5 ”Black Mirror” Episodes and How They Relate to Mental Health Issues

What is your favorite “Black Mirror” episode?

Is it “Fifteen Million Merits,” about a man who helps a woman make it on to a show about a singing competition?

Is it “Nosedive,” about a woman who becomes obsessed with her standing on social media?

I definitely have favorites, just like any fan, and wanted to blog about them. In the spirit of this blog, I decided to rewatch them and write about each episode in the context of a mental illness topic.

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Top 5 “Black Mirror” episodes

(In no particular order. Beware of spoilers. Do not read further if you wish to avoid them.)

“Be Right Back”

Ash and Martha move into his childhood home, a country fixer upper. Just when they are beginning to get settled, Ash is killed in a car crash. (Or so we are led to believe.)

Obviously, Martha is devastated. She throws herself into fixing up their home to distract herself from the pain. A well-meaning friend signs her up for a program that allows her to talk to a version of Ash through a chat program but Martha is against it. She thinks it won’t do anything but cause more pain.

What Happens Next

Then, Martha’s world is turned upside down when she finds out she is pregnant. She finally decides to use the program which allows her to talk to Ash like he’s alive. (It links to all his texts, voicemails, and social media to create speech that sounds genuine to him.)

She starts communicating with him, but soon talking on the phone begins to not be enough. She orders a copy of him made from a sentient synthetic material. It is like a hyperrealistic mannequin that you “activate” so it can walk, talk, and interact as normal.

After a time, she realizes nothing can ever replace the true, authentic relationship she had with Ash. A copy is not the same as the real thing. However, she can’t bear to part with it. So, he (or rather, the copy) begins living like a divorced spouse in her attic.

Mental health tie-in

Martha suffers from understandable grief after the loss of her partner, Ash. At first, she fixates on a very common stage of grief: Denial & isolation. She continues to live her life as if nothing happened, throwing herself into her job and home improvement projects. She even ignores calls from family and friends.

That is the first stage of grief. Throughout the episode, we see her start to move through the next stages. She experiences anger at the copy of her partner when she realizes their relationship can never be the same.

We sort of see her enter the next stage: bargaining. She eventually reaches a bargain with herself, and with the copy. (Letting him stay, but making him live up in the attic.) Her hand is sort of forced since he can’t go a certain distance away from his activation point without her, and she doesn’t have the heart to destroy him.

In a flash forward of several years, she seems relatively well-adjusted. So we assume she has completed the remaining two stages: depression and acceptance.

“White Bear”

Victoria wakes up injured, with no idea who she is. She is in an unfamiliar room. One thing that catches her eye is a screen with a strange symbol on it.

What could this mean?

She goes outside, and no one will talk to her. Even stranger, people are recording her on their phones. All of a sudden she finds herself being chased by what appears to be a psychopath with a gun. That is just the beginning of her road to rediscovery.

Victoria gets help from a man and a woman, but as soon as she does, more people start to chase her. She has no clue why any of this is going on. She doesn’t even remember her name.

The woman helping her says they need to escape south to a place called “White Bear.” This triggers a snippet of memory for Victoria.

What Happens Next

After more awful happenstances, she discovers she is part of a reality show. The host tells her that Victoria and her fiancé were charged with the abduction and murder of a 6 year old girl.

This is incredibly traumatic for her. (It was something she was basically coerced into doing.) She is made to relive it through the host’s storytelling. Then, she has her memory wiped and has to go through this again and again. People pay to come and see this spectacle.

Mental health tie-in

I wanted to talk a little about trauma and memory loss. (Although in this case, her memory is intentionally wiped.)

Did you know that memory loss is very common with those that have suffered a traumatic event? This is called dissociative amnesia.

Dissociative amnesia (according to the Cleveland Clinic):

“…occurs when a person blocks out certain information, often associated with a stressful or traumatic event, leaving the person unable to remember important personal information.”

In this episode, Victoria is repeatedly put into a dissociative fugue, a more severe version of dissociative amnesia. Not only does she forget the trauma, but she forgets who she is entirely.

