By the way, just quickly, we can’t stress this enough: SPOILER ALERT!! What follows below is a series of full spoilers for various episodes of Black Mirror, including plot details from episodes of every season of the show. We urge you not to read on unless a) you’re very, very careful to avoid the details of the ones you haven’t seen yet, or b) you’ve seen all 19 episodes of the show and you’re just here to either remind yourself of the show’s greatest twist or see if you agree with our picks. Okay, are we all good? Has everybody susceptible to Black Mirror spoilers left the page? All right, then let’s move on. A huge factor in the success of Black Mirror – our modern day Twilight Zone for the social media era – is its signature plot twists. Everybody loves a good plot twist. You have your mind blown, your perception of the world shattered, your jaw dropped – it’s awesome. And you can always rely on Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker to provide you with an incredible plot twist. Each episode has a few things that seem a little bit off or just slightly don’t make sense or add up. But then at the end of the story, you realize that this was all intentional. You’ve been led to believe the story was going one way, and then it’ll suddenly make a left turn. Everything will become clear in soul-crushing, brain-exploding ways. How Brooker does it is truly remarkable. So, here are the 10 greatest plot twists in the history of Black Mirror. Again, just in case you missed the first one, SPOILER ALERT!
10. Black Museum – she’s not just some stranger…
“Black Museum” is a special kind of Black Mirror episode. For starters, it’s rammed with Easter eggs that have gotten fans all excited that all of the episodes of the show take place within the same universe. A seemingly random woman is broken down at the side of the road when she comes across a museum filled with exhibits and artefacts from previous episodes of the show, which led everyone to believe it ties the whole Black Mirror universe together. There’s a hanging artist from “The National Anthem,” the bloody bathtub from “Crocodile,” the lollipop from “USS Callister,” the ADIs from “Hated in the Nation,” the tablet computer from “Arkangel,” and many, many more. The proprietor of the museum tells three seemingly unrelated stories about a machine that makes you feel someone else’s pain, transferring someone’s consciousness into the back of your mind (and then into a neglected teddy bear), and a death row inmate whose hologram became the main exhibit of the museum, where visitors can put him through the pain of the electric chair again and again and again. That’s when it’s revealed that this seemingly random girl is the death row inmate’s daughter and her mother’s consciousness lives in the back of her mind. So, they use the pain machine to put the museum proprietor through the pain he put her father through. They say that revenge is a dish best served cold. In “Black Museum,” it’s served ice cold.
9. The National Anthem – the kidnapper released the princess long before the Prime Minister made love to a pig
“The National Anthem” was the very first episode of Black Mirror. It’s also one of the least Black Mirror-y ones, since there’s not much of a reliance on technology or near future settings. It’s a modern day story that could easily happen today. Charlie Brooker had originally written another script about war to be the first episode of his new anthology sci-fi horror series, but the network rejected it and almost pulled the plug completely, so he quickly wrote a new script, one about a princess being kidnapped on the condition that she would be released if the Prime Minister had sex with a pig on live television. This was four whole years before David Cameron’s Piggate scandal, so it was a classic example of a Black Mirror episode that was made before its time. What’s great about the episode is that it holds a mirror up to society by showing them that they always focus on the wrong thing. The twist ending here is that the kidnapper is an artist who orchestrated the whole thing as an elaborate art piece – and it all worked out exactly to plan. He actually released the princess an hour before the Prime Minister was due to make his television appearance, but everyone was so preoccupied with that broadcast that no one even noticed and he had to go through with it.
8. Hated in the Nation – the ADIs kill everyone who used the #DeathTo hashtag
The episode “Hated in the Nation” is a cautionary tale (as with most Black Mirror episodes), this time about the dangers of the mob mentality that is brought about by Twitter hashtags. Sometimes it can be a good thing – Twitter’s trending hashtags helped to popularize the #MeToo movement and make huge change to the epidemic of sexual abuse going on in the world. But sometimes it can be bad. In “Hated in the Nation,” the spreading hashtag #DeathTo is really, really bad. Someone is hacking ADIs (robotic bees) and using them to kill the person who is mentioned the most times in any given day with the #DeathTo hashtag, be they a journalist who said insensitive things about a disabled activist or an immature teenager who took a picture where they pretended to pee on a war memorial or a rapper who crushed a little boy’s spirit. But in the end, it is revealed what the ADI hacker’s plan really is – to send the robot bees out to kill everyone who used the #DeathTo hashtag (which is over 300,000 people). Every single viewer’s heart sinks the second this is revealed and all the little red dots on the map on the computer start to spread across the country. And what’s more: a scientist has actually created these hackable robots now. The inventor Dr. Shashi Shekhar explained, “Hacking is a security issue, so if the bees’ controls are hacked, they can be put to a damaging purpose. All you need is a sting – and that sting can deliver a chemical.” Well, that’s just great, isn’t it?
