In the early days of pre-Netflix Black Mirror, there was a thrill (for some of us at least) that came along with easily being able to rattle off one’s favorite episodes.
There were only six at the time (“The National Anthem,” “15 Million Merits,” “The Entire History of You,” “Be Right Back,” “White Bear,” and “The Waldo Moment”) so it was easy to gather them all up in your brain and spit them out in the order you preferred.
Now Netflix has stepped in and more than doubled the size of Black Mirror‘s oeuvre in just over two years. The episode number has become a bit more unwieldy so it’s finally time to put some pen to paper on this bad boy.
What follows is our official list of every Black Mirror episode from worst to best. You will disagree with it because how could you not? Just be sure to let us know how foolish we are in the comments.
23. The Entire History of You
Season 3, Episode 1
“The Entire History of You” was a popular choice for fan favorite following the show’s tiny three-episode first season. The concept of being able to literally watch one’s own memories Dumbledore’s Pensieve-style was definitely appealing.
“The Entire History of You” struck such a chord that Robert Downey Jr. even optioned it to make a still as of yet unproduced movie. Problem is: “The Entire History of You” has aged incredibly poorly. The initial concept remains appealing – so much so that the show has since returned to it in season 4, but the story wrapped around it is just awful.
Lead character Liam (Toby Kebbell) is such a monstrous prick that it negates any salient point the episode may try to make. It’s hard to be taken in by the episode’s fascinating technology when it’s presented within the most standard and boring infidelity plot imaginable.
22. Shut Up and Dance
Season 3, Episode 3
“Shut Up and Dance” is another episode of Black Mirror that is simply too ugly for its own good. The third episode of season 3 does indeed present a worthwhile original concept, as most episodes of Black Mirror do.
Hackers contact teenage boy Kenny (Alex Lawther) and instruct him to perform an increasingly complicated series of chores or they’ll release an incriminating video taken from his webcam. He teams up with Hector (Jerome Flynn, who has been sent on a similar mission from the same hackers.
While “Shut Up and Dance” is able to tap into modern anxieties about loss of privacy and autonomy well, it introduces a depressing third act twist that unwittingly argues we’re all terrible animals who don’t deserve our stupid privacy anyway.
21. The Waldo Moment
Season 2, Episode 3
“The Waldo Moment” is a popular choice for worst Black Mirror episode ever and it’s not hard to see why. Central “character” Waldo is just absolutely unfunny and insufferable.
The plot introduces tortured comedic genius Charlie Brooker…I mean Jamie Salter (Daniel Rigby), whose animated bear-like creation Waldo embarks upon a satirical run for office. In a more modern context when we’ve seen creatures far worse than cartoon characters elected to office, “The Waldo Moment” isn’t quite as bad. The political message of the powers that be co-opting sarcastic revolutions from frustrated voters is pretty right on.
Still, Waldo is just the fucking worst. The worst. He’s like how Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was a show that wanted to talk about comedic variety shows but was completely unable to write believable sketches.
20. Men Against Fire
Season 3, Episode 5
“Men Against Fire” is actually pretty solid. Its biggest issue, however, is that it’s nearly impossible not to guess its big twist very early on in the episode. Once they get the twist out of the way, a lot falls into place and “Men Against Fire’s” central message is effective and disturbing. Still the ease in which the narrative chicanery is worked out holds it back – as does its clear lack of a necessary budget. It’s a story and a concept that just needed some more time and money to produce.
Season 4, Episode 3
“Crocodile” is one of Black Mirror‘s best-looking episodes. Director John Hillcoat (The Road) makes the absolute best of the episode’s still, disquieting Icelandic landscapes. And that interesting concept of accessing memories comes up again – only this time in a more primitive form.
The technology being developed and primarily used by insurance investigators is entirely logical and intelligent on the show’s part. The plot that Brooker creates around it is again just too bleak. It’s not clear what the episode is trying to say other than that the truly monstrous walk among us – which is a lazy theme for a show this good.
18. Hated in the Nation
Season 3, Episode 6
At this point in the list, we enter into a series of episodes that are flawed but still mostly enjoyable. “Hated in the Nation” has two big factors working against it. It was both season 3’s longest episode and last episode. Therefore it carries an added level of import that it just doesn’t earn. There’s too much going on here with the show combining a modern social media terrorism plot with….robot bees? It’s all a bit much and at times is flat out silly. It’s still a fun episode that combines moments of sharp humor and real intensity. It’s also one of the few Black Mirror episodes to tackle social media and does so in a pretty smart way.
17. Black Mirror: Bandersnatch
Bandersnatch is a bit of an odd duck in the Black Mirror oeuvre. Released late in 2018 as a standalone, Bandersnatch is Netflix’s first ever “choose-your-own-adventure” showcase for adults. The story follows young programmer Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead) as he attempts to create a videogame based on the works of his favorite author. Sadly that author went crazy and killed his family, and as the choices for Stefan began to develop, it becomes clear that the viewer may be guiding him to a similar fate.
Bandersnatch works surprisingly well as a pure Black Mirror episode, devoid of the narrative tricks. Stefan and Colin Ritman (Will Poulter) are both strong characters and the episode’s warped version of 1984 comes across quite nicely. It’s those darn choices though that get in the way of the narrative. In a way that’s fitting, as Bandersnatch might be about how choice is an illusion anyway.
Season 4, Episode 2
Like its season 4 companion “Crocodile,” “Arkangel” is another episode that looks flat out beautiful. Jodie Foster is clearly in her element as a director, creating a richly realized portrait of a near future small-town America. Not only that but she creates a touching portrayal of mothers and daughters.
So much of “Arkangel’s” runtime is staggeringly poignant, with a mother doing truly destructive things to her daughter all in the name of love. Rarely has an episode of Black Mirror fallen apart so precipitously in its third act, however.
Season 5, Episode 2
Basically every season of Black Mirror has your standard “what if phones but too much” episode that tells a relatively straight-forward horror story based around modern (and not futuristic technology). “Smithereens” is this episode for Black Mirror Season 5.
“Smithereens follows Chris (Andrew Scott) a lowly rideshare driver who spends most of his days outside of social networking app company Smithereen, waiting to pick an executive up. When Chris finally gets his wish (or thinks he does) he springs his hostage plan into action with one singular goal in mind: talk to the Smithereen CEO (Topher Grace) on his phone.
“Smithereens” is perfectly fine, but unremarkable. It joins other episodes like “Shut Up and Dance” and “The Entire History of You” that help establish dark sci-fi bona fides of the show in the public consciousness but aren’t the most compelling statements Black Mirror has to offer.
Season 3, Episode 2
There’s quite a bit of time-padding in “Playtest.” Despite a reasonable running time of 57 minutes, the first act feels like it’s nine hours long. Once that hurdle is cleared, however, no episode of Black Mirror is able to more succinctly accomplish what it sets out to accomplish.
In “Playtest”‘s case, that’s to be the first flat out techno horror movie episode of Black Mirror. It’s hard to imagine the episode succeeding in this goal more effectively. “Playtest” is very fun and far scarier than one could reasonably expect.
The episode’s success is tempered yet again by having more endings than The Return of the King but the meaty middle portion is enough to place “Playtest” firmly in Black Mirror‘s middle class.
13. Black Museum
Season 4, Episode 6
Considering that Black Mirror itself is an anthology, maybe it’s no surprise that it’s able to handle anthologies within a single episode pretty well. “Black Museum” is the “finale” of season 4, and it’s an Easter Egg bonanza for Black Mirror fans wrapped around a pretty compelling story.
An unnamed woman pulls into a desert U.S. rest stop where she enters a creepy museum curated by the bombastic Rolo Haynes. Rolo takes his visitor on a tour of the museum, telling stories about how he came to acquire its many technological curiosities.
“Black Museum” is in some respects just as dark as the brutal “Crocodile,” but it comes along with a winking Twilight Zone black humor that makes it all the more palatable and fun.
12. The National Anthem
Season 1, Episode 6
Black Mirror‘s first ever episode is among its most polarizing. It’s incredible that this is what Brooker chose to lead off with. Granted, he couldn’t have known what the franchise would eventually become, but the story of an English Prime Minister blackmailed into copulating with a pig on national television remains as bold and darkly funny as ever. “The National Anthem” comes at 12 on our list, which is probably fitting of its controversial standing amongst fans and critics.
11. Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too
Season 5 Episode 3
Each successive season of Black Mirror feels like it works harder and harder to subvert viewers’ expectations in logical yet thrilling ways. The show has indulged in Star Trek like adventure in “U.S.S. Callister”, post-apocalyptic horror in “Metalhead,” and basically straight up romance in “San Juinpero.” Season 5’s “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too” might be the series’ most striking tonal departures yet. If not for the occasional F-bomb and a coma here or there, this is basically a madcap childrens’ adventure movie.
“Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too” follows sisters Rachel and Jack, who are struggling to fit in at school and come to terms with their mom’s death. Ashley O (played by Miley Cyrus naturally) is a pop star who finds herself under the thumb of her evil aunt. When Ashley O’s aunt makes a truly wild and destructive power play, Rachel, Jack, and an Ashley O robot named Ashley Too seek to defeat her. Many a lesson is learned along the way.
“Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too” doesn’t have the depth of many other Black Mirror episodes and takes far too long to get really rolling. Still, it’s hard not to fall for the charms of this strangely wholesome installment.
10. White Christmas
“White Christmas” is the first and superior of Black Mirror‘s two anthology episodes. Jon Hamm stars as Matt Trent, a proprietor of a home-helper technology, dating expert, and all-around creep. “White Christmas” follows Trent through three seemingly unrelated stories before they cross in fascinating and terrifying ways. White Christmas is just terrifying, good science fiction and in many ways the technological concepts presented in it have resonated throughout future seasons of the show.
Season 4, Episode 5
“Metalhead” is beautiful in its simplicity. It’s the shortest, most direct, and most exciting episode of Black Mirror. Brooker presents us with a simple black and white story of survival. Black and white literally and black and white figuratively: man (in this case woman) vs. machine.
Maxine Peak is phenomenal as our protagonist in a Walking Dead-style future in which humanity is pursued by terrifying packs of robotic “dogs.” “Metalhead” never gives us straightforward answers (though those robots do seem to like to gather around Amazon-like fulfillment centers). What it does give us is a careful, straightforward examination of the human spirit’s struggle to survive.
8. White Bear
Season 2, Episode 2
“White Bear” may rely a bit too much on its third-act twist but damn, what a twist it is. People who have never seen Black Mirror may be under the mistaken impression that the show thrives on “tricking” its audience. That’s obviously not always the case. But it is in “White Bear” and the results are incredible.
Black Mirror is able to manipulate us into believing it’s a much simpler, maybe even derivative show with the first two-thirds of “White Bear.” That last third, however, presents a fundamental truth about the all-consuming human desire for vengeance that’s as uncomfortable as anything the show has produced thus far.
Season 3, Episode 1
A fun aspect of Black Mirror is being able to recognize certain plot points and themes in real life. Ok, so it’s not always fun. Usually it’s terrifying. For “Nosedive,” though it’s somehow both.
Bryce Dallas Howard stars as Lacie Pound, a woman in a near future that is even more obsessed with social media and status than we are. Lacie decides she wants to get into a hip new neighborhood but to do so she must maintain a 4.0 score on the dominant social media app. So Lacie embarks upon her mission, dying a little bit inside every time someone rates a social interaction anything lower than a 5.
“Nosedive,” despite its too close for comfort premise, is a lot of fun. And it will forever change the way you view your Uber rating.
6. Hang the DJ
Season 4, Episode 4
Every episode since season 2 of Black Mirror has had its “token” love story. “Hang the DJ” is the worst of those love stories so far…and still remains one of the best episodes of the series ever.
Georgina Campbell and Joe Cole star as star-crossed lovers Frank and Amy. Frank and Amy may be star-crossed but technology seems to disagree. They meet through a dating service app that dictates the entire direction of your dating life. “The System” takes users from relationship to relationship, gathering information to find the user’s one true love. Problem is: Frank and Amy believe they’ve already found it.
“Hang the DJ” is the rare episode of Black Mirror (or anything else for that matter) that features a twist that both elevates and reinforces the original premise. It’s a wonderful, clever, and emotional love story.
5. USS Callister
Season 4, Episode 1
We’ve played pretty fast and loose with spoilers here, but “USS Callister” is really an episode best left unspoiled as possible. Suffice it to say, there’s a little bit more going on that just “Black Mirror goes to space.”
“USS Callister” is one of the most complete and exciting stories the show has told yet. We know TV types get testy when episodes are compared to movies, but “USS Callister” really is just a fantastic movie. Brooker has a stronger sense of story and wonder here than ever before, and “USS Callister” marks an exciting new direction for the show altogether.
4. 15 Million Merits
Season 1, Episode 2
“15 Million Merits” is all over the place. It satirizes talent shows like The Voice and American Idol. It satirizes the app culture that’s invading our phones and computers. It satirizes the weight loss industry. It’s a lot, and it’s hard to fully categorize. Instead of all these elements detracting from the story at hand, they enhance it.
The episode concerns a future (hopefully a distant one) in which online “merits” are currency and the only way to achieve them is to pedal a stationary bike to help keep the lights on. The only way out of this life is to save enough money to get a chance on a global talent show. Or maybe there’s just no way out of it at all.
“15 Million Merits” is genius dystopian fiction. It’s Brooker’s sense of humor placed neatly over Orwell’s 1984. It’s only the second episode of the entire series and it’s as auspicious a beginning as possible.
3. Striking Vipers
Season 5 Episode 1
Call it recency bias if you must, but Black Mirror Season 5’s “Striking Vipers” belongs in the top 3 all-time Black Mirror episodes. Trust me, no one wanted to see “Fifteen Millions Merits” bounced out of the third spot less than me. “Striking Vipers” is just that good.
Even before the “turn” in “Striking Vipers,” this is still a beautiful and bittersweet episode of television. Anthony Mackie, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Nicole Beharie brilliantly capture the anarchic sense of freedom and joy of youth and then just as capably capture the nostalgic sadness of adulthood. At first glance, this is an episode about growing old, growing apart, and not being able to reconcile your new self and your old self.
Then the twist hits. And hot damn what a twist it is. Suddenly “Striking Vipers” explodes into a whole host of philosophical, emotional, and sexual questions that the episode invites you to ponder. Through a silly little Mortal Kombat style videogame, Black Mirror makes the audience reconsider their own relationships and values. Just like all the truly great Black Mirror episodes this is a love story. But who loves who, how do they love them, what does that love mean, and where do we all go from here?
2. San Junipero
Season 3, Episode 4
“San Junipero”‘s success seemed to catch Brooker and Netflix by surprise. Black Mirror was always a bleak, sometimes ugly little show that had fun doing its Twilight Zone schtick in the shadows. And then season 3 debuted on Netflix and nestled within it – in the unassuming position of the fourth episode – was a romantic masterpiece. A show that was sometimes about things that go viral suddenly had a “thing that went viral.”
“San Junipero” won the show its first Emmy and took up more server space of discussion on the internet than any other episode. It’s all more than well earned. “San Junipero” is near perfect.
It’s the story of the love between two people, Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), and Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis), who are only able to meet because of technology. For once technology brings people together on Black Mirror instead of tearing them apart. How the tech does so may seem ethically dubious, or even disturbing, to some.
How could anything that leads to love be nefarious though? Isn’t love what everything’s supposed to be all about? I don’t know. You don’t know. Black Mirror doesn’t know. But Kelly and Yorkie would have undoubtedly preferred to have met through any means than have not. And that’s the raw human appeal of Black Mirror‘s second best episode.
1. Be Right Back
Season 2, Episode 1
“Be Right Back” is Black Mirror‘s smallest episode – its quietest, its most intimate. Domhnall Gleeson and Hayley Atwell (before they were the Domhnall Gleeson and the Hayley Atwell) star as married couple Ash and Martha. They are happily, comfortably in love, even if Ash does have a bit of a problem pulling himself away from his phone.
One night, Ash heads out for a drive on a snowy road and the unthinkable happens. Martha is faced with a lifetime on her own until one of her friends puts an idea in her head. There does exist the technology now where a company can recreate the personality of a lost loved one through all of their social media posts and online presence. So Martha goes through with it and tries to fall in love again with a facsimile of Ash. As we all know, however, technology can get pretty close to human but can it get all the way there?
“Be Right Back” is beautiful and sad because it’s human. It’s imperfect. And it gets to a truth about all technology. Life is a race to experience love against the clock of death. So much of our technology and our innovation is about extending that clock, enhancing our capacity to love or in the rarest of instances: defeating death. Death, life, love, grief, technology, and time all come together for a bittersweet little parable in “Be Right Back.” It’s Black Mirror‘s best episode.