Every Episode of "Black Mirror," Ranked
I want to begin by saying that I don’t think there is a bad episode of Black Mirror… but there is a hierarchy that exists within the series, and we’re here to find it.
Charlie Brooker’s either a really intuitive guy wary of the dangers of technology, or he’s a tech-less hermit and just absurdly paranoid. Regardless, the guy knows how to make us think twice about our futures, and these technological cautionary tales give us a glimpse into how our lives could be 10 years from now, or, in some cases, 10 minutes from now.
They’ll make you feel. They’ll make you think. They’re scare you. They’ll empower you. Brooker’s done his job if Black Mirror drives home a point on you. So, with 18 episodes, a Christmas special and a movie under its belt, and since season 5 is coming out tomorrow, let’s rank every single installment, shall we?
This is your one warning before you read. If you haven’t seen Black Mirror- Spoilers lie ahead.
20. "Black Museum"
Season 4, Episode 6
The most recent episode of Black Mirror, in my opinion, is the biggest dud. Letitia Wright and Douglas Hodge give great performances, Wright in particular, who pulls the rug out from under Hodge’s Rolo Haynes in the episode’s final act, but I thought the stories were as a whole fairly uninteresting, and the plot twist at the end didn’t pack much of a punch. Overall, the episode is just flimsy. Shout out to Penn Jillette, though, whose short story “The Pain Addict” serves as inspiration for the first of the three stories in the episode. Fun fact, though: “Black Museum” actually contains multiple easter eggs, with a reference to every previous Black Mirror episode present in the season 4 finale.
19. "Men Against Fire"
Season 3, Episode 5
For me, this one was forgettable. It’s an interesting idea, the thought of military implants making soldiers think the enemy is some deformed, savage beast, but that’s really as far as the idea stretches: that the reality of wars here on Earth are as simple as humans killing other humans. Malachi Kirby’s performance as Stripe leaves a bit to be desired, although his moment at the end where he thinks he sees a lover, only to discover that neither she nor the life he used to have exists. Michael Kelly’s inclusion in this episode obviously stems from his involvement in House of Cards, and his performance as Arquette is solid, but nothing more than Douglas Stamper with his foot off the gas.
18. "The Waldo Moment"
Season 2, Episode 3
I will give this episode credit for preceding the political climate America finds itself in today, but I think “The Waldo Moment” is a bit too on the nose. Oversaturation of news and the subsequent analysis done by both journalists and comedians alike can certainly cause us to think outside the box when it comes to determining leadership. And so, when Daniel Rigby’s Jamie Salter tries to flip the system, we find it logical for him to do so. It’s just… the Bear, Waldo, itself, is just ridiculous. And if I have to listen to him say “Hey! Mr. Monroe!” One more time, I’m gonna jump through a table. “The Waldo Moment” does beg the question, however, while we’re on the subject of electing fictitious people as leaders, there’s some clause in the Constitution that says Mickey Mouse can’t be President, right? Asking for a few hundred million friends.
Season 4, Episode 2
This episode didn’t really go anywhere for me. It had a cool concept, similar to what we see in “The Entire History of You,” but opts to focus more on the family aspect instead. Rosemary Dewitt’s performance as Marie is effectively and increasingly agitating, albeit heartbreaking, as she wrestles with being a helicopter parent to Sara (Brenna Harding). I can certainly understand where both parties are coming from here. But there are plenty of plot holes to distract me from their relationship. Like, why doesn’t Owen Teague’s character Trick call the police on Marie when she confronts him about sleeping with Sara, since the Arkangel program was deemed illegal in America? Why does Sara have to beat the shit out of Marie with the damn tablet instead of throwing it away? Have Marie and Sara never had the talk about individuality and helicopter parenting? It’s got some cool twists and some shocking moments, but overall, I see some wasted potential here with “Arkangel.”
16. "Fifteen Million Merits"
Season 1, Episode 2
A lot of people really like Daniel Kaluuya’s monologue at the end of “Fifteen Million Merits.” And I do too. It’s an impassioned, rambling speech about authenticity. But at the same time, it’s about what we’ve already known in after watching for the last hour- that absolutely nothing is real in the world of “Fifteen Million Merits.” I felt like this episode is so far out of left field in comparison to the episode before it (“The National Anthem”) and just about every episode after it. It tries to do too much with all of its concepts layered on top of each other, that we’re not sure what to focus on. This is the first episode to feature the song “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)” by Irma Thomas, so it’s got that going for it.
15. "White Christmas"
Season 2, Episode 4
I love Jon Hamm, I really do. Hamm’s character in the first sub-story of “White Christmas” is quintessentially Hamm-ian, as he works as a torturer by day, and a seduction coach by night, being so suavely pleasant all the way. But Rafe Spall steals the show here. We see the full depth of his grief, seeing as he’s handled his divorce in… let’s say a very sub-par way. When he sees his child for the first time, it’s truly heartbreaking. The strength of “White Christmas” comes from its major plot twist, though, as the tales of deception and murder come full circle back into the present. Both characters are terrible people, but they gain our sympathy, and we end up feeling bad for them as both of their lives ultimately crumble by the end of this twisty-turny episode. Post-episode funks are the gifts that keep on giving in Charlie Brooker’s world. Merry Christmas?
14. "Black Mirror: Bandersnatch"
Black Mirror’s first “movie,” as it were, is extremely creative in its premise. The “choose your own adventure” narrative is genius. I just wish it were a little more fine tuned. The acting is great, with Fionn Whitehead and Will Poulter (who I still can’t get over being British) leading the charge, and the story is creative enough, as an amateur game designer struggles to get his idea off the ground after being hired by a video game company. I just can’t help but feeling pigeonholed by the choices laid out for me. Black Mirror is a show that has its intense and overwhelming moments, forcing you to be uncomfortable as you watch ordinary people come to terms with the terrors of technology. But when given the choice to guide a character, most ordinary people aren’t going to love options that are: “A. Bad.” and “B. Bad but in a different way,” because that’s not what their nature as humans favors. Getting to compare endings with your friends is a lot of fun, and hopefully we get to see more “user-directed” projects in the future, perhaps even away from Black Mirror. This is a really valiant first attempt. The first one through the wall always gets bloody, though.
Season 4, Episode 5
“Metalhead” exists in the same vein as The Terminator franchise, in that we’ve got humans running away from machines that are trying to kill them. It’s shot entirely black and white, and despite having the shortest run time in the entire series (41 minutes), it manages to pack in as much intensity as any long-form Black Mirror episode. The setup is simple: Bella (Maxine Peake) attempts to shake a killer robot “dog” that has tracked her. For an episode with a premise as basic as it is, the intricacies of “Metalhead” shine through, from Maxine Peake’s excellent performance, to the horrifyingly real design of the dogs, whose weapons only scare the viewer even more as they get more and more sinister. The cat and mouse (dog and mouse?) game runs swiftly through the gorgeous countryside, with the human consistently trying (and in some ways, brilliantly succeeding) to outsmart the pursuing machine. It only gets scarier when you learn that the dogs in question are based off the robotic dogs created by Boston Scientific that can pull a damn truck. Now, what do teddy bears have to do with any of this?
Season 4, Episode 2
I approve of the decision to move filming of this episode from Scotland to Iceland. The visuals of this episode stand out more than any other, with shots of stunning landscapes serving as the backdrop for this intriguing “memory heist” story. Andrea Riseborough really makes us wonder what “Crocodile”’s title really implies, and whether or not she truly feels remorse for any or her actions, and because all of her actions make sense, it is easy for us to go back and forth on wanting her to escape and wanting her to get caught. The finale of the episode is heartbreaking. She should have checked on the fucking guinea pig. THE GUINEA PIG.
11. "Be Right Back"
Season 2, Episode 1
The first two seasons of Black Mirror go back and forth with episodes that are an in-your-face kind of allegorical, and episodes that make you take a few minutes and think on what you just saw. “Be Right Back” is one of those. For the first time, we see some big-name actors (Domhnall Gleeson and Hayley Atwell) featured in a Black Mirror episode, as Ash and Martha, the latter of whom attempts to regenerate the former in an experimental recreation method. “Be Right Back” is brilliant in that is far more “big picture” than all other episodes that came before it. We see Hayley Atwell’s character struggle mightily with the balance of physical presence and actual humanity, and how our online selves are just that- they’re not the whole version of us, they’re just what is most likely the cleanest version of us. The ending of this episode is a lot like “The National Anthem,” where we expect one course of action to take place, only to have a slight diversion at the very end leave a bitter taste in our mouths. PSA: Don’t text and drive, everyone.