7. Men Against Fire – the roaches are people!
When an audience watches the episode “Men Against Fire” and they’re sitting around the TV, observing the story of soldiers going from town to town, smoking out the monsters (or “roaches”) and shooting them dead, and then they see the lead character Stripe’s perception of them change after the technology in his armor starts to go weird, and we realize that these so-called “roaches” have just been normal people this whole time, there’s a resounding: “Oh my God! What a twist! Who saw that coming?!” Because it’s so crazy! But then once it’s been established and you get over it, it makes total sense. The bureaucratic state that controls the military wants all the poor people dead, so they send in some soldiers to execute them. But since the soldiers are actually there on the frontlines doing the killing, it actually affects their mind and soul. So, they created a chip and implanted it in the soldiers’ heads to make them see the innocent, defenseless people as vicious, bloodthirsty monsters. Governments have been doing that for years – with Iraq, with Syria, with the Gulf War, the Nazis did it in World War II. It’s crazy, it’s mind-boggling, and it’s startlingly relevant. It’s like Soylent Green. In Soylent Green, the quote is: “Soylent Green is people!” When you watch “Men Against Fire,” you say, “Roaches are people!”
6. Men Against Fire – and Stripe chose to ignore them
In the episode “Men Against Fire,” you get two shocking, earth-shattering, mind-blowing plot twists for the price of one! It’s one thing when you realize that the so-called “roaches” are really just normal people who the state want to have executed. But then you realize that the character Stripe actually knew exactly what he was signing up for and accepted it was a callous attitude. As he watches this back over again, he instantly regrets it and wishes he could go back, but he can’t, because then he would remember all the terrible things he’s done as they happened. The episode and its script were based on Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall’s writings about the psychological effects of the act of killing. In his book, also titled Men Against Fire, he writes about how 70% of the soldiers in World War II didn’t fire their weapons, and when most of the other 30% did, they were aiming above the enemy’s heads. Charlie Brooker read this and came up with a technology that would turn the so-called enemies into horrible, snarling monsters to get their soldiers to shoot without caring about it. But when you see the footage from earlier on in the episode played back again, but how it actually happened, with terrified people getting brutally shot dead without a second thought, it’s really harrowing. This brainwashing chip is almost like how Hitler made his Nazi soldiers see the Jews as monsters with frightening and vastly inaccurate propaganda. It plays on interesting themes. But it’s also a harrowing and shocking twist – the second in the space of one episode!
5. The Entire History of You – she DID sleep with Jonas
If you had access to all of your memories as video clips and you could watch them at any time you want and you can also watch anyone else’s memories as video clips, it would never end well. You’d use them to drive yourself crazy. People do that with their memories anyway. They remember something that niggled them a little bit and they get transfixed on it and they use it to start arguments and fall out with people and go nuts. So, if you had actual, tangible, real video evidence to show for these memories, it would only exacerbate those angers and frustrations and insecurities. Well, that’s exactly what happens in “The Entire History of You.” Throughout the whole episode, Toby Kebbell is a hundred percent sure that his wife Jodie Whittaker (who, by the way, is about the become the next Doctor in the new season of Doctor Who – the first ever female one) is lying to him about her feelings for her ex-lover Jonas. The whole time, she tells him that he’s being crazy and he needs to forget about it – and we think he’s just being insane and jealous and he needs to let it go. But then we find out that she did sleep with him! She cheated on Toby Kebbell with Jonas and there’s video evidence in both of their minds!
