After five seasons, one Christmas special and one inventive interactive movie, Black Mirror has grown into one of the biggest shows on Netflix since the streaming platform nabbed the rights from UK television network Channel 4 for season three onwards.
The show, produced by Charlie Brooker and producer Annabel Jones, is a modern take on typical anthology shows like The Twilight Zone, examining the unintended impact of technology on how we live in Brooker’s customary dark, playful, and sometimes uplifting manner.
Whether you’ve already blasted by all the episodes or are just looking to catch up with some typical Black Mirror, we’ve ranked all the episodes from the first season to the fifth. Here’s our definitive ranking, for you to disagree with.
23. Smithereens (Season 5, Episode 2)
Black Mirror’s take on a British police drama. “Smithereens” tells the story of Chris (Andrew Scott)—a man who can’t help but blame social media for the most tragic moment in his life. And that’s it. The paper-thin plot is only just enough to keep this episode plodding from scene to scene, and despite being based around a hostage situation, the stakes in the episode never feel particularly high. Think an episode of The Bill but with a little bit of “social media is bad” thrown in too.
22. White Bear (Season 2, Episode 2)
Half disturbing zombie thriller and half slamming indictment of society’s hankerings for public punishment, “White Bear” has one of the most unpredictable twists of any Black Mirror episode. The rare dialog and desolate setting create an air that reflects the isolation felt by the main character, Victoria, played by Lenora Crichlow. For most of its running length, this episode draws heavily on horror films, but the first two-thirds without the emotional punch and is really just a setup for the film’s devastating final act. Ultimately, “White Bear” ends up being an imbalanced episode that has one hand to play, but does so in a final burst of violent catharsis.
21. Men Against Fire (Season 4, Episode 5)
Black Mirror is sometimes guilty of getting stuck on an interesting idea or concept without a whole story to sustain it. “Men Against Fire” is one such episode. Its warning about the possible misuse of technology in warfare is valid and interesting, but it’s hard to cover in the space of a 50-minute TV episode. The final twist is suitably bleak, in true Black Mirror tradition, but you can’t help but surprise about the wider context of the story and its central character.
20. The Waldo Moment (Season 2, Episode 3)
As with “The National Anthem,” this is another Black Mirror episode that took a little while for history to catch up with it. Set in the midst of an election, “The Waldo Moment” tells the story of Jamie (Daniel Rigby), a comedian behind a puerile animated bear who unexpectedly finds himself having an outsize impact on national politics. Imagine Bo’ Selecta’s Avid Merrion running for election and you won’t be far off. At the time, this episode felt like it lacked a firm footing and tossed a few too many ideas up in the air without developing them, but with the assistance of hindsight—and the election of a certain US president—once again it’s reality, and not Black Mirror, that has been found truly wanting.
19. Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too (Season 5, Episode 3)
Done right, “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too” could have been one of Black Mirror‘s best episodes in addition. Brooker took on an thoroughly new genre with this teenage-drama-tinged rumination on vapid pop music, exploitative managers, and impressionable fans. In it, Miley Cyrus plays Ashley, a pop star who, for some reason or another, has her personality downloaded into some futuristic dolls. The episode fails to ever really grapple with the technology in question, however, and is never really sure whether it’s an ironic send-up of teenage films, or just a poor simulacrum of the genre, with some “pop music is bad” argument tacked on.
18. White Christmas (2014 special)
Despite all its success, one of the best things about Black Mirror is its ability to cast relative unknowns in starring roles. You’ll see plenty of faces you know, but you’re doubtful to know many names. go into Jon Hamm. A fan of the show from the start, Hamm wanted to congratulate Charlie Brooker in person. As a consequence of the meeting, Hamm was cast in the starring role for the show’s first (and only) Christmas special. Simply put, Hamm is too famous for Black Mirror. More irksomely, the episode lacks a good enough idea to keep up its plot together. As a consequence, it feels disjointed and bitty. The bright final plot twist simply arrives too late. Though, as a consequence, it’s better on a second viewing.
17. Bandersnatch (2018 interactive film)
“Bandersnatch” is simultaneously bright and underwhelming. Charlie Brooker’s take on choose-your-own adventure TV has five endings dictated by the choices you make. At first, the novelty of controlling the story is exciting and exotic, especially as—in true Black Mirror fact—it takes numerous dark turns. The 1980s setting is pitch perfect, and there’s the kernel of a great story in “Bandersnatch,” but ultimately that novelty overtakes the storytelling and proves why TV is a linear format to begin with.