10. "The National Anthem"
Season 1, Episode 1
Black Mirror’s premiere episode is technology at its simplest- in that there’s no technology we don’t already have as the primary focus of the episode. Rory Kinnear’s Prime Minister Michael Callow wakes up to find Princess Susanna has been kidnapped by an unknown party, and in order to ensure her safety, will have to have sex with a pig live on British television. It’s the ultimate “will he, won’t he?”, as you want to know what’s going to happen next, but certainly don’t want to watch this guy have sex with a pig. As the drama unravels, we learn how dangerous public opinion can be, as the world suddenly and sharply turns on Callow, seemingly without knowing the full story. In many episodes of Black Mirror that involve omnipresent unseen antagonists, I am constantly impressed by their ability to remain one step ahead of the good guys.
9. "Shut Up and Dance"
Season 3, Episode 3
Upon first watch, I wasn’t a big fan of “Shut Up and Dance.” I thought it was too formulaic, and the ending wasn’t as satisfying as I wanted it to be. But after consideration, sometimes there’s nothing wrong with formula if it is done well... and you're in the right mindset to watch this episode- truthfully, I binged "Nosedive," "Playtest" and this one in a row and was clocked out from being beaten over the head by allegories. Alex Lawther’s Kenny is blackmailed into following seemingly aimless directions after he is caught on camera masturbating to images on his computer, with the assumption that if Alex completes his instructions, his act will not be broadcasted to his friends and family. He is plunged into a tense game of follow-the-leader, and gets entwined with Hector (Jerome Flynn), another man being blackmailed by the same group. Of course though, in true Black Mirror style, we find that no one can truly outrun their sins. The final moments of the episode, specifically Alex’s final emotional state, the slow motion camera work, and the music (Radiohead’s “Exit Music (For a Film)”) are chilling.
Season 3, Episode 2
Note to everyone: when your mother calls, answer the phone. Entering the world of video games for the first time, “Playtest” shows how far some developers are willing to go to elicit fear on a deep psychological level- and how cockiness could probably get you killed. Wyatt Russell plays Cooper, an American traveler strapped for cash, who ends up participating in a beta test for a new augmented-reality horror video game designed by Shou Saito (Ken Yamamura). He also has this glaring character flaw- in that he won’t pick up his phone when his mom calls. What I love about “Playtest” is that the consequences are blatantly avoidable, and yet it’s a great commentary on how we think we’re in control of what’s right in front of us- like in a video game. But it’s only when we realize we’re past the point of no control that we try to reach out for something that’s not there.
7. "The Entire History of You"
Season 1, Episode 3
What if you could see everything you’ve ever done? Pretty cool for figuring out where you may have gone wrong with something, like a job interview, or for winning an argument to prove your point, right? Well, because this is Black Mirror, we see the relationship Liam (Toby Kebbell) and Ffion (Jodi Whittaker) spiral into oblivion in a matter of hours. Liam uncovers the mystery of his cheating wife just by using the finest of details to devastating and heartbreaking results, and we’re left to wonder (although it is shadowed early on by another character with no Grain implant) if seeing all our memories really is a good thing or not. My one qualm with the episode is this: the “cereal monogamist” line delivered by Jonas (Tom Cullen) that Liam nitpicks as not being funny is actually… pretty funny. Still waiting on the feature film that Robert Downey, Jr. bought the rights to.
Season 3, Episode 1
When you’ve got a script written by Michael Schur and Rashida Jones, you know you’ve got something special (and you also know your show has crossover appeal). The idea of a social class system determined by the ratings you receive from your peers is a potentially terrifying idea (even though it’s already being toyed with with apps like Peeple and experimented with in China), but the idea of everyone acting blatantly fake towards you sounds even more off putting. Bryce Dallas Howard does an excellent job as Lacie, who struggles to make it to her “friend” Naomi’s (Alice Eve) wedding, as she experiences a series of social miscues that send her social rating into a nosedive (that’s the title of the episode. Wild.). Cherry Jones makes a surprise appearance as Susan, a truck driver who had a luxurious life as a 4.8, but plummeted after her husband died. A major feature of this episode is its production design, a brilliant display of clean, pastel colors, hiding the gross, fake interior that lies below it. Still, with Schur and Jones behind the script, “Nosedive” has a lighter tone than some (all) of the other episodes that came before it. I credit this episode for unfreezing Charlie Brooker’s heart a little bit. You might want to chuck your iPhone into the sea for precautions, though.
