Binge-Watch ‘Black Mirror’ With These Strain Pairings
No matter how you voted on November 8th, I think we can all agree that we’re about to enter a period of uncertainty in the United States. And with increasing worries that social media may have negatively contributed to the outcome of the U.S. presidential election, society’s over-reliance on the ease of technology is being regarded with a critical eye. So what better way to pounce on these sentiments than by binge-watching the critically acclaimed UK series Black Mirror, a drama that feels like a 21st century Twilight Zone with an emphasis on the potential downsides of the comforts that modern technology provides to the masses.
Those of you who are already feeling down probably want nothing to do with a run of episodes that offers a bleak mind trip and almost never ends on a happy note. But if you’re a fan of sci-fi, engaging storytelling, and wallowing in your own head space, you’ll definitely appreciate these 13 episodes stretched across three seasons and a Christmas special. Catch up on the show, which recently debuted its third and final season, on Netflix.
To help get you through your viewing journey, I’ve ranked each episode in order of personal preference (weakest to strongest) and paired them with an appropriate strain that may further augment your experience.
“The National Anthem” (Season 1, Episode 1)
In my opinion, Black Mirror kicks off with its weakest episode of the bunch, but don’t let a rocky start deter you from continuing with the series. The episode centers on the Prime Minister as he learns that the Duchess of Beaumont, a beloved member of the Royal Family, is kidnapped, and her ransom involves the Prime Minister committing an eyebrow-raising act that will be broadcast live around the world in order to facilitate the princess’ safe release. In hindsight, however, the public’s obsession with a government scandal that feels like a distraction from actual policy and larger, more pertinent issues may resonate more strongly today than when the episode first aired in December 2011.
My Grade: C (graded on a Black Mirror curve; as a standalone story it’s closer to a B-); it’s an interesting premise but I find the Prime Minister’s actions to be too ludicrous to fully buy into
Strain Suggestion: The Hog, both for obvious reasons and because this indica will help you sink into the couch and bring back your appetite in case you lose it by episode’s end
“The Waldo Moment” (Season 2, Episode 3)
Another politically charged episode, this one may hit too close to home for disillusioned Americans. A comedian uses his character “Waldo,” a cartoon bear whose voice and movements he controls, to “interview” (translation: make fun of) politicians for a late-night comedy show. (Think Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, only more acerbic.) Waldo’s “anti-establishment” popularity increases rapidly, and the comedian struggles with his character’s growing global fame and how that may be impacting the political landscape. (Like I said, too close to home.)
My Grade: C+ (Black Mirror curve; as a standalone story it’s a B); honestly, it’s tough for me to critique this one in light of recent events, so I’ll just go ahead and say that it’s a solid tale but weaker than many of Black Mirror‘s other creative, impactful episodes
Strain Suggestion: Gummy Bears, because much like Waldo himself, this hybrid seems sweet but delivers potent effects, pulling you into a euphoric state to mask what could be a depressing reality
“Shut Up and Dance” (Season 3, Episode 3)
After his sister borrows his computer without asking and inadvertently downloads some viruses, a mild-mannered teenage boy installs a malware remover program on his laptop. The program, however, surreptitiously accesses his webcam and unseen forces behind the bunk anti-virus software soon begin blackmailing the teenager and forcing him to run a series of peculiar errands.
My Grade: B-; this episode takes the viewer on a pretty wild ride, but I’d argue that season 2’s episode “White Bear” accomplishes a similar plot turn with far greater effect
Strain Suggestion: Trainwreck, since the hybrid’s mind-bending, potent effects complement the fast-paced journey the teenager embarks on as we’re dragged along for the unexpected ride
“Playtest” (Season 3, Episode 2)
An American backpacking around the world stops in London for a few days, and when he runs into some problems accessing his bank funds, he picks up a temporary gig from an “Oddjobs” app. The job, posted by a popular video game company, involves him testing out some new immersive gaming technology that adapts to his thoughts and fears. Soon the backpacker finds himself navigating through what feels like a real-life horror video game scenario personally catered to him.
