Where to Start Watching “Black Mirror” (Hint: NOT Episode 1)

Where to Star Black Mirror

Where do you start watching Black Mirror? Most people would assume the first episode is the logical place, but this is an anthology series so that’s not at all a requirement. Also, the first episode is genuinely the worst, so please don’t do that.

Since Black Mirror is an anthology series, you can start anywhere you want, and jump to anywhere you want at any time based on your own interests and preferences.  Each episode is generally only tied together by the overarching theme of the series – the potential horrors of technology through misuse, overconfidence, overdependence, or intentional weaponization. The below episode suggestions are merely that – suggestions. Outside of this you can just read through the episode descriptions and find something that speaks to you. And if none of the episodes I highlight below actually speak to you, feel free to just read through the episode list and start anywhere… except for the first episode.

I caution against starting with the first episode because it has some pretty nauseating themes and lackluster characters that aren’t a great introduction to the anthology. There are many dark themes in this series, and a few of the episodes I recommended could be pretty nausea-inducing as well, but the episodes I recommend that have these unappealing themes tend to also have incredibly intriguing characters and plots that make up for that discomfort. I will warn for those themes in my recommendations just in case you really can’t deal with them, though.

However, if you first heard of the series because of that whole David Cameron thing, uh, yeah, this episode is that one that was constantly referenced during that whole ordeal. If that intrigues you, I mean, start there. Go wild. But if you have no idea what I’m talking about or you found that whole thing way too gross to subject yourself to a similar story, please don’t start there.

I feel there are two exceptions to my ‘you can start anywhere’ advice. Firstly, whatever you do, don’t start with the episode Black Museum (04×06). This episode has several callbacks to the episodes before it, so it’s best if you’ve watched most of the episodes prior to it to pick up on all the Easter Eggs. This is the only episode that does this, so once you make that mental note you are free to jump around however you want. Once you’ve completed the first four seasons that come ahead of it, you can jump to this one and appreciate the little callbacks all over the place.

The second exception is the film Bandersnatch, which came out between seasons 4 and 5. This doesn’t have any major callbacks like Black Museum (a few wayward Easter Eggs, but they aren’t crucial to the plot), but its format makes it somewhat difficult as a starting point. Bandersnatch is a choose-your-own-adventure film – basically a game – and you can get lost in it for hours choosing all the different options. I personally loved the episode, but it’s a huge time suck and none of the other episodes are formatted like this, so I recommend watching this at some point down the line after you’re a fan of the series and have a lot of time to kill. 

But honestly, if that sounds cool to you, please feel free to not heed my suggestions. I’m going to drop the trailer for Bandersnatch here in case you want to take a peek before committing to a starting point.

 

Besides these two suggestions for where not to start, here are some suggested places to begin your Black Mirror journey…

San Junipero
03×04

San Junipero Where to Star Black MirrorWhy You Should Start Here

This is typically the one I point my own friends towards when I’m trying to get them into the series because it’s not quite as heavy as the other episodes and it’s very very gay. If you like gay things, this is definitely a great starting point. It’s one of only two episodes that feature blatantly queer themes, the other being Striking Vipers 05×01, but San Junipero is the more beloved of the two. 

This is a great hook for people who may not be interested in technology-related horror themes as that’s generally secondary to the romance in this particular case. The episode explores themes of mortality, missed chances, love, and nostalgia. The 1980’s vibe of the majority of the episode is fun and anyone who digs that vibe (Stranger Things fans, check this one out!) will probably be totally into it. It also stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw of recent Loki series fame, and Mackenzie Davis from Terminator: Dark Fate and Happiest Season. Neither were quite as well known at the time as they are now, which is actually sort of a theme of Black Mirror in and of itself. The series is quite good at nabbing actors right before their fame really takes off.

Why You Maybe Shouldn’t

As I said, it’s a fairly upbeat episode, all things considered. The problem with starting here is that it could set your expectations for generally positive endings, and most episodes absolutely do not give that to you. In fact, I’ve had people who enjoyed this episode and had zero interest in the dark nature of the rest of the episodes. If you go into this aware of that difference, however, I think this is a perfect place to begin the journey.

Black Mirror Season Three Trailer 

There are three episodes from season three on my recommendation list. The following trailer includes those episodes, as well as three others. They are all very different in tone, but it’s a great peek inside and will give you an idea of what this series is all about.

Shut Up and Dance
03×05

Where to Star Black Mirror Shut Up and DanceWhy You Should Start Here

Unlike San Junipero, Shut Up and Dance is on the complete opposite side of the emotional weight spectrum. The story involves hackers who collect embarrassing or damaging things about people and force them to do things while threatening to release their secrets. Some of these secrets are incredibly grim and uncomfortable. Which, you know, they kind of have to be in order for the premise of the episode to work. If it’s not grim and uncomfortable, these people wouldn’t be held hostage at the whims of the hackers like they are.

It’s fast-paced and has many twists as it barrels full speed towards the story’s conclusion, which kept me engaged and curious throughout the entire episode. Despite how dark it is, I find myself watching this one repeatedly because it’s just so well-crafted. Sometimes I kind of enjoy having the wind punched out of me with absolutely devastating twists, and this satisfied that narrative need. I was left staring at the screen (the, ahem, black mirror of my computer monitor) in horror at the end and needed a moment to collect myself.

