Every Black Mirror episode ranked worst to best

Every Black Mirror episode ranked worst to best

Series creator Charlie Brooker strikes the perfect balance with Black Mirror. Its social commentary is distant enough to be viewed as a worst-case-scenario dystopian nightmare, yet the core of each narrative chronicles current issues. The result is a sobering and perhaps prophetic reflection of our lives, a somber warning of civilization’s growing reliance on technology.

There are no bad episodes of Black Mirror, per se, but some are better than others. Here are all 19 episodes, from four seasons, ranked from worst to best.

Warning: This article contains spoilers for each episode.

The Waldo Moment (S01E03)

If you’d asked any Black Mirror fan or critic for their opinion on “The Waldo Moment” after its release in 2013, the majority would shrug with indifference, perhaps responding with, “It’s alright.” Even Brooker admitted he “didn’t really nail” the satirical — and seemingly implausible — political scenario where voters trolled the polls by supporting a fictional, cantankerous blue cartoon bear named Waldo.

Post-2016, Brooker’s story appears clairvoyant. Swap animated Waldo for an opinionated celebrity, blue skin for orange, the U.K. for the U.S., and “The Waldo Moment” becomes Black Mirror‘s most oracular story, unknowingly predicting the unexpected rise of far-right populism, illustrated by the surprise election of U.S. president, Donald Trump.

In an apt use of social media marketing, as Trump’s victory became apparent during elections, the official Black Mirror Twitter account acknowledged the prediction, tweeting: “This isn’t an episode. This isn’t marketing. This is reality.”

Crocodile (S04E03)

Black Mirror often predicts technology making memories tangible, first illustrated by the “grain” implant in “The Entire History of You.” In “Crocodile,” the “Recaller” is able to scan memory and display it on a monitor, straight from the brain. Insurance companies have a legal requirement to use the device when investigating compensation claims, which is bad news for Mia (Andrea Riseborough) — she witnesses a man struck by a pizza delivery cart from her hotel window, leading insurance investigator Shazia (Kiran Sonia Sawar) to her door, Recaller in hand.

The trouble is, Mia has a dark secret. Fifteen years earlier, she was the passenger when her then-boyfriend Rob (Andrew Gower) killed a cyclist in a car accident. The pair disposed of the body, fearing criminal conviction. The night Mia witnessed the the pizza-delivery collision, Rob had visited her hotel, telling her he planned to leave an anonymous tip for the dead cyclist’s wife. In her desperation to prevent Rob from placing their freedom in jeopardy, she kills him, leaving the incriminating memory fresh in her mind. When Shazia scans Mia’s brain, the Recaller uncovers her crime. Mia doesn’t respond well.

Unfortunately, Mia’s leap from reluctant accomplice to multiple murderer feels jagged and unnatural. Mia’s frