in a windowless facility where he has to pedal a bike all day in exchange for “merits”, a currency that allows people to take more toothpaste or skip the ads forced on them in their rooms. Bing hates his lifestyle, but when he comes across a girl named Abi (played by Jessica Brown Findlay) whose singing voice mesmerizes him, they end up changing each other’s lives. It’s a good episode to gauge just how much darkness you’re willing to take in from this show, but despite the gloom, the themes and storyline are strongly supported.

  1. “Hang the DJ” (Season 4, Episode 4)

A very involved episode that I’ve personally only seen once or twice (it’s not my favorite), but a lot of people really enjoy it. It deals with online dating and both romantic and human compatibility. The darkness is mostly kept at bay, the acting is good, the themes are good, and it’s a good taste of what Black Mirror can do.

I also think you can solidly start the show by watching “Bandersnatch”, the show’s very unique and oft-talked about choose-your-own-adventure episode. Just know the rest of the show doesn’t have the choose-your-own-adventure element.

There’s some amazing episodes I didn’t list simply because I don’t think they’re the best starter episodes, due to their extremely high quality. If you watch the very best up front, then you’ll be less enticed to watch the rest, or you’ll dislike the rest in comparison. Still, the large majority of the show’s episodes are well done, if not always magnificent. So due to its overall goodness, I believe Black Mirror is truly one of the greatest TV shows available to watch right now. I highly recommend you get on Netflix, pick one of the episodes I listed, and get started!