Black Mirror Shared Universe Confirmed – Here Is What It Looks Like
Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker has confirmed that all episodes of the show take place within the same universe. We figure out how.
This article is why some TV showrunners reject Easter eggs. Thankfully, Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker hasn’t fully learned to guard himself from internet exaggerators and fabulists like myself yet. Brooker created an anthology series in which each episode features different casts, settings, and presumably universes. Then because he’s a creative and thoughtful artist, Brooker also sprinkled in some Easter Eggs into early Black Mirror episodes. Nothing major – a reference to Prime Minster David Carrow here, a Waldo bumper sticker there – it was just all in good fun.
But that doesn’t mean that all these episodes occur in the same universe, right? That would be insane. Right? Well prior to season two’s Christmas special “White Christmas,” Brooker apparently agreed. While describing why a particular song (Irma Thomas’s “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is”) appears in multiple supposedly unrelated episodes, Brooker said:
“We had the Irma Thomas song come back in because it does sort of nest the whole thing together in some kind of artistic universe, to sound wanky for a moment. So it is deliberate, but it’s not part of some grand unveiling that this is all set in the year 2030 or something.”
Entirely reasonable. But then season four happened. Black Mirror’s recently released season four drops more Easter eggs than the Easter bunny on acid. Its finale, “Black Museum,” seemingly exists in part just to tie together any loose threads from previous episodes, ensuring once and for all that this all takes place in one incredibly fucked up universe.
further reading: Black Mirror – Ranking Every Episode
“It does actually now seem to imply that it is all a shared universe,” Brooker told DigitalSpy, before adding that that wasn’t always the plan.
Clearly it was not. Because the Black Mirror timeline, in the now canonized Extended Black Mirror Televised Universe (TM) is bonkers. Like really bonkers. I know we all like to say how our own reality has gotten pretty weird as of late but it has a ways to go to catch up with the craziness happening in the Black Mirror version.
What follows is the ultimate test of TV viewing art meets TV viewing science. We will combine everything we know about the Black Mirror timeline as revealed by Easter Eggs within episodes and then add in some theorizing and improvisation to establish the Official People’s History of Black Mirror Universe.
The result is… utterly insane. And that’s why some TV showrunners reject Easter eggs. Eventually they hatch. As you read, you may want to consult Reddit user Guteren’s master list of Black Mirror Easter eggs for the evidence we’ve used to construct this alternate history.
The Prologue – c. 1984
Featuring Black Mirror: Bandersnatch
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch sticks out in a number of different ways in the Black Mirror continuity. For one, it’s the first time the show has tried (or almost any other show for that matter) a choose-your-own adventure interactive adventure. But for the purposes of the timeline, Black Mirror is also unique. Bandersnatch comes before the Black Mirror timeline begins.
further reading: Black Mirror Bandersnatch Multiple Endings Explained
Taking place in 1984, the events of Bandersnatch occur nearly a full 30 years before anything else in the Black Mirror universe. That makes sense as the show is usually concerned with the present or future. It’s interesting then that Charlie Brooker took the story of Stefan Butler back this far. Bandersnatch does serve as a pretty compelling prologue though. It establishes many of the themes that the show will come to be about (madness, technology, and the thin line between them) and in the process even introduces one of the show’s most important symbols. That little inverted “t” thing that features prominently in “White Bear” and a couple other episodes? That’s been a diverging timeline this whole time.
The Beginning – c. 2013
Featuring: The National Anthem (1×01)
There are many different theories and interpretations as to Black Mirror’s ultimate timeline, but the starting point of that timeline is inarguable. The Black Mirror universe begins where the Black Mirror TV show begins: “The National Anthem.” The evidence is clear. There are no references to any future episodes of the show within “The National Anthem” yet many other episodes reference it as though it were in the past. Passing references to British Prime Minister and literal pig-fucker Michael Callow pop up again and again in future eps. References to Callow or some other element of “The National Anthem” are mentioned in “Black Museum,” “Be Right Back,” “Nosedive,” and “The Waldo Moment.”
Additionally, “The National Anthem” clearly takes place during the modern era in a world identical to our own. It’s hard to nail down an actual year that this universe begins. The show itself, however, began in 2011 and “The National Anthem” exists in a time that could reasonably be described as “the recent future.” There is no futuristic technology, just YouTube and cell phones. So we’re going to start this timeline in 2013 just so we have a solid number to start with.
“The National Anthem” is not just the first episode within the Black Mirror timeline – it jumpstarts the entire Black Mirror universe. Consider the possibility that the Black Mirror universe is identical to ours all up until one moment. That of course is when British Prime Minister Michael Callow makes the fateful decision to give into high concept artist Carlton Bloom’s demand to make love to a pig on live television.
That one event leads to a chain reaction of unprecedented science fiction nuttiness in a relatively short amount of time. Let’s examine it.
A Year of Subtle Change – c. 2014
Featuring: The Waldo Moment (2×03), Be Right Back (2×01)
We know that “The Waldo Moment” and “Be Right Back” come next in the Black Mirror timeline because when “The National Anthem” flash-forwards a year, there is a headline on TV that reads “Geraint Fitch cleared of wrongdoing following paparazzi scuffle.” That same headline appears in present day portions of “The Waldo Moment” and “Be Right Back,” meaning they occur a year after “The National Anthem” and simultaneously with each other. Each episode represents a different perspective on how the United Kingdom is dealing with the worldwide humiliation of their leader. In “The Waldo Moment,” the political environment has changed for the worse. Comedian Jamie Salter has been forced into having his animated creation Waldo run for public office.
Jamie and company should have been able to more accurately predict what comes next. Waldo performs well and in the process forever changes the face of worldwide politics. If Carlton Bloom started the fire of political mistrust and change, Waldo throws gasoline on it.
Meanwhile in the countryside, a woman named Martha is dealing with her own shit. There is nothing political about “Be Right Back.” It’s just about one woman dealing with unexpected and unimaginable grief. The technology is starting to creep along just a year or two into the Black Mirror universe but it’s nice to know that life and all its personal tragedies go on as the rest of the world collapses.
The Age of Anger c. 2016 – 2018
Featuring: White Bear (2×02), Shut Up and Dance (3×03)
After taking some time to process reflect on the Waldo and Prime Minster Callow affairs, the people of the British Isles have settled on a prevailing emotion: anger. There are no Easter eggs in “White Bear” but it is referenced in several future episodes that definitively place it after “Anthem/Waldo/Be Right Back.” As faith in society’s institutions reach an all-time low, the citizens of Britain revert back to an old societal standard by breaking out some mob justice. Victoria Skillane’s crimes are certainly horrific but the people’s punishment is even worse. They force her to live out the rest of her days in a ghoulish theme park in which she is hunted down every day.
further reading: Charlie Brooker on the Return of Black Mirror
While Victoria is being perpetually tortured, a group of vigilante computer hackers get a taste for cruel justice as well. “Shut Up and Dance” references Prime Minster Callow’s divorce, and the latest in Victoria’s trial. This puts it just around the time of “White Bear” or maybe even slightly after if Victoria’s punishment is happening concurrently with her trial, which is sadly plausible in this post-pig fucking world. The events of “Shut Up and Dance” in which Hector and Kenny are sent on a fateful scavenger hunt as punishment for their sins reveals a British citizenry at the height of its fury and cruelty.
The Near Future 2020 – 2022
Featuring: Striking Vipers (5×01), Smithereens (5×02), Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too (5×03)
Black Mirror Season 5 is unique in that it’s the only season of the show in which all three episodes occupy roughly the same time frame, which strongly resembles our own with perhaps just 2-3 percent more dystopia. Let’s call this era “The Near Future.”
We know time has advanced since both A Year of Subtle Change and The Age of Anger because the technology has changed. Phones look more modern in installments like “Smithereens” and “Striking Vipers.” “Smithereens” features social media like “Be Right Back” does but the networks have new, unrecognizable names like Persona and Smithereen.
It’s clear, however, that the stories in this time frame take place before more advanced times. The technology that will eventually become the “grains” in “The Entire History of You” shows up in its infancy in “Striking Vipers.” Though the digital impression of Ashley O extracted in “Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too” does seem rather advanced. The Near Future of the Black Mirror timeline is just like our own near future: absolutely bursting with terrifying possibilities.
The George Orwell Era – c. 2023 – 2025
Featuring: Fifteen Million Merits (1×02), White Christmas (2×04)
Ok, things take a real jump here. The concept of “Fifteen Million Merits” is so intense and so dystopian that upon initial viewing it seems impossible that it would take place any sooner than hundreds of years in the future. But according to all the evidence at hand, it’s actually not that far into the future at all – just around 7-10 years after “The National Anthem” stars the clock. “Shut Up and Dance” also mentions that the show “Hot Shots” will be debuting soon. The postscript on “The Waldo Moment” features a still young-looking Jamie Stalter has an ad for “Hot Shots” in the background as well. So yeah, the Brits really went from super pissed to straight up George Orwell in a matter of a couple of years.
This is logically specious of course but at least there’s a believable emotional element for all of this. The public forced Victoria Skillane into a life of perpetual torment for their entertainment. It would only make sense that they’re ready to draw more entertainment from human misery.
Shortly after the events of “Fifteen Million Merits,” “White Christmas” introduces an important technological leap into the Black Mirror universe. Great Britain’s frustration with its political situation led to anger, which led to an accelerated devaluation of human life as evidenced by Victoria, Kenny, Hector, Abi, and Bing’s situations. This devaluation of human life leads to a devaluation of the human consciousness itself. Matt Trent (Jon Hamm) sells a new technology called a “cookie” that can be implanted into someone’s brain to download their consciousness into a chip. Matt’s company uses those chips for activities as simple as household chores.
The implications of the “cookie” mean that now a perfect digital copy of a human being can now be captured, bought, sold, tortured and all other manners of nefarious things. This technology in addition to the “Z-Eye,” which manipulates what people can see, will play a big role in the increasingly dystopian version of Earth: Black Mirror version.
A Return to (Relative) Normalcy – c. 2025 – 2030
Featuring: Nosedive (3×01), Playtest (3×02), Hated in the Nation (3×06), Hang the DJ (4×04), Men Against Fire (3×05)
The George Orwell era of Black Mirror’s Great Britain was understandably intense. Still after Matt Trent and Bing receive their dubious freedom the rest of the world tries to return to relative normalcy. After the rapid and steep devaluation of human life, humanity turns to a ranking system known as “Repuintelligent” to score nearly every human interaction on a scale of 1-5. It’s a last ditch attempt for human beings to feel valued once again and obviously it goes very poorly.
“Nosedive” occurs in this time period with “Playtest” and “Hated in the Nation” coming after in quick succession. “Hated in the Nation” contains the most amount of Easter eggs and timeline clues of any Black Mirror episode other than “Black Museum.” “Nation” references “National Anthem,” “White Bear,” Waldo Moment,” “White Christmas,” “Nosedive,” and “Playtest” and also hints at the future of “Men Against Fire.” After shares of Repuintelligent crash (or one could say “nosedive”), alternate reality enters into the fray in “Playtest.” This also obviously fails and technoterrorists react violently once again as they are ought to do in this new post-Callow universe. Garret Scholes enacts a scheme in which the cyber honey bees now in place to pollinate the Earth attack people who are dicks on social media. This seems like a direct response to the social media dreams of “Nosedive.”
Meanwhile, the civil and political unrest in Europe have reached the shores of the New World as the Americans use the “Z-Eye” technology introduced in “White Christmas” to force soldiers to kill what they think are mutated monsters but instead are actually just murdering citizens that the government have deemed impure. “Men Against Fire” is our first look at the goings on in America and it’s about as bleak as possible. One can only imagine what farm animal the President banged to jumpstart that timeline.
Still, not everything is awful. Technology resembling “cookies” is now being used to set up nice people on dates (“Hang the DJ”).
The Simulation and Memory Era – c. 2030 – 2040
Featuring: USS Callister (4×01), Arkangel (4×02), Crocodile (4×03), The Entire History of You (1×03)
Things have gotten so bad in the Black Mirror universe just under 20 years after PM Michael Callow started it that the citizens of Earth are starting to retreat to simulations and their own happier memories. “Playtest” established augmented reality and simulation as a powerful technology within the Black Mirror universe in 2024 or so and now in the 2030s alternative realities are all the rage.
further reading: How USS Callister Rewrites Star Trek Fan History
Robert Daley gets so into alternate reality that he constructs his own Star Trek-esque game to feel at peace. Sadly, this involves the torture of many innocent “cookies,” this time augmented with actual human DNA. Also in the U.S., while Daley is torturing his coworkers and U.S soldiers are murdering the genetically “impure,” a mother in a middle-class neighborhood is turning to technology to help protect her daughter from the increasing horrors of the world. This includes both angry dogs and archival footage of the soldiers in “Men Against Fire.
Before long, however, simulation and altered perception are not enough to help the Black Mirror citizenry escape their brutal reality. They retreat into actual memories. The technology is first introduced by insurance adjustors in “Crocodile” but this quickly leads into the commercialization of reliving memories as seen in “The Entire History of You.”
Heaven and Hell Are Places on Earth – c. 2045 – 2050
Featuring: San Junipero (3×04), Black Museum (4×06)
When simulations, alternate perceptions, fake realities, and even memories can no longer mask the ugliness of existence, there’s only one place left to go: the afterlife. That’s right, in the 2040s-2050s of our Black Mirror universe, society has all but abandoned the idea of making life livable and is instead trying to create new heaven-like worlds for our consciousness to reside in.
This involves the creation of an almost literal heaven as seen in “San Junipero.” The technology of “cookies” as introduced in “White Christmas” may as well be the technology of the human soul at this point. Sadly, however, when one finds or creates the soul and sends it to “heaven,” there suddenly becomes a second location it could be sent to as well.
The events of “Black Museum” cover roughly the entire timeline of this alternate Black Mirror universe. It ranges from the “National Anthem,” to “White Christmas” to the consciousness experiments at the hospital Saint Juniper and beyond. Where it ends up is equally bleak and predictable: hell. While Yorkie and Kelly are falling in love in their ‘80s-tinged heaven, the digital impression of Clayton Leigh is being tortured in perpetuity. Thankfully his daughter eventually releases him. Still, there is no turning back from the creation of an actual permanent hell for our cookies.
Ragnarok – c. 20?? – ????
Featuring: Metalhead (4×05)
So it comes to this. All the various new technologies and political instability in the Black Mirror universe lead to…something. We don’t know what precisely created the black and white post-apocalyptic universe as seen in “Metalhead” but it can’t be pretty.
Humanity has been devastated. The few remaining survivors try to avoid murderous little robotic dogs. Hope, warmth, and happiness are all distant memories.
All because a century or more ago some guy fucked a pig.
Alec Bojalad is TV Editor at Den of Geek and TCA member. Read more of his stuff here. Follow him at his creatively-named Twitter handle @alecbojalad