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Your Complete Guide To Binge-Watching “Black Mirror” On Netflix

Before you see the new Christmas special, starring Jon Hamm, catch up on the six mesmerizing, terrifying episodes already streaming.

Can you hear that?

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It’s the sound of a hit U.K. television show, landing on U.S. shores with a splash. Odds are, you’ve either seen Black Mirror and you’re hounding everyone you’ve ever known to watch it now, or you know someone who won’t shut up about it.

Since debuting in 2011, the show, created by producer and journalist Charlie Brooker, has chronicled a dystopian near future over six hour-long episodes. And tomorrow brings its highest-profile episode yet: “White Christmas,” a special holiday episode featuring Jon Hamm, Game of Thrones‘ Oona Chaplin, and Rafe Spall of Prometheus.

Each self-contained episode of Black Mirror opens with new characters in new grim circumstances, navigating the dark side of technology. Although future tech is integral to Black Mirror‘s DNA, the show is grounded in human flaws: We can have the most sophisticated devices surrounding us or even implanted in our heads, but it’s how we use them that matters. And so far, in the Black Mirror universe, everyone pretty much sucks at using tech. But it’s not for lack of trying!

So before you catch the Christmas special, which airs December 16 on the U.K.’s Channel 4 (and on December 25 on DirectTV), we’ve recapped all six episodes of seasons one and two to get you up to speed. Here’s hoping you can avoid some of the nastier stuff depicted on the show–sex with a pig on live TV, anyone?!–and happy binge watching.

This is, of course, drenched in spoilers, so proceed with caution:

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“The National Anthem”

Plot
The prime minister of Britain wakes up to the distressing news that the Duchess of Beaumont–aka Princess Susannah, aka Fake Middleton–has been kidnapped. The alleged “terrorist” doesn’t want money or hostages released–he wants the PM to have full-on, legit sex with a pig on live TV or the princess will be executed. Yes, you read that correctly.

Tech in Question
Social media.

Why It’s Good
Despite the best efforts of the PM’s team to scrub the kidnapper’s video from YouTube, it’s like a digital hydra: Delete one video and 2,000 more take its place. Naturally, it takes no time at all for the social media floodgates to burst wide open, in turn making it impossible for journalists to bury the news, even those under express order from the government not to air the story. Social media plus transparency equals yay!

Why It’s Evil
Social media plus transparency equals . . . oh, man. In what has to be the most embarrassing situation possible, sex with a pig on live TV becomes a spectator sport. As the PM’s wife says after reading comments and tweets, “I know people. We love humiliation–we can’t not laugh. It’s already happening in their heads.” And when it actually does go down, people around the country are crammed around TV sets like it’s the World Cup final.

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“Fifteen Million Merits”

Plot
Bing and many others live in bleak apartments with giant screens for walls, peddling bikes for a living to power the city and earning merit points along the way that can be cashed out for everything: snacks, toothpaste, even a ticket to audition for an X Factor-style show where the winner is catapulted to fame and out of the peddle room. When paying newcomer Abi’s way onto the show blows up in his face, Bing exacts his revenge against the judges with an epically powerful speech on materialism and the frivolity it breeds, winning him his own show on a stream where he can rant about whatever he likes–essentially commercializing his abhorrence for commercialization.

Tech in Question
Smart everything.

Why It’s Good
We’re beyond needing a phone or tablet in our hand: This is a hands-free, swipe-all, next-gen Apple Pay kind of world. It’s technology that’s fully and seamlessly integrated into your everyday life!

Why It’s Evil
There’s no off switch–you can’t shut anything out. And what is being constantly sold? Anything that gets you off or doesn’t make you think too hard–if at all. Think Alex’s rehabilitation scene in A Clockwork Orange. Now add PornHub and BuzzFeed.

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“The Entire History of You”

Plot
Liam just can’t shake the hunch that his wife is cheating on him. And his Willow Grain, a tiny device implanted behind your ear that records everything you see and allows you to play back, sort, edit, and delete parts of your memory, isn’t easing his concerns. Through some Sherlock-ing and brute force, all of Liam’s questions are answered and are too much for him to bear, causing him to painfully extract his own grain.

Tech in Question
Google Glass gone wild.

Why It’s Good
You can call up any and every memory you’ve ever had–even from when you were a baby. Your entire life is at your fingertips to play back at your leisure and relive your greatest memories and delete your worst.

Why It’s Evil
Pulling up a “re-do” every so often is fine–but do it too much and you’re just living in the past. You’re remembering people and places how you want to remember them and not as they are in the moment. And the temptation to nitpick every frame of every memory can lead to a downward spiral of obsession. Essentially, if you keep pausing and rewinding life, you’re not really living.

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“Be Right Back”

Plot
When Ash dies, his girlfriend Martha goes to extreme lengths to get him back, ordering a clone embedded with software that processes all of his social media posts and saved audio samples so he can converse and interact IRL with Martha.

Tech in Question
Social media and cloning.

Why It’s Good
Having the opportunity to communicate with a loved one who’s passed, even if it’s just data in a cloud, can be comforting on some level, especially if that person died suddenly. With this technology, you can get a chance to say “I love you” one last time–and hear a response. Touching, right?

Why It’s Evil
The levels of “nope” here are just staggering. Think about it: A synthetic version of a loved one built from what he or she posted online. People only post a fraction of who they are online. No matter how many tweets, selfies, or posts you produce, you’re still filtering out what you don’t want people to see or read about you, thereby filtering out who you truly are. Toss that all in a shell of a human and you’ve got yourself the shallowest clone money can buy.

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“White Bear”

Plot
As punishment for kidnapping a little girl and filming her murder at the hands of her fiancé, Victoria is sentenced to a sadistic sort of Six Flags where actors pretend to hunt her down for sport and paying customers get a front-row seat to film everything on their phones. Victoria, meanwhile, doesn’t know what’s going on, because her memory is erased every time the grisly truth is revealed.

Tech in Question
Smartphones.

Why It’s Good
You probably know the answer to this one. There are many excellent uses for the tech, of course. But to put it in Black Mirror terms, consider that horrific video of Eric Garner being choked and killed. If the police aren’t going to police themselves, having a digital, visual record is a very good thing, indeed.

Why It’s Evil
On the other hand, too often now, when tragedy strikes, the first thing we do is pull out our phones–not to call 911, but to take pictures or video. It’s like a car crash we can’t look away from, and while we are safely behind our screens, we have no real intention of helping those in distress.

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“The Waldo Moment”

Plot
An uncouth cartoon bear named Waldo is breaking up politics as usual when his creators decide to make him run for office. Jamie, the man behind Waldo’s voice and controls, eventually cracks under the pressure to live up to something that’s become bigger than him and, worse, something he’s not sure he believes in.

Tech in Question
Mobile animation.

Why It’s Good
A super-shady government agent in the episode actually gives a decent explanation: “You look at human politicians, you’re instinctively like, brrr–uncanny, right? Like the girls in porn you just know something’s wrong ’cause why else are they doing it? Just like politics. Waldo bypasses that. You already know he’s not real. So no personal flaws.”

Why It’s Evil
Anyone who follows U.S. politics should recognize the perils here. Giving people something to believe in seems like a great idea, but it can make the average citizen more susceptible to following the leader no matter what treacherous path he takes them on. And because Waldo is a cartoon, he’s one more step removed from direct accountability. Who, after all, is regulating those pulling the strings?

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About the author

KC covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America" where he was the social media producer.

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