Black Mirror

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Black Mirror
Black mirror logo.png
Black Mirror title Sequence [url text]
Type Television Series
Launch Date December 4th, 2011-Present
Status active
Product Line Television Series
Platform Channel 4, Netflix
Website text

Black Mirror is a British science fiction television series written by Charlie Booker and Annabel Jones. The series has received global recognition, particularly in the United States, after it was purchased by and made available on Netflix. Black Mirror explores potential and imagined unforeseen consequences of advances in technology, generally, but not always, presenting a dystopian outlook with social commentary. The series’ episodes are anthological and standalone with each episode containing a different narrative and set of characters. Each episode centers around a new concept or socio-technical advancement. Black Mirror has an overarching theme of digital technology. It’s name stems from the illustration of a turned off screen, many of which control peoples’ lives. It is a haunting screen, a black mirror in fact. [1]There are 19 total episodes of the show spread between four seasons. Seasons 1 and 2 appeared on British television station Channel 4 in 2011 and 2013 and were then added to Netflix in 2014. In 2015, Netflix purchased the series, commissioning two more seasons that were released in 2015 and 2017, respectively. Black Mirror was renewed for a fifth season in March of 2018. The television series has won multiple Emmy awards and other accolades including BAFTAs, SAG Awards, GLAAD awards, and more.[2]

Season 1

Promotional poster for The National Anthem

Season 1 was released in 2011 and contains three episodes. Episode 1 of Season 1, The National Anthem, first aired on Channel 4 December 4th, 2011. [3] It was critically acclaimed, receiving an A rating from the A.V. Club. [4] The episode's central storyline depicted the coercion of a prime minister to an act of broadcasted bestiality with a pig in order to save a member of the royal family. The episode paralleled allegations in 2015 that UK prime minister David Cameron placed "“a private part of his anatomy” into a dead pig’s mouth.”[5] Subsequent episodes contended with materialism and exploitation of human labor in a technologically-advanced world, as well as alienation, and technology that consistently requires personal data to be handed over. Episode 2, "Fifteen Million Merits", depicts a world where the lives of working-class people consist of riding a stationary bike in order to earn "merits" that are redeemable for various goods. The main characters work together to earn enough merits to appear on a talent show in an attempt to escape the slave-like lifestyle they currently endure, only to come to the realization that their society is artificial and materialistic. Episode 3, "The Entire History of You", depicts the pitfalls of a world where memories are readily available, and the increased societal reliance on technology to shape reactions and behaviors in personal relationships. [6]

Season 2

Series 2 Episode 3's Waldo being likened to Donald Trump

Season 2 of Black Mirror first aired in February 2013 [7] and contains four episodes, with Episode 1, Be Right Back, telling the story of a technological service that allowed users to stay in touch with their fallen loved ones, post-death. The thematic content of the episode raised questions about the recreation and preservation of identity through technology. Episode 3, The Waldo Moment, tells of a satirical cartoon figure that gains popularity through its brash humor, and eventually gains a surprising amount of ground in a governmental election. The episode touched on the larger impact of internet exchanges on political discourse, and the mixing of modern rhetoric with traditional political ideas. It was likened to the 2016 American Presidential election, with some claiming that Donald Trump beheld a similar troll-like character to the cartoon entity, Waldo, depicted in the episode.[8]The season also explores developing identities with online assistance, extracting human intelligence and putting it to use, as well as widespread content blocking across one’s personal environment.

An extended length special, "White Christmas," debuted following season 2. It involves ethical issues such as artificial intelligence and technology-driven torture and manipulation. In the episode, technologies called “Eye Link” and “Z-Eyes” allow one to view through the eyes of someone else, which has been likened to an advanced version of Google Glass and a form of virtual reality.[9] In her review of the episode, Alessandra Stanley of The New York Times discusses the morality that is explored in the episode, about how “science has found a more foolproof way to impose a restraining order or punish a criminal — a block that blurs and mutes unwanted people (friends, relatives, enemies) so they are reduced to indistinct, harmless shapes emitting muffled sounds.” [10] This relates to virtual reality in the context of prison, where VR is used as punishment rather than support.

Season 3

Charlie Booker accepting his Emmy for San Junipero

Season 3, released in October 2016, and was the first series released under Netflix ownership. It contains six episodes that capture many of the burgeoning concerns about the proliferation of technology.

