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‘Black Mirror’ Episodes Ranked From Worst to Best
When Black Mirror premiered six years ago on Channel 4 in the U.K., it landed with high acclaim and cult status. With its third and fourth seasons, produced by Netflix, the cult has burst out into the mainstream. The twelve new episodes has cemented Black Mirror as the heir to The Twilight Zone for the digital age. It’s not just that the Black Mirror is good—and it really is—but that across 19 episodes, British satirist Charlie Brooker and his array of collaborators have taken full advantage of what the anthology format has to offer in the modern television era.
Black Mirror, whose title refers to the black reflective surface of a digital screen, dedicates each episode to a unique, standalone sci-fi tale of technological concern. It’s a show about the ways in which we interact with new technologies, how they changes us, and how human nature bleeds through every time, often in the worst ways. From each initial setup, Brooker and his team extrapolate the disturbing extremes of human behavior that technological advancement may more easily allow.
As with any anthology series, though, Black Mirror is a hit-or-miss enterprise. Not every episode can be a winner. That said, Black Mirror has far more episodes in the hits column than the misses, and even the lesser stories usually offer compellingly designed worlds, some sharp ideas, and impressive performances. Furthermore, the range of the show’s imagination is constantly impressive.
So here I present to you a list, from worst to best, of every Black Mirror episode to date.
The second episode of the third season, and the biggest dud of all. “Playtest” is a story about the potential perils of implanting a computer chip in your brain and experiencing a virtual world. Structured as a play on haunted house horror films, blending video game elements, and supplying a constant stream of twists, the real problem with “Playtest” is that it never amounts to much more than a critique of the technology itself. Where more episodes of Black Mirror imagine technology as merely a tool with which humanity can abuse itself, “Playtest” ends up being little more than well-produced, well-directed virtual reality scare mongering.
18. “The Waldo Moment”
It’s pretty unfair to “The Waldo Moment” that the real world has surpassed what even Brooker could have imagined. The episode is about a comedian who performs as an angry motion-capture cartoon bear for a satirical TV show eventually running the cartoon as a candidate in a parliamentary byelection. Even in 2013, the episode felt a little too simplistic, and now that we live in a world in which Donald Trump is the Republican presidential nominee, “The Waldo Moment” is at once admirably prescient while feeling just a little too easy with its criticisms of populist politics. As it turns out, sometimes the real world is even darker than Black Mirror.
17. “White Christmas”
The Black Mirror Christmas special marked the show’s long-awaited return to television, but its format left something to be desired. The episode packs three separate stories and a framing device into only 75 minutes, and the lack of room to breathe makes it feel less like Black Mirror than a Black Mirror pastiche. That said, the individual mini-stories are all quite inventive, and the presence of Jon Hamm throughout the episode makes for an entertaining dive into the many worlds Charlie Brooker has to offer.
16. “Black Museum”
The fourth season of Black Mirror concludes with another omnibus episode à la “White Christmas,” featuring three stories and a framing device—this time centered on a roadside museum in the American desert, where a strange proprietor shows a stranded woman his collection of truly messed up pieces of technology and the even more messed up stories behind them. Where this episode improves on “White Christmas” is in creating a more genuinely compelling frame story that helps pile the disturbing stories on top of each other until its very satisfying conclusion.
15. “Fifteen Million Merits”
“Fifteen Million Merits” is the most futuristic episode of Black Mirror, serving up some incredibly impressive production design to immerse us in a world where people act as power generators by pedaling exercise bikes and earning “merits.” Seemingly the only way to get out of that endless fate is to go on a reality TV competition. To say more would ruin the twists, but “Fifteen Million Merits” is classic speculative science fiction. It’s beautiful to look at, and offers a lot to chew on.
14. “Men Against Fire”
Maybe the most impressive Black Mirror episodes in terms of pure scale, “Men Against Fire” is set in a future war against creatures called roaches. After an excursion out to raid a house sheltering roaches, one soldier begins to see the truth of his actions. On the one hand, its core message is quite obvious early on, but “Men Against Fire” succeeds by pushing its exploration of humanity’s will to otherize and attack into the personal and individual. It’s a dark story about how we delude ourselves into violence, with a powerful final image.
“Nosedive” has two amazing things going for it: Bryce Dallas Howard, whose performance is delightfully unhinged, and director Joe Wright, who brings his great visual eye previously seen in Atonement and Hanna to bear on this brightly colored tale of future social dystopia. It’s set in a world where everyone is constantly rating everyone else on a five-point rating scale, and a person’s average rating ends up dictating how they’re in turn treated by the people around them. It’s a classic social satire, incorporating our addiction to social media validation. It’s in some ways a tad too simplistic, but as a nearly feature-length film, it’s totally engaging.
12. “U.S.S. Callister”
A nearly feature-length episode that takes viewers into a Star Trek-like world, starring Cristin Milioti, Jesse Plemons, Jimmi Simpson, and Michaela Coel. In case you haven’t watch it yet, I don’t want to give away any of the twists, suffice it to say “U.S.S. Callister” is disturbing in parts, but also maybe the most fun episode Black Mirror has yet to produce.
