Charlie Brooker has made a lot of people scared of their phones with his spooky anthology series Black Mirror. Each episode showcases the dark side of technology – or neutral technology, but in the hands of the dark side of humanity. The show has enjoyed four seasons, a Christmas special, and a choose-your-own-adventure movie.
As with any show – especially one as ambitious as this – there have been ups and downs along the way. So, ahead of the release of season 5 on Netflix later this year, here is every episode of Black Mirror, ranked.
20 The Waldo Moment
While this episode has been praised for its oddly prescient premise, its failing is in its execution. The premise of a cartoon character running for political office is solid gold, but none of the plot developments feel realistic, while the ending is too over-the-top to be as chilling as it wants to be.
19 Fifteen Million Merits
The second episode of Black Mirror suffers from the dovetailing of its two great premises. It satirizes society’s rewarding of physical perfection as well as the cutthroat world of TV talent shows. The episode goes off the rails and becomes, frankly, boring when these two premises are shoved together.
18 The Entire History of You
Black Mirror’s third episode is also one of the few to be written by someone other than Charlie Brooker, who instead handed scripting duties over to Peep Show’s Jesse Armstrong. It’s a good premise, but the lead character, Liam, goes from zero to a hundred. It’s an unrealistic escalation of the stakes.
The episode’s main problem is that Liam isn’t likable, whereas Ffion is. So, while we’re supposed to empathize with Liam and hate Ffion for cheating on him, the actual effect is that he comes off as toxic and terrible and the affair makes sense.
17 The National Anthem
The first ever episode of Black Mirror was going in blind, so it can be forgiven for not being the strongest installment of the show. Interestingly, the episode predicted David Cameron’s Piggate scandal several years before the fact. “The National Anthem” established the show’s penchant for plot twists and dark turns, so it can be celebrated for that.
“Arkangel” starts off as a cautionary tale about being too overprotective as a parent. A paranoid mother is given technology that will allow her to see what her daughter sees and censor how her brain reads images.
As it turns out, it really screws her up, except the problem is that it goes to unrealistic places. Still, Jodie Foster directs this one with gusto and Rosemarie DeWitt is a compelling lead.
15 Men Against Fire
This tale of soldiers being brainwashed into doing the government’s bidding has one of the best twists of any Black Mirror episode. Not only is it a thrilling story that keeps you hooked from beginning to end, it has a lot to say about war and humanity’s natural inclination to fight. However, it’s a little too gut-wrenchingly bleak to be as fun as some other Black Mirror installments.
14 Black Museum
While this episode is just wall-to-wall Easter eggs, as Black Panther’s Letitia Wright visits a museum filled with props from the series, it also works as its own trio of original stories. It also has its own self-contained plot twist as Wright reveals her true reason for visiting. It was a beautifully meta way to end the show’s fourth and, as yet, most recent season.
13 Be Right Back
The best Black Mirror episodes use a futuristic sci-fi technology to tell a story about a human problem. For example, “Arkangel” is about the fears that go along with being a parent.
“Be Right Back” is a story about death and grief in which a company makes robot clones of people’s loved ones based on their social media profiles. The episode could’ve done more with the stages of grief to develop its plot, but it’s an otherwise solid episode.
12 Hang the DJ
How do dating apps match two complete strangers together? What goes on inside that app that makes it decide those two people would make a good couple? Those are the questions Charlie Brooker set out to answer in “Hang the DJ,” with mixed results. Georgina Campbell and Joe Cole are great in the lead roles – it’s not usual that Black Mirror characters are that likable.
On paper, this sounds fantastic. It’s an interactive choose-your-own-adventure style Black Mirror movie. However, since not every route the story can take leads to an actual ending, sometimes you end up at a dead end. You have to sit through a lot of versions of this story, and it’s simply not strong enough to sustain that many viewings. The format shows promise, but as with anything new, the first one hasn’t quite perfected it.
A lot of Black Mirror episodes take things that exist on our phones and give them real-life consequences in society to point out how sadistic they are. For example, in “Hang the DJ,” we see the algorithm of a dating app at work. In “Nosedive,” your Instagram likes essentially affect your standing in society, and once you drop below a certain level, it’s basically impossible to claw your way back up. Every interaction is rated.
The episode is brilliant in pointing out how vapid and fake and meaningless everything on social media is, and also uses that as a prism to explore class. The ending is pretty weak, but that’s a minor gripe because it’s a great ride.
9 San Junipero
This is a surprisingly chirpy episode of Black Mirror, with a happy ending. It’s Charlie Brooker’s way of saying that, despite the messages most episodes of his show carry, there are hopeful sides to the advancement of technology, too. It’s not all doom and gloom. The episode was also a landmark moment for representation, as it presents a same-sex romance without making a big deal out of it.
8 Hated in the Nation
We’re not that far off “Hated in the Nation” happening for real, the way social media is going. It’s a police procedural story about a trending hashtag, #DeathTo, which is used to gauge public consensus on which celebrities deserve to die. Then some hacked robotic bees kill them. The episode is anchored by a terrific performance by Kelly Macdonald.
This one is a serious head trip. We go through these various different stages of reality and have the curtain pulled back a few times and there’s a bunch of fake plot twists and, in the end, it turns out to be much simpler than we thought. It’s a great episode led by Wyatt Russell.
6 Shut Up and Dance
This episode has the chilling distinction of being set in the present day. All of the technology in “Shut Up and Dance” exists today. People do have their webcams hacked and they do get blackmailed by people. In classic Black Mirror fashion, the episode ends with a twist – as well as a disturbing, Kill List-like final act.
Arguably the darkest episode of a show made up entirely of dark episodes, “Crocodile” repurposes the same technology used in “The Entire History of You” for a crime story. Andrea Riseborough gives one of the strongest lead performances of any Black Mirror episode.
The cinematography is beautiful, capturing the sumptuous landscapes of the episode’s Icelandic filming locations. It sets the mood for a story that makes you feel as cold as the glaciers in the backdrop of every shot.
4 White Christmas
The Black Mirror Christmas special, “White Christmas,” is a self-contained anthology all in itself, with a few stories being told, all tied together with a framing device. The episode brings “blocking” on social media into the real world, and also suggests an inventive way to punish sex offenders when we have the technology. Jon Hamm and Rafe Spall are brilliant as the two leads in the episode, too.
This is a Black Mirror episode like no other in that it has a very simple narrative. The stripped-down approach of having one character pitted against a bloodthirsty machine, shot in black-and-white, is strikingly effective.
“Metalhead” might just be the bleakest, scariest, and most depressing episode of the whole show. The final shot, which reveals what all the craziness has been for, is particularly harrowing.
2 USS Callister
This episode succeeds on two levels, as both a pitch-perfect satire of the ludicrousness and misogyny of the old Star Trek shows and a chilling #MeToo narrative with sci-fi overtones. It’s like a sinister version of Galaxy Quest, which is obviously a great thing.
The cast is spectacular, with actors such as Jesse Plemons and Cristin Milioti anchoring the episode with stellar performances. The editing moves seamlessly between the real world and the VR world of Robert Daly’s personalized video game, which is also impressive.
1 White Bear
Season 2’s “White Bear” was the first truly great episode of Black Mirror. It established that you had to take everything in an episode with a pinch of salt, because you’ll have the rug pulled out from under you, sooner or later.
It set the bar very high and, for the most part, Charlie Brooker has managed to live up to it in the years since – but no episode has topped this one for the sheer genius of its plot. No twist has been as effective since.