Episode 1, Nosedive, alludes to the everyday effects of being absorbed in public feedback and curating a polished identity on social media, while struggling to build a notable network. It also portrays a world where clout is capable of directly determining one’s social standing, as well as what they’re able to consume, where they can live, and how they travel. Episode 2, Playtest, captures the haphazard approach of Tech Companies in implementing and testing new technologies, and the way profound new devices with life-changing effects are being tested on human subjects with little to no ethical consideration. Episode 4, San Junipero, won a Primetime Emmy award for the TV series [11], telling of a love story that lives forever through an online platform hosting artificial consciousness. It alludes to technology as a divine figure, as well as the ramifications of simulating life and consciousness.[12] "Shut Up and Dance" involves ethics-related issues such as information security, ransomware, and sextortion. The main character's computer is infected with malware and an anonymous party tracks his web activity and uses his webcam to record him.[13] In her analysis of the episode, Maryna Babych of Rush Digital notes how the episode "highlights the issues of cybersecurity and web anonymity" and how Black Mirror is "doing a good job of promoting the issue and potentially encouraging real-life victims to contact authorities for help."[14]

Season 4

An advert for the series finale of series 4

Season 4 of Black Mirror, released on December 29th, 2017, contains six episodes.[15] The first episode, "USS Callister," is largely set in a Star-Trek-like simulated reality that is used as a sandbox for a sadistic technology executive, alluding to the issues presented with simulating alternate realities online, and the depth of what it means to have consciousness and existence within virtual spaces. Episode two, "Arkangel", concerns parenting and the liquid surveillance enabled by modern technology, theorizing the conflicts that occurs when parents can indulge in the act of tracking their child’s every move. Episode 3, "Crocodile," is similar to "The Entire History of You" from the first season, and touches on the consequences of a world where information is consistently available to be hijacked and used to manipulate others. Episode 4, titled "Hang the DJ," showcases the idea of virtual simulation, through the use of trial relationships given to people by a digital companion named Coach. John C. Havens, executive director of the IEEE Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems, notes that the episode affirms the importance of being protected before entering and during a virtual simulation.[16] In “Hang the DJ,” the two main characters are unbeknownst trapped in a simulation. Episode 5, Metalhead, explores the issues of technology in surveillance, and what occurs when we put artificial agents with unknown reasoning patterns in charge of administering discipline. Episode 6, "Black Museum," is an amalgamation of other themes from all other episodes, referencing the continual consequences of companies and other corporate entities developing new technologies at the expense of the exploitation of those willing to test it.[17]

Season 5

Black Mirror season 5 was released June 5, 2019. It was intended to be released in January of 2019. However, the release date continues to be pushed back and is currently listed as the release date being December 2019. It is unknown whether this push back was necessary because of the release of Bandersnatch. There were three episodes in the season, shorter than previous seasons. Episode 1 of the season, the 20th episode of the show, is called "Striking Vipers." It centers around a virtual reality game that brings to old friends together sexually, and causes problems within one of their marriages. The show brings up the juxtaposition of virtual reality and physical reality, and the inconsistencies in relationships among other things that occur between the two. Episode 2 "Smithereens", and the 21st episode of the show, explores the theme of the physical harms social media can have on one's life. It demonstrates this through a story that follows Chris, a man who lost his fiancé in a car accident while checking a social media notification, as well as Hayley, who loses her daughter to suicide and attempts to access her online profile throughout the episode. The final episode of the season "Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too", explores the realm of cloning in a future reality. Popstar Ashley O is cloned as Ashley Too, who rescues her from being manipulated and murdered by her manager.

The Black Mirror Movie: Bandersnatch

In late December of 2018, Netflix released a Black Mirror movie, written by Charlie Brooker. The movie is interactive in that the viewers can decide the fate of the actors through remote controlled choices. The main character, Stefan Butler (played by Fionn Whitehead), is a programmer who plays a video game that was supposed to be created in the real world, Imagine Software, but failed to make it to stores after the company went bankrupt. There are an infinite amount of ending in the show, and Netflix has left it up to the viewer to find out all of the possibilities. Netflix had to create new device memory technology in order for the interaction movie to work. Buffering was something that they had to work to avoid, making sure to prioritize seamless transitions from one screen to the next. The movie took two years to make.

Because this is one of the first kinds of movies that are interactive, many viewers are extremely excited for its release. However, when the actual movie came out, viewers became frustrated because some endings were not as satisfying as others. In order to choose a different path throughout the movie, the viewer would have to fast forward to the part where they would make a decision, which was extremely frustrating for many people. However, this movie laid the foundation for interactive movies. Netflix and other popular streaming services are now diving deep into "Choose Your Own Adventure" films and television shows. Most notably, Netflix has released a shower with Man Vs. Wild star and adventurer Bear Grylls titled "You Vs. Wild" in which the viewer decides where Bear Grylls will go, and what he will do after being dropped in a remote area.