4. Crocodile – the guinea pig saw everything
There’s a term that’s used in screenwriting practice: “plant and payoff.” It means that everything the writer plants in the script has to pay off in some form or another at the end. It’s kind of like the Chekhov’s gun plot device, the idea that everything in the story has to have a purpose for being there. Anton Chekhov says that if you have a gun hanging on the wall, then at some point in the story, it has to be fired (exactly like in Shaun of the Dead). So, if you have a character’s husband buy them a guinea pig, the guinea pig has to play a pivotal point in the plot. That’s exactly what happens in Black Mirror’s “Crocodile” episode. An insurance agent is going around, collecting grainy video footage of people’s memories from their brains, because people can do that in this world, and she gets killed by one of her witnesses when she sees something in their head that she shouldn’t have. This has a knock-on effect. If the police can extract memories as video footage, then they can see the perpetrator of any crime in the memories of any witnesses – or they can see where missing people were heading from other people’s memories. It would be an invaluable tool to criminal investigators. So, this murderous character has to kill her victim’s husband who knew she was going there, and then when she reaches an extreme low point, she kills the baby who saw her face (or so she thinks). The investigating police officers reveal that the baby was born blind, so it didn’t actually see anything – but the guinea pig saw everything. Plant and payoff! It’s one of the most brutally ironic moments in Black Mirror – not only is she going to get caught anyway despite killing a baby to prevent that from happening, but the baby didn’t even see anything, because it was blind!
3. White Christmas – the kid wasn’t really his
There are a number of twists in the Christmas special of Black Mirror, “White Christmas,” but it’s possible that the most shocking is the reveal that Rafe Spall’s daughter, who he’s been watching from afar as a pixelated silhouette for years, is not really his daughter – she’s the daughter of his Asian friend, who it turns out had been involved in an affair with his girlfriend the whole time that they were together. The “blocking” concept in “White Christmas” is interesting, because you can block people on Facebook, so it probably won’t be long before you can block people in real life. In five or ten years, this will be a contemporary story. Other great twists in “White Christmas” include the reveal at the very end that this Arctic snowbound outpost is really one of those eggs that Jon Hamm was talking about, and he’s just there to get a confession out of Rafe Spall’s consciousness in order to ensure his own freedom. And then there’s the twist after that, when we find that even though Hamm will be released, he’s been put on the sex offender registry, which in the world where “blocking” is possible, means that he is blocked off from everyone and they all see him as a red silhouette, so they know what kind of guy he is. What a life.
2. Playtest – he died after 0.04 seconds
“Playtest” was directed by Dan Trachtenberg, who also gave us the phenomenal and chilling 10 Cloverfield Lane. It stars Wyatt Russell, son of Kurt, as Cooper, a tourist who finds himself strapped for cash. He goes on an app that finds odd jobs for people who need some quick cash and signs up to be the subject of a test for a new video game that puts you in an augmented reality. The whole episode, he’s been getting calls from his mom and ignoring them. When the test begins, she calls again and the testers turn the phone off. They take Cooper through various stages of the test and then take him out to a mansion in the middle of nowhere to try the proper game. Over the course of his night in the house, he is subjected to all of the deepest fears in his mind and then demands to be taken out of the game. Then he realizes the chip in his head is just a placebo and the guiding voice is all in his head and he gets dragged away – but then he wakes up back in the gaming company’s head office and he’s all right. He calms down, flies home, and finally goes to see his mom. But everything is not as it seems. We discover that the call from his mom is actually what killed him, and he’s been dead since 0.04 seconds into the test. Charlie Brooker admits that he added in the twist after reading a criticism by Mallory Ortberg who wrote, “Next on Black Mirror: What if phones, but too much?” Brooker said to himself, “Right, that’s what I’m going to do. Let’s do that episode!”
1. White Bear – she’s being punished at a sadistic theme park
The stunning, mind-blowing plot twist at the end of “White Bear” – that the lead character is not caught in some frightening apocalypse, but rather just stuck in a sadistic theme park, being used as a tourist attraction – almost didn’t even happen. Charlie Brooker had written it to follow the simple apocalyptic premise. But then he got to the location where they were due to shoot it, and he noticed a fence around the whole thing, and then his mind was blown wide open and he had the idea that this could be punishment for her having stood by and filmed a horrific crime that her fiancé committed against a young girl they had abducted. She’s been sentenced to endure these brutal trials every day while everyone just stands by and films her on their phones, before having her memory wiped every night so they can do it all over again. It’s an elaborate way of asking her, “How does it feel, huh?” And this whole thing has become a tourist attraction that people show up in droves to see. This last minute change opened up the script to including the Moors murders allusion and the “eye for an eye” lesson and how if we treat criminals this way, then we are no better than them and everyone in the world is terrible. If a plot twist is able to do all of that, then it’s quite a plot twist.