Why You Maybe Shouldn’t

Perhaps this is a bit too dark. So dark I have to put a trigger warning here. This episode references (highlight for spoiler) child sexual assault material.

Yeah. It’s pretty bleak. But if you can tolerate themes this dark, it really is a well-written episode. Unlike the first episode of the series, which also contains pretty nauseating themes (highlight for spoiler) – zoophilia – the characters and plot were enough for me to consider the episode an actual viable starting point. It won’t work for everyone, though, and if you don’t want to start off on a devastating gut-punch of an episode, maybe don’t start here.

Playtest
03×02

Where to Star Black Mirror PlaytestWhy You Should Start Here

I’m selecting this one because it feels very much ‘in the middle’ of both quality and emotional weight. It’s dark, but it’s not the darkest. It’s well made, but not the best made. It’s a good general ‘average’ starting point to get a feel for the series overall and decide whether you like it or not. It really captures the spirit of the anthology series overall and is a great litmus test for newbies.

The story involves a man (played by Wyatt Russell, aka John Walker aka ‘Discount Captain America’ from The Falcon and the Winter Soldier) who signs up to test a new game technology. And since this is Black Mirror, things go terribly wrong. Because of course, they do. It’s Black Mirror. Horrifying technology is this series’ whole schtick. Which is another reason why this is a great place to start.

Why You Maybe Shouldn’t

As I said, it’s pretty average. But if it wows you, you’ll probably love a lot of the series. It’s up to you if you want to start with a middle-of-the-road episode or something different that might not represent the series overall.

USS Callister
04×01

Where to Star Black Mirror USS CallisterWhy You Should Start Here

What if Star Trek TOS, but EVIL.   

Okay, the Star Trek world created in this episode is actually an artificial reality, but the dated science fiction part of it is generally the overarching vibe of the whole thing. The major theme explored in the episode is the horrors of artificial reality and artificial intelligence, but it’s dressed in an exciting Star Trek TOS dressing that just elevates the whole thing to a fun new level. Like all other Black Mirror episodes, it can be pretty dark, but it balances it fairly well and even has some moments of humor that aren’t always present in other Black Mirror stories.

Oh, and it also won four Emmy’s:

  • Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Limited Series or Movie
  • Outstanding Sound Editing for a Limited Series, Movie or Special
  • Outstanding Television Movie
  • Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie or Dramatic Special

So, like, it’s pretty darn good.

Why You Maybe Shouldn’t

If you don’t vibe with Star Trek… well, you should watch this one anyway. I really have no good reason that you shouldn’t start here, except that I happen to like other episodes better personally. This one is universally loved by most major critics, though. So it’s a pretty darn great place to start if the others on this list aren’t your vibe.

Black Mirror Season Four Trailer

This trailer contains tidbits from the USS Callister episode as well as the five other episodes in season four.

15 Million Merits
01×02

Where to Star Black Mirror 15 Million MeritsWhy You Should Start Here

This is the only episode from the first season that I’d put on this list, because generally, the show was still trying to find its footing and vibe at that time. This episode, however, was a tone-setter and remains one of the more popular episodes of the whole series. If you want to stick to the actual episode release order as soon as possible, maybe watch this one first, and then go back to episode one, and then carry on from there in release order. It’s a much better introduction to the series.

Fifteen Million Merits tackles dystopian themes, the struggle for fame and privilege, and classism. The episode takes place in a world where people can earn ‘merits’ by peddling an exercise bike, which also helps power their surroundings. People can earn their way out of this repetitive life by winning a reality TV competition, but it’s not a great experience for anybody involved. Again, this is Black Mirror and horrifying technology is the overarching theme here, so expect the journey of digging their way out of this dystopia to feel pretty bleak.

It also stars Daniel Kaluuya, who went on to star in Get Out, so if you enjoyed him in that film you should check him out here before he got super famous. Again, Black Mirror seems to grab these actors right before mainstream recognition strikes, and it’s sort of fun to see them shine in this series.

Why You Maybe Shouldn’t

Like USS Callister, my only caution against it is my own personal preference. Critics and other Black Mirror fans love this episode, though, so don’t attach yourself to my personal metric alone. Give it a shot if it sounds appealing to you. It’s highly praised for a reason that goes beyond my personal preferences.

Why Shouldn’t I Start Black Mirror with Other Episodes?

By all means, if you find another episode that appeals to you more, you should certainly start there. But if you don’t vibe with that episode, don’t give up. Try one of the above episodes based on either my personal preferences (San Junipero, Shut Up and Dance, Playtest) or the other critics’ choices (15 Million Merits, USS Callister). Then if you truly truly do not like it after that, well, maybe the series isn’t for you. The episodes are so different though that I’d recommend watching a few different ones before writing the series off completely.

Likewise, if you are a fan of the series and would recommend a different starting episode, feel free to comment below! I tried to outline my reasons for and against each episode, including trigger warnings, and I even included a few that aren’t personal recommendations but based on critical praise. But there’s a ton of options for where to begin, so tell us yours!

Black Mirror Season Five Trailer

None of the episodes from Season Five made it onto my list but the trailer is genuinely great and I think these episodes should be high on your list even if they aren’t the ones you start with. Hope you enjoy the series wherever you begin!

 

Author: Angel Wilson

Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. They earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. They have contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. They’ve also written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. They identify as queer.


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