Ethics in Black Mirror

New technologies always yield consequences that are often unanticipated during their release. Black Mirror focuses on the darker side of these technologies and continues to force viewers to address the unease that they have about these technologies. In addition, the series eerily convinces viewers that these technologies are closer than we think, by integrating parallels from each world depicted in the episodes and the current world.


Critics are concerned that the show is overly disdainful of the onset of modern technologies in society. Journalist Fran Sign posited that watching Black Mirror was predicated on viewers looking down upon the subjects of the episodes as if they didn't share similarities with them. [18] In a Vulture article written by Kathryn VanArendonk, she explains how while she thinks Booker’s plotlines are impressive, they too often rely on the simple crutch of making blanket statements about how society is bad. [19] The TV series focuses on the negative aspects of technology, causing many to feel uncomfortable about the increase in technology.

A comparison of Pizza Hut's delivery vehicle (left) to the one in Series 4's Crocodile (right)

With this criticism in mind, writers and producers Charlie Booker and Annabel Jones say they’re not aiming to predict the future or cast a depressingly dystopian shadow on the future of technology. Their ideas come out of whimsical “What if?” Scenarios.[20] The show has been credited for its uncanny parallels to a wide variety of current events related to technology. China’s system of social credit scores was thought to pose resemblance to Series 3’s Nosedive, and Pizza Hut's release of an automated pizza delivery vehicle was likened to Series 4’s Crocodile. [21]

Despite all of these parallels, the dystopia represented my Black Mirror does much more than put a damper of viewers’ perspective of the future of technology. It helps to explore the ethics that society currently ignores, but will be inevitably necessary as technology continues to develop.

Punishment Through Technology

The “Black Museum” episode of Black Mirror explores themes of abuse of technological beings. The electrocution of prisoner Leigh is unpleasant to watch in the show, but it raises a bigger question. Should the rights of this holographic person be protected? Or is the hologram not human enough to be given rights?

The electrocution of the holographic being is a form of punishment, that people have taken into their own hands. In addition, the exhibition in the museum is giving visitors the opportunity to torture someone without consequences. The episode “White Bear” depicts something similar, as the main character continues to be tortured on repeat, though in a different manner. Similarly to “Black Museum,” this episode is exploring whether or not this punishment using technology truly fits the crime. Perhaps the desire to watch people be punished is a nod to the sadism society has.

This view of the justice system is also illustrated in the episode “White Christmas.” The criminal is subjected to yet another loop of punishment, though he has been transformed into code. Despite the fact that his being is constructed of code, he is punished as if he were a human. The punishers wanted to see this “person” be punished, revealing their design for suffering.

Trolling & Blackmail

Trolling Graphic

In the third episode of Black Mirror's third season titled "Shut Up and Dance", many important ethical issues regarding technology arise. Topics such as Trolling, Blackmailing, and Anonymity are all prominent themes throughout the episode. The episode begins in presumably present day with a young teen named Kenny, whose sister steals his laptop and through the use of questionable websites, unknowingly gets a virus on his computer. The virus allows a group of hackers to get full access of Kenny's screen and webcam, and captures Kenny masterbating to pornography that is eventually revealed to be underage pornography. The contents of the episode consist of these hackers emailing/texting Kenny and forcing him to do a variety of tasks, beginning with simple something simple such as delivering a cake, then escalating up to armed robbery and murder. Throughout his day, it is revealed to Kenny that these hackers have information on countless people, and are blackmailing all of them as well. At the end of the episode, after Kenny fought and killed another man off camera, his mother can be seen calling him and screaming at him, in regards to an email she received from the hackers. After hanging up and not saying a word, the hackers send Kenny the popular "Troll Face" meme and is arrested. Afterwards, there is a compilation of all of the other people be blackmailed receiving the same text [22].

The episode shows the full extent and power of blackmail and trolling, especially through tools such as the internet and technology. There is also a strong emphasis on shame and guilt, and the power that it has over humanity. "Shut Up and Dance" is widely regarded as one of the most horrific and frightening episodes in all of Black Mirror for its chilling bluntness as well as its lack of sci-fi like content that many other episodes posses, implying that this experience could happen to anyone.