16. remarkable Vipers (Season 5, Episode 1)
Probably the raunchiest Black Mirror episode, “remarkable Vipers” starts with an intriguing assumption—what happens when VR sex is as good as the real deal—but fails to analyze the tantalizing questions this raises about human sexuality. It gets additional points for the Street Fighter-style VR world, rendered in bright video game color, but it falls flat after a very anticlimactic ending that locks this brave new sexy world firmly back in its box.
15. Metalhead (Season 4, Episode 5)
This is social media’s predictable fear of those Boston Dynamics clips made real, as “Metalhead” sees humans on the run from murderous robotic dogs roaming the countryside. The episode’s style and direction stand out, shot in black and white and successfully evoking typical horror films. It’s tense, exhilarating, and genuinely scary, but the final twist rather undercuts the episode’s menacing tone. Special mention must be made for the moment a robot dog picks up a kitchen knife and spins it menacingly.
14. Playtest (Season 3, Episode 2)
Charlie Brooker likes video games. And “Playtest,” as the name indicates, is all about video games. One particular video game, in fact: Resident Evil. There’s the genius Japanese game developer, the haunted house, a character called Redfield (Chris, not Claire), and already covers of Edge hidden in the background. Brooker’s familiarity with the inspiration for the episode really shows, with cultural nods and winks carefully mixed into a well-paced, inventive plot. This is a real love letter to the survival horror game genre, told with an expertly crafted dollop of Black Mirror gore and fear.
13. Hang the DJ (Season 4, Episode 4)
“Hang the DJ” is nice. It drops us into a firmly controlled world where people date by algorithm. You go on dates decided for you, eat meals chosen for you, and stay in relationships for a predetermined period of time, which could be insignificant hours or years, all in the name of finding the perfect match. Georgina Campbell and Joe Cole (of Peaky Blinders fame) make for likable protagonists, but the ending is slightly telegraphed. while “San Junipero” touches on the complicate morality of death and consent, “Hang the DJ” is a less challenging but ultimately feel-good 50 minutes.
12. Fifteen Million Merits (Season 1, Episode 2)
Aired in 2011, at a time when The X-Factor was at its cultural peak, this take on the grim endgame for reality television hasn’t aged too well. Sure, the shrill caricature of Simon Cowell is entertaining, but the whole episode lacks the subtlety of Brooker’s best morality plays. Black Mirror is at its best when you feel complicit in the awful scenes unfolding before you. Unless you’re a huge fan of make-it-or-break-it-style Saturday night entertainment, then the drama of “Fifteen Million Merits” feels a bit overcooked.
11. Arkangel (Season 4, Episode 2)
The only episode of Black Mirror’s first four seasons to be directed by a woman (make of that what you will), “Arkangel” is one of the least futuristic and, as a consequence, most hard-hitting. Directed by Jodie Foster, it tells the simple story of a mother (Marie) who decides to implant a tracking system in her daughter (Sara) to monitor her health and emotional state, and also to censor things she doesn’t want her young eyes to see. Unlike some episodes that take a bounding jump of faith, “Arkangel” feels like it could happen right now. And that makes its gruesome conclusion all the more chilling.
10. The complete History of You (Season 1, Episode 3)
Perhaps the most crushingly negative of Black Mirror’s romantic stories—or, well, stories that include people in a relationship—“The complete History of You” is a real gut-punch of an episode. As in most Black Mirror episodes, the world is recognizably our own except one crucial detail. In this case, it’s that most humans have been implanted with a “grain” that records everything they see and allows them to play back any memory at will. This does not rule to good things. Written by Jesse Armstrong—the creator of Peep Show—this is the only episode of Black Mirror not to be written or cowritten by Brooker. An unrelenting examination of how technology can help us self-inflict damage to our fragile human egos, things in this episode start bad and end up much, much worse.
9. Crocodile (Season 4, Episode 3)
An already moodier take on the Scandi noir genre, “Crocodile” is set in a world where insurance companies tap into people’s memories in order to settle claims. Again, things start off bad—with a hit-and-run accident—and spiral downwards from there. Although the original script had a man in the rule role, Andrea Riseborough stars as Mia who finds her perfect life unraveling when her past misdeeds catch up with her. Shot in Iceland, with dramatically shots of great open roads and lonely homes, this is one of the best-looking Black Mirror episodes, with a plot to match. The very last scene, in typical Black Mirror style, undercuts the awfulness of it all with just a little bit of on-the-nose bleak comedy.
8. Shut Up and Dance (Season 3, Episode 3)
When did people start covering up the webcams on their laptops? It was definitely a thing before “Shut up and Dance,” but this darkly cynical episode no doubt inspired many to take precautions. The setup is simple enough: A teenager (Alex Lawler) is blackmailed by a hacker who recorded him masturbating. But his path soon crosses with other victims of the hacker, all with their own indiscretions to hide. Events develop at breakneck speed as the increasingly desperate victims dance to the hacker’s tune, culminating in an ending so brutal you’ll end up having nightmares about the things you don’t want your friends and family to know.
