There’s no nicer surprise than a twist which actually works. Sure, they’re rare, and it’s far more common to see a twist which appears clever but actually doesn’t add up at all upon further inspection.
But the breathing room provided by television’s format means that often times shows are more likely to pull off an ingenious reveal than an over-ambitious film that tries to cram the same story into its limited runtime. That said, anthology series like Black Mirror and The Twilight Zone often have even less time than a feature film to work up to mind blowing twists, and they’ve provided some of the best in history.
So why are sci-fi shows, both anthology and serial, so adept at pulling jaw-dropping shocks out of the bag compared to their competitors? Well, science fiction series are able to establish their own realities, meaning creators can always opt to leave a vital piece of information out of our sight until the most dramatic moment. Anyone could be a Cylon, we never know what timeline or even universe we’re in, and there’s nothing to do but keep watching the skies as we count down the ten most impressive twists in sci-fi TV history.
10. Black Mirror - Our Innocent Heroine Is A Heartless Murderer
Now, TV Go Home creator/ all-round smartass and genre nerd Charlie Brooker’s anthology series has featured some incredible twists in its limited run—as well as a few diabolical stinkers. Let’s be honest here—The pivotal reveal of, for example, Shut Up and Dance’s ending isn’t clever, it’s just brutally bleak and mistakes sheer darkness for some sort of profundity and intelligence. Ditto Icelandic noir instalment Crocodile, which wastes a great location and premise as well as visiting director John Hillcoat on a grim and bitter climax.
So what’s the series doing on this list?
Well, when Black Mirror does twists right, by God does the show nail them. Just look at season 2 standout White Bear, which opens on an innocent woman inexplicably pursued by both murderous psychos and an eerie crowd of onlookers filming her ordeal and doing nothing to help her. What could possibly justify this horror?
Well, the fact that she’s a child murderer who is having her crimes re-enacted on her as karmic retribution would go a ways to explaining this torture. But the power of the episode comes not from this shocking revelation, but from its ability to trick viewers into empathizing with someone TV shows typically portray as irredeemable, leaving the viewer uncertain and a little sickly by the time it reaches its ending.