Black Mirror's Bittersweet Endings Are More Powerful Than Its Cruel Twists
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It’s notable, though, that some of the show’s least popular episodes are those that go too far to one extreme or the other when it comes to their ending – either a happy ending, which disappoints viewers who enjoy the show because of its dark twists, or a conclusion too bleak and dark to be satisfying.

Only one Black Mirror episode has an unambiguously happy ending; ‘Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too’ (we’ll come to ‘San Junipero’, ‘USS Callister’ or ‘Hang the DJ’). It’s one of the series’ less popular episodes in its least well-received season to date, largely because the story is mostly fun and adventurous, with a completely cathartic happy ending. This makes it feel more like a teen adventure story than an episode of Black Mirror. Too much happiness, many fans feel, is just not what this show is about.

The Bleakest Stories

On the other end of the scale, some of the episodes with the least enthusiastic defenders are its most bleak. ‘The Waldo Moment’, a dystopian political satire in which a digitally animated bear runs for election and almost wins, ends with the protagonist homeless and being viciously attacked by police. It’s an extremely downbeat conclusion that could perhaps have made the same point without the extra-cynical stinger. ‘Crocodile’, a Scandi-noir story about a woman who kills multiple people including a young child while trying to conceal evidence of a previous murder, has an entirely unsympathetic protagonist and a deeply depressing ending that many find miserable and unpleasant. Soldier virtual reality story ‘Men Against Fire’ combines a predictable halfway-point twist with a bleak ending that makes it both unmemorable and a chore to re-watch.

Other episodes with very dark endings have proved extremely divisive. ‘Shut Up And Dance’, an online blackmailing saga that ends with two paedophiles being forced to fight to the death to protect their despicable secret, which gets revealed regardless, combines the gut punches of ‘The National Anthem’ and ‘White Bear’. Like ‘White Bear,’ the ending also reveals that the protagonist we have been following and rooting for has committed a despicable crime against children, turning our understanding of what we are watching upside down. But while this combination of two dark twists impresses some viewers, it leaves others feeling that the nihilism of the whole thing is too much.

‘Metalhead’ is another divisive episode which frequently appears low on ranking lists. Set in the future, it presents us with a miserable world full of desperate, unhappy people who are all killed in a life-or-death search for a little bit of comfort for a dying child (harm to children is a regular theme in the series’ darkest endings). There’s a lot to enjoy in this instalment, which has minimal dialogue, is filmed in black and white, and features a fantastic central performance from Maxine Peake, but for some it’s simply too bleak to enjoy.

Just How Happy Is That Happy Ending?

What about the Black Mirror episodes with happy endings? There are fewer than we might think. Take ‘Hang the DJ’, a dating app story in which protagonists Amy and Frank meet, fall in love, and break out of their heavily regulated world together and escape to freedom. Hooray! Until… they disappear. Frank and Amy are not biological humans, but digital clones, one couple out of 1000, 998 of whom have succeeded in escaping only to be destroyed, just to provide the biological Frank and Amy with a statistic stating they have a 99.8% chance of falling in love. These intelligent, sentient “cookies” like those seen in other episodes, get destroyed when they reach their objective. Thousands of them, all slaughtered to provide guidance on a dating app?

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