The story of a parent who just can’t let her daughter live without a safety net. After her child almost goes missing at the park, Rosemarie Dewitt has her daughter implanted with a device that tracks her location and vital signs, as well as giving a view through her eyes. Plus, it has the ability to pixelate anything that might be disturbing or cause too much stress. The effect of the tech on both the daughter and mother as the years go by is a compelling study of what happens when a parent doesn’t know her limits. It’s a dark, sad tale that goes in surprising direction, held together by wonderfully empathetic direction from none other than Jodie Foster.
David Slade directs this pure apocalyptic horror thriller. There’s not much of a twist here—just a group of characters scavenging through the remains of a world destroyed by small killer robots called dogs. It’s also the first Black Mirror episode presented in black-and-white, and the style makes for a dreary, terrifying, suspenseful episode that’s at once extremely simple, and pretty damn effective.
9. “White Bear”
“White Bear” begins as a dystopian horror reminiscent of 28 Days Later, but where it ends up is far more disturbing. It’s a story about our social appetite for punishment, a recurring theme in the worlds of Black Mirror, that leaves viewers wrestling with their own thirst for so-called justice and the competing value of empathy.
Not quite the darkest episode of Black Mirror, but not far off. Andrea Riseborough stars as a women with a dark secret from her past, which leads her to commit a series of increasingly disturbing acts, all in the name of perceived self-preservation. Sci-fi enters the story in the form of technology with which police and insurance adjustors can extract raw recollections from people’s minds. To the extent that the plot and the technology converge, it’s almost mundane, with little functional difference between the show and the real world, which makes the character’s actions that much more horrifying.
7. “Shut Up and Dance”
“Shut Up and Dance” is the most purely disturbing episode of Black Mirror. It’s about a teenager whose computer is hacked to record him in an extremely private moment. The hacker then uses that as a threat against him, forcing him to run around the city doing increasingly terrible things. There is a twist, of course, because this is Black Mirror. The combination of realism—this could happen to anyone!—and the moral quandary of its ending will leave many viewers hating “Shut Up and Dance,” but as with many of the most disturbing stories, the fact that they touch such a nerve speaks their human insight.
6. “The Entire History of You”
This is the episode most often cited as the series’ best, and make no mistake, being only fifth on this list is not remotely a mark against it. “The Entire History of You” imagines a near future in which everyone wears implants that record everything they see, allowing them to replay events and share memories with others. Only this is Black Mirror, so of course it goes dark, with the story of a man who suspects his partner is cheating, so he begins obsessing over every detail in his recorded memory.
5. “Hated in the Nation”
The longest episode of Black Mirror, “Hated in the Nation” is a sprawling thriller about social media pile-ons, backdoor hacking, and, surprisingly, the extinction of bees. It stars Kelly Macdonald as a detective who investigates the deaths of people who were targeted for harassment online. Like Jon Ronson’s book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed taken to its sickest logical extreme, “Hated in the Nation” is an epic examination of justice in the social media world.
4. “Hang the DJ”
The best of Black Mirror’s fourth season, “Hang the DJ” comes closest in spirit to the beloved “San Junipero.” Not only is it a love story, it’s got a happy ending. Following a couple matched by an extraordinarily authoritarian dating system, the two move through relationship after relationship, always longing for that spark of attraction the first felt together until finally revolting against their world. The ending reveals “Hang the DJ” to be an impressive conception of the life inside technology, as well as a romantic vision of what it means to find “the one.”
3. “San Junipero”
The most openly heartfelt and optimistic episode of Black Mirror to date, “San Junipero” is a story about an incredible love set in the ’80s. It’s a beautiful story that will make you cry, which can’t always be said of this series. Best of all it’s anchored by excellent performances from Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis.
2. “The National Anthem”
The first, and also the most insane Black Mirror episode is undoubtedly “The National Anthem,” which begins with a princess being kidnapped and the real of a hostage video demanding the British Prime Minister have sex with a pig on live television. What follows is a wild, tense ride through media storm, shifting public sentiment, and political calculation. It’s a hard-hitting look at the way TV news and online media can bring out some of the very worst in collective human instincts. A real life story about PM David Cameron’s youthful school club initiation involving a dead pig and a weird sex act has hilariously given “The National Anthem” even more social relevance. Nobody could’ve predicted that.
1. “Be Right Back”
Though darker than “San Junipero,” similar themes of death and loss make “Be Right Back” one of the most beautiful, gut-wrenching episodes of TV you could ever hope to watch. It stars Haley Atwell as a woman who has recent lost her husband, played by Domhnall Gleeson. In an attempt to bring him back into her work, she uses a service that collects a deceased person’s entire internet activity, and with it creates a facsimile of that loved one. Things get more and more disturbingly real from there, but at its core, “Be Right Back” is about the unbelievable pain of loss, and the difficulty of trying to hold onto a loved one who has passed. It’s the ultimate Black Mirror episode. An example of everything the show does best, and its capacity for deep humanist introspection.