7. Black Museum (Season 4, Episode 6)
This remains the most divisive episode in the history of Black Mirror. Directed by Colm McCarthy of Peaky Blinders and Sherlock fame, “Black Museum” is a visceral distillation of Brooker’s obsession with the macabre. It’s also the closest Brooker has gotten to The Twilight Zone and Hammer House of Horror, both of which were inspirations for its anthology style. And while it’s entertaining to watch a man ruined by technology forced to drop a drill into a homeless person’s skull in order to orgasm, you can’t help but feel this is relying on shock for the sake of shock.
6. Be Right Back (Season 2, Episode 1)
The moment when Martha (Hayley Atwell) meets the android version of Ash (Domhnall Gleeson) remains one of the most considerably sad and brilliantly acted in the history of Black Mirror. This story about grief and love uses a sci-fi jump of faith to wrangle with a very current problem: What to do with someone’s online identity when they die. What starts off as a touching course of action of prolonged grieving soon, of course, turns ghoulish. The only thing that lets the episode down is an ending that tries to be one twist too clever. Ash, of course, should 100 percent jump off the cliff.
5. Hated in the Nation (Season 3, Episode 6)
Although the plot of “Hated in the Nation” is straight out of sci-fi—involving rogue robotic bees that become embroiled in a sadistic murder plot—the episode plays things straight with a gripping take on your typical British crime drama. At 89 minutes it’s the longest Black Mirror episode but doesn’t feel it, with the plot unfolding neatly and culminating in a delicious twist that adds a thoroughness that some episodes miss. The improbable plot works in the episode’s favor, stopping it from feeling too preachy and turning it into something that might make people think twice before piling on the hate the next time social media decides on its enemy for the day.
4. Nosedive (Season 3, Episode 1)
In one of the standout Black Mirror performances, Bryce Dallas Howard plays Lacie, a young woman obsessed with her rating in a world where people are scored on a extent of 1 to 5 for every interaction they have. Set in a shallow American suburbia filled with insipid pastel shades, although truly shot in Cape Town, “Nosedive” is a great rebuttal to Black Mirror naysayers who deride the show as too bleak or depressing. Black Mirror episodes are often riffs on a particular genre, and this is Brooker’s spin on a road trip movie, as Lacie’s spiraling rating sends her on a mishap-filled journey across America and sees her cross paths with the excellent Cherry Jones. The penultimate scene—while a little predictable—is one of the most enjoyable closers in the complete series.
3. The National Anthem (Season 1, Episode 1)
The episode that started it all, “The National Anthem” set the tone of the Black Mirror universe in the first five minutes of the film, when the British chief minister is told he must have sex with a pig live on TV, or else confront the execution of a beloved kidnapped princess. At the time, the plot felt so farcical that it was hard to see how Black Mirror would acquire its later reputation for predicting the future. Four years later, when a memoir by former Tory donor Lord Ashcroft alleged that David Cameron put his penis in a dead pig’s mouth during a bizarre university ritual—something which Brooker insists he had no knowledge of—the show’s future-predicting credentials were sealed for good.
2. USS Callister (Season 4, Episode 1)
Black Mirror is often at its best when it’s scaring you with thought-provoking displays of technology run amok, but “USS Callister” is more grounded in the real world than its sci-fi setting indicates. Yes, antagonist Robert Daly creates a virtual world in which he imprisons and abuses avatars of colleagues who’ve slighted him, but mostly he’s another angry young man who takes his grievances to a virtual space because he’s incapable of confronting them in the real world. The bright Star Trek-inspired backdrop lends the story a grander extent, but Daly and his business partner James Walton portray two sides of toxic masculinity and its degrading results. That “USS Callister” tells that story in a morbidly funny, often terrifying manner (with great production values) seals it as one of Black Mirror‘s finest.
1. San Junipero (Season 3, Episode 4)
Quite a few things changed when Black Mirror moved to Netflix. And “San Junipero” probably best captured a subtly different approach from the show’s creators. Here, the grit and the (comparatively) low-budget grime of the Channel 4 days is replaced by an American dream sheen. The additional budget, of course, method more elaborate and detailed sets, but it also brings the action closer to Silicon Valley, from where so much of Black Mirror’s plots draw their inspiration. But what really makes this episode stand out is in its ditching of the show’s trademark ghoulish farce in favor of something more human. In short, it will make you cry with sadness instead of recoil with disgust.
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