5. "USS Callister"
Season 4, Episode 1
This episode will be forever known as “the Star Trek one,” as it pays excellent homage to the classic TV space epic of yore. In the fashion of the show, though, nothing is what it seems. We’re not even sure if Robert Daly (Jesse Plemons) is the hero of this thing. Of course, we find that he’s not- he’s the villain- and we don’t find this out until we meet Natalie Cole (Cristin Milioti), and we discover Daly is just another tormented victim at his day job (he’s the COO of an augmented reality video game developer) that has taken cyber bullying to another level. “Callister” is a return to form for the series, as we’re taken through the world of pop culture fandoms and given a critique on the hyper-masculine, misogynistic, insecure people that populate it and control it. “USS Callister” also does just enough to keep us from feeling totally depressed, utilizing cheesy dialogue and ironic humor, colorful and creative production design, and intense, nail-biting heist sequences. This episode also won an Emmy for Best Television Movie, and rightfully so.
4. "Hang the DJ"
Season 4, Episode 4
As someone who shamelessly utilizes online dating apps, this episode struck a chord with me. The simple but brilliantly designed premise of people being matched by a Siri-like assistant (“Coach”) for a predetermined amount of time, as part of a grander attempt to find an “ultimate compatible other” is played out to a delightfully surprising ending by Georgina Campbell and Joe Cole. You can feel the ups and downs that people looking for love experience- the highs of being with and having fun with someone in a spontaneous moment of bliss, as well as the bitter feeling of loneliness that everyone has experienced at one time or another. And with a brilliant score by Sigor Ròs, it only elevates the experienced further. Man, if only Tinder was like this. The system would truly never be wrong.
3. "Hated in the Nation"
Season 3, Episode 6
The final episode of season 3 gave us this long-form buddy cop drama. We’ve got Kelly Macdonald as Karin Parke, the wise-cracking and insult-hurling Scottish veteran cop, contrasted by her partner, the green but intuitive Blue Coulson, played by Faye Marsay. After the death of a journalist at the center of a social media onslaught, Macdonald and Coulson uncover an even more sinister plot- killer robotic bees. Under the prologue’s guise of “something bad has just gone down, here’s what happened,” we learn that social media instigators are just as bad as people who piss them off… because robotic bees will enter your skull and eat your brain from inside, akin to the beetles from The Mummy. The brutal and bloody images from “Hated in the Nation” will leave you shaken. The fallout will leave you heartbroken. The epilogue will leave you shaking. Just watch this one if you’re not familiar. Or even if you are. More long-form content, Black Mirror, please.
2. "San Junipero"
Season 3, Episode 4
If you’re watching Black Mirror for the first time, you have to earn watching “San Junipero,” because it is by far the most emotional installment in the entire catalogue, and skipping everything that precedes it in favor of watching it will ruin the rest of it for you. In what begins as a romantic drama set in a bustling seaside town, a chance encounter between party girl Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) becomes a heart-wrenching love story that stretches across the years. In “San Junipero,” we deal with the freedom of being able to live out (or even relive) the best years of our lives, but also the impending future, and what it might mean to be stuck there, and how our relationships form, grow, and perhaps even become strained because of it. Acting and story aside, the technical construction of the episode is immaculate. There’s something that can become extra cheesy when dealing with 80s scenic and costume design, but nothing about “San Junipero” seems over the top. Interwoven with 80s pop songs (lookin’ at you, Belinda Carlisle) and a brilliant score from Clint Mansell (The Fountain, another film to check out if you liked “San Junipero”), we clearly know that San Junipero and “Heaven is a Place on Earth” go hand in hand. Like “USS Callister” after it, “San Junipero” thrust Black Mirror into the mainstream awards scene, winning two Primetime Emmys, one for Best Writing of a Television Movie or Limited Series, and Best Television Movie.
1. "White Bear"
Season 2, Episode 2
“White Bear” pulls the classic twist “the good guy was really the bad guy all along!,” as we find that Lenora Crichlow (Victoria Skillane) is a horribly shitty person after the credits begin to roll on the episode. What brings “White Bear” to the top of this list is the shock factor. It is the 5th episode released of the series, and while “The Entire History of You” gives us plenty of heartbreaking moments, “White Bear” misleads you for 40 minutes and then pulls the rug out from underneath you. With “White Bear,” we also get an interesting social critique about how we view violence as entertainment, and, in a sense, how we’ve become desensitized to it. We think we’re empathizing with Lenora, until we’re caught in the metaphorical bear trap right along with her. Then, it’s anyone’s game. If it wasn’t evident that Black Mirror takes major inspiration from The Twilight Zone, “White Bear” certainly drives that point home. Just for the shocking twist alone, “White Bear” reaches the number one spot on this list. I’m truly still reeling.
Which episode of Black Mirror is your favorite? Leave a comment down below.
Seasons 1-4 of Black Mirror and Bandersnatch are streaming on Netflix. Season 5 premieres on Wednesday, June 5th, also on Netflix.