Dissociative amnesia is pretty rare. (It affects 1% of men and 2.6% of women.)

“San Junipero”

The episode opens in 1987. A shy woman named Yorkie goes to a popular club called Tucker’s, hoping to “loosen up” and find some enjoyment.

There, she meet self-professed party girl, Kelly. In a surprising moment for both of them, they start dancing. However, Yorkie gets overwhelmed by the situation and leaves the club.

Kelly finds her outside and they talk, during which she invites Yorkie back to her place. Yorkie says no and Kelly leaves.

One week later in San Junipero: The two women meet up again and end up having sex. (Yorkie’s first time, in general.) We find out more about San Junipero itself. You can only visit once a week and stay until midnight. So, we believe it is some sort of virtual reality you can enter.

That night changes Yorkie’s life, and next week, she tries to find Kelly. At another San Juniperan’s suggestion, she tries a “different year.” This shows us that you don’t always have to exist in San Junipero in 1987. It is more customizable to the user’s preference.

What Happens Next

Yorkie finds Kelly in 2002, and they share a very vulnerable conversation. Yorkie discloses that she is set to be married next week “in real life.” Kelly says she is dying and just has months to live.

Now, we finally find out the true purpose of San Junipero. It is a place for the terminal to opt to pass over to when they die. San Junipero is an afterlife where you are uploaded to a cloud and allowed to live in a virtual, youthful, healthy eternity.

It turns out, “in real life,” they’re both really old and in assisted living. Yorkie is in a coma, and her aforementioned fiancé is a nurse just marrying her so she can legally pass over. (You cannot opt for this euthanasia while in a coma without permission from a next of kin.)

“Real life” Kelly visits “real life” comatose Yorkie, and talks with the nurse Yorkie is set to be wed to. They discuss how San Junipero is “immersive nostalgia therapy.”

In San Junipero, Kelly proposes to Yorkie so they can get married instead. After Yorkie passes over, Kelly goes to see her in the afterlife. They argue because Kelly doesn’t want to pass over after death. Why? Her husband of nearly 50 years didn’t, and her daughter didn’t.

Kelly tries to kill herself in San Junipero after their fight, but this just makes her realize she wants to pass over and spend forever with Yorkie.

This is what she does and we believe they live happily ever after in San Junipero.

Mental health tie-in

This episode calls to mind many different versions of acceptance, but I will discuss three.

  1. Acceptance of identity. Yorkie learns to accept who she really is- a gay woman- through her visits to San Junipero. She is able to live the life she always wanted to, but never could due to disapproving family.
  2. Acceptance of desires. In Kelly’s initial visits to San Junipero, the purpose is just mindless fun. She’s not looking for a connection. Throughout the episode, she finds she must accept that she truly does crave a connection before she dies.
  3. Acceptance of death. Both women must learn to truly accept death. They are initially content to visit San Junipero each week, returning afterwards to their real life. This shows hesitancy to accept their impending fates, something they realize they must do if they want to be together forever.

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“USS Callister”

This incredible episode opens in a “Star Trek” like setting, with a crew battling an enemy ship.

Cut to the ship’s captain in a “real life” setting. His name is Robert and he seems to be a real nobody. Granted he is the CTO of a successful company (in fact, a co-founder), but no one respects him.

The company designed and maintains a virtual reality game called “Infinity.” He goes home after work every day and plays. His coworkers in real life are the costars in his fantasy world. In this way, he is able to take out his frustrations with them out on their characters.

We find out the version of the game he is playing is a secret game mod kept offline so only he can play it. He “uploads” his coworkers as characters into the game by collecting their DNA (through coffee cups, etc.)

Robert starts becoming obsessed with a new coworker (Nanette) and uploads her as a character in the game. We see Nanette waking up in the game confused. She encounters the other crew members and they explain everything.

What Happens Next

Robert made a secret game mod modeled after his favorite show, “Space Fleet.” “Game” Nanette finds out they’re all clones uploaded to the game, not really “them”- simply identical digital versions. She also finds out they are all trapped inside the game, and “Game” Robert tortures them when they don’t cooperate.