My Grade: B-; I enjoyed both the premise and the main actor (Wyatt Russell, son of Kurt!), but the ending veered too far into Rick and Morty territory (another show I love, but for Black Mirror, it felt like a disappointing retread)
Strain Suggestion: Game Changer, as the relaxing indica-dominant hybrid will keep you grounded while the game within this episode continues to ominously shift
“Hated in the Nation” (Season 3, Episode 6)
The final episode of Black Mirror, this entry’s runtime is as long as a feature length film, so settle in for this one. An investigator is tasked with looking into the peculiar death of a reviled journalist, and soon similar cases pop up, all tied to a trending #DeathTo hashtag on social media. The mystery leads her to a powerful tech company whose products are being used for nefarious purposes.
My Grade: B; the episode takes an interesting look at how the future could deal with real-life environmental concerns (namely, a threatened bee population), but the ending comes about somewhat abruptly, leaving me unsatisfied with its conclusion
Strain Suggestion: Headband, the popular hybrid that delivers slight pressure around the crown of the head for some consumers (it ties in well with this episode; you’ll see why)
“Men Against Fire” (Season 3, Episode 5)
A military squad is tasked with clearing out a house that may be secretly harboring “roaches,” mutated humanoid creatures that were a byproduct of a previous war’s use of biological weapons. One soldier struggles to kill a “roach,” but before he does, the roach flashes a device into his eyes. After returning from the successful mission, the soldier begins to experience some curious effects from the mysterious device that was used against him.
My Grade: B; a fascinating look at how ultra-modern technology would be implemented by the military, this episode strikes a chord for those of us who are watching racial tensions unfold across the globe with increasing unease
Strain Suggestion: Double Dream, a soothing, mentally invigorating hybrid that brings its consumer clear-headed functionality (an experience this episode’s protagonist gets most unexpectedly)
“Nosedive” (Season 3, Episode 1)
Written by Michael Schur and Rashida Jones (who produced and acted in The Office and Parks and Recreation, respectively), this episode kicks off season 3 with slightly more humor than other Black Mirror entries. In this reality, everyone rates each other’s popularity on a scale of one to five stars — think Uber, but across every interaction you have, not just how polite you are while hopping a ride from Point A to Point B. We follow Lacie (played by Bryce Dallas Howard), a woman who’s thrilled to be chosen by her more popular friend to be Maid of Honor at her wedding because she thinks it’ll boost her score. Naturally, her journey to the wedding goes awry, jeopardizing her chance at breaking into an elite ranking.
My Grade: B; I’m a fan of cringe-worthy situations (which is why the British version of The Office is one of my all-time favorites) and the episode ends on a surprisingly cathartic note by Black Mirror‘s standards, but some viewers may be turned off by our protagonist’s series of unfortunate events
Strain Suggestion: Rockstar, a strong indica-leaning strain that’s as popular with growers as the “rockstar” rating this episode’s characters desperately strive for
“White Bear” (Season 2, Episode 2)
A woman wakes up in a strange house with no memory of who she is or of the items placed around her. As she exits the house, she’s surrounded by silent strangers who do nothing but point their phones at her to record her actions. She’s soon chased by masked and armed intruders, and despite her pleas for help, the bystanders continue to do nothing but record her. The episode follows her harrowing journey to seek answers and attempt to escape this nightmare situation.
My Grade: B+; this one stuck with me for a while after I first watched it, and in my experience, the more I thought and reflected back on it, the stronger an entry it became
Strain Suggestion: Whiteout, an intensely euphoric hybrid strain that brings alert, focused effects, a perfect pairing for the episode’s main character as she struggles to piece together what’s happening to her
“Fifteen Million Merits” (Season 1, Episode 2)
In this reality, citizens must exercise on a stationary bike to power their surroundings while earning a form of currency called “merits.” Merits can be used to skip or ignore advertisements, and talented hopefuls can “win” their freedom by competing on a reality talent show called Hot Shots (which is basically like an American Idol or X Factor singing competition). One cyclist, who inherited 12 million merits from his deceased brother, encourages a woman he likes to compete on Hot Shots after he hears her lovely singing voice. He buys her way into the competition, but the results aren’t what either expects.
My Grade: B+; as absurd as the premise is (essentially forcing people to power the world’s energy sources like oversized hamsters on wheels, with overweight individuals being treated as second-class citizens), the episode’s emphasis on mindless entertainment and unskippable ads while society goes through the motions in a defeated routine feels like an ominous glimpse into a plausible future
Strain Suggestion: Good Medicine; they say that exercise is good medicine, but this blissful CBD hybrid should calm your anxieties about the future while easing those sore muscles from a marathon cycling sesh
“Be Right Back” (Season 2, Episode 1)
A married couple move into a new house together, but shortly afterwards the husband is tragically killed in a car accident. While the woman mourns her loss, her friend suggests a service that mines the deceased husband’s social media accounts and creates an AI that will emulate his behavior. At first the widow resists the idea, but she eventually tries it out after unexpected circumstances arise. As the technology continues to evolve, she struggles to emotionally cope with her husband being both gone and present at the same time.
My Grade: A-; those of us who have loved ones in our lives that we hold near and dear to us can’t help but wonder what we’d do if we were in this grieving woman’s situation, which is why this episode resonates so strongly in a heartbreaking, relatable way
Strain Suggestion: Blue Dream, because, like the name of this iconic strain, having what appears to be your loved one back with you may seem like a dream, but with somber undertones as you face the sobering reality that you won’t truly get back what you lost
“San Junipero” (Season 3, Episode 4)
A shy, introverted woman named Yorkie visits the seaside town of San Junipero and meets a charismatic, vivacious woman at a dance club. They hit it off, but when the extroverted partier makes a move on the shy woman, she gets intimidated and leaves. Yorkie ultimately returns to San Junipero a week later to search for the woman, and their relationship grows across different eras, first in 1987, then in 2002. As the episode unfolds, we begin to learn what San Junipero is and why these two women keep frequenting it.
My Grade: A-; it’s the only Black Mirror episode that ends on a relatively positive note, and its exploration of life, love, and death in a tech-forward future will evoke strong emotions (plus, you’ll leave with a new perspective of the Belinda Carlisle hit “Heaven is a Place on Earth“)
Strain Suggestion: Heaven Scent, a hybrid that delivers balanced blissful, relaxed happiness, which is precisely what visitors to San Junipero seek
“White Christmas” (Christmas Special)
Between seasons 3 and 4, a 74-minute Christmas special was released. The episode is broken up into three separate narratives that ultimately converge together. We first meet two men (one played by Jon Hamm) who are stationed together at a remote outpost in the middle of the wilderness. Hamm’s character shares his backstory as a 21st century “pickup artist” who helps clueless men learn how to hit on women. Later, we learn about a new virtual assistant technology designed to make everyday life easier, and lastly, it’s revealed how the other man ended up working at the outpost.
My Grade: A; each seemingly separate tale is woven into a gut punch of an ending that ties everything together in a satisfying, albeit depressing, manner
Strain Suggestion: White Widow, a balanced hybrid that will deliver some much-needed euphoria and happiness to pull you out of the depths of this stellar episode
“The Entire History of You” (Season 1, Episode 3)
The piece of tech highlighted in this episode is a tiny implant that allows individuals to record everything they do, see, or hear, and grants them the ability to playback memories or experiences. A young lawyer with the implanted tech returns from a work trip and attends a dinner party hosted by his wife’s friends, and he grows suspicious of his wife’s seemingly harmless interactions with a male guest he’s never met before.
My Grade: A+; a brutal look at the dissolution of a relationship, this episode is so unforgettable that Robert Downey Jr. has optioned the rights to create a full-length feature film based on its premise
Strain Suggestion: Amnesia Haze, a sativa that will wake up the mind as you ponder embracing the unexpected gift memory loss can bring
Header image credit: Zeppotron for Endemol