Channel 4 vs. Netflix

Channel 4

The first two seasons, on Channel 4, center around the tensions that arise between technological progress and human nature and how solutions to real problems can be perverted by society. This is exemplified in the episode “Be Right Back,” where a woman loses her husband in a car crash, only to replace him with a robot facsimile created from his social media data. This episode explores the loneliness and grief that occurs when losing a loved one. The robot facsimile is not a perfect substitute and causes more emotional damage to the protagonist after losing her husband. In the episode “The Entire History of You,” the issue of poor memory recollection is solved by “the grain,” a small implant that records everything a person sees. This allows the government in the episode to more easily spy on their citizens and enables the protagonist to discover that his wife is cheating on him and that his daughter is not actually his.The first two seasons of Black Mirror are about the cost of technological progress.

The message shifts in the later two seasons when the show was bought by Netflix. The challenging, thought-provoking questions from the original seasons have shifted into scenarios and plots that exemplify the downsides of new technologies. This is displayed in the episode “Playtest,” where a man agrees to test an experimental video game that ends up killing him. This episode focuses more on the disadvantages of new technology and emphasizes specific stances on technology. In this case, an ultra-realistic video game ultimately ends up impacting reality. The same could be said of the episode “Nosedive” where a woman chases social media validation to her own detriment. These episodes focus on the harmful effects technology can have on humanity.


  1. McGarrigle, Lia. “Here's What the Title of 'Black Mirror' Really Means.” [1] Highsnobiety, 28 Mar. 2018
  2. “Black Mirror.” [2] Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Mar. 2018
  3. “The National Anthem (Black Mirror).” [3] Wikipedia Foundation, 28 Mar. 2018
  4. Sims, David. “Black Mirror: The National Anthem” [4] TV Club, 13 Nov. 2013
  5. James Slack, Home Affairs Editor for the Daily Mail. “Revenge! Drugs, Debauchery and the Book That Lays Dave Bare: How PM's Snub to Billionaire Who Funded the Tories for Years Sparked the Most Explosive Political Book of the Decade.” [5] Daily Mail Online, Associated Newspapers, 21 Sept. 2015
  6. Brooker, Charlie. “Black Mirror.” [6] Netflix Official Site, 25 Dec. 2015
  7. “Black Mirror.” [7] Wikipedia, 28 Mar. 2018
  8. “Black Mirror: The Unexpected Foresight of The Waldo Moment.” [8] Den of Geek, 5 Jan. 2018
  9. Wollaston, Sam. “Black Mirror: White Christmas – review: the funny, freaky, tragic near-future.”[9] The Guardian. 17 Dec 2014
  10. Stanley, Alessandra. “The Future, Twisted Just Enough: A ‘Black Mirror’ Christmas Tale on DirecTV.”[10] New York Times, 24 Dec 2014.
  11. Tiffany, Kaitlyn. “Netflix's Black Mirror Wins Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series.” [11] The Verge, The Verge, 18 Sept. 2017
  12. Brooker, Charlie. “Black Mirror.” [12] Netflix Official Site, 25 Dec. 2015
  13. Gilbert, Sophie. "Black Mirror’s ‘Shut Up and Dance’ Is a Horrifying Thriller."[13] The Atlantic, 21 Oct 2016.
  14. Babych, Maryna. "Fiction, Not Prediction: Lessons on Ethics and Technology From Black Mirror."[14] Rush Digital, 6 Dec 2016.
  15. “The National Anthem (Black Mirror).” [15] Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Mar. 2018
  16. Han, Angie. “What an AI ethics experience thinks of ‘Black Mirror’ Season 4.”[16] Mashable. 12 Jan 2018.
  17. Brooker, Charlie. “Black Mirror.”[17] Netflix Official Site, 25 Dec. 2015
  18. Singh, Fran. “Black Mirror: Brooker's Disdain for Absolutely Everything Is Wearing Thin.” [18] HuffPost UK, 4 Feb. 2012
  19. VanArendonk, Kathryn. “The Case Against Black Mirror.” Vulture
  20. CHARLIE BROOKER REFLECTS ON BLACK MIRROR'S DARK VISIONS: Black Mirror taps into the future - or at least what it could look like. But co-creators Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones tell Gemma Dunn their hit show is more about homing in on the world's collective sense of unease ON THE SCREEN SMALL. (2017). Nottingham Evening Post.
  21. White, Catriona. “A Driverless Pizza Van Is the Latest Black Mirror Prediction to Come True.” BBC News, 10 Jan. 2018