Nanette decides to try to figure out a way to escape. She sends herself a message on the outside. Real life Nanette is confused. Robert is suspicious after real life Nanette asks him about the message she received. He enters the game and tortures a crew mate as punishment.

After he leaves, Nanette concocts a plan to erase them from the game, which would effectively kill them, but they’d be free. Game Nanette gets real life Nanette to steal their DNA back by blackmailing her. That way when they fly into a nearby wormhole (really, a system update), they can’t be brought back.

It works. They don’t die. In fact, the wormhole just shuts down the update and erases his secret mod. Game Robert gets stuck in space when update shuts down. In real life, Robert cannot exit game.

The clones survive inside the game and continue happily playing without the tyrant controlling them.

Mental health tie-in

Bullying can have a lot of profound effects on the victim. We are led to believe that Robert has spent most of his adult life getting walked all over and gossiped about.

According to Psycom.net, there are several long term consequences that can occur for victims of bullying. They are:

**Increased risk of suicidal thoughts, suicide plans, and suicide attempts 
**Anxiety disorders
**Post-traumatic stress disorder
**Poor general health
**Self-destructive behavior, including self-harm
**Substance abuse
**Difficulty establishing trusting, reciprocal friendships and relationships

Robert finds himself sabotaging personal relationships through the game, and physically and psychologically harming those that he felt victimized by in real life.

The bullied becomes the bully and it ends in his destruction. A vicious cycle complete.

“Hang the DJ”

This episode centers around an online dating program. Frank and Amy are on their first date, and their first time using the dating service.

The software has strict rules for each date, even selecting their meals for them. Every “relationship” has a preset expiration date (“expiry date”). Theirs is set to expire in 12 hours.

Relationship details are all mapped out for people, so all the guess work is taken out. As they progress through relationships, it gathers data about them to lead them to their perfect match.

Frank and Amy go on a date with someone else. He gets matched with someone awful for a year. She is abrasive and demanding. She gets someone charming for 9 months (the caveat is, he’s annoying).

They see each other again at an event for the dating service, and discover they still have a spark. Yet, Amy gets matched again after the 9 month period with someone else and she sees 3 other people after that for short times.

Then, to their surprise, she gets matched with Frank again. They make a deal not to check the expiry date. They want to just live in the moment.

However, it drives Frank crazy not to know. Eventually, he cheats and looks. It says 5 years then it starts recalibrating. The time on the timer keeps getting shorter because they didn’t look at the same time, which is a rule set by the dating program. It lands on 20 hours.

She finds out he broke their agreement, and she is mad. Things end badly, and Amy is put through several more short-term relationships.

What Happens Next

Amy gets notified that she has been paired with her true match. They meet tomorrow and they’ll have to leave the community together forever. She is allowed to say goodbye to one person from her time there, and she chooses Frank.

They begin talking and realize that neither of them can remember their lives before the community. Amy thinks everything they’ve been through is a test, and to pass they have to defy the system together.

They climb the tall wall out of the community and find themselves in a room with other couples. Frank and Amy find out it was a simulation after all, and they are transported back to the real world and find each other there.

Mental health tie in

For me, this episode calls to mind complacence and resistance. The “players” in the simulation are complacent to the rules of the system, never questioning its intentions.

When someone is mentally ill, they can grow used to their illness and begin to accept it. They accept that they will never get better, and that becomes the truth they live with.

Frank and Amy ultimately decide to resist the system. This leads them to a better place, where they can live happily together without the strict rules of the dating program. They can just exist normally.

For the mentally ill, it can be scary to think about getting well or getting stable (see “5 Reasons Why People Fear Being Free”). But if they stay strong, and lean on those around them, they can cheat the system. They can find themselves in a better place, stable and happier.

What is your favorite “Black Mirror” episode? Can you connect it in any way to the topic of mental health? I would love to hear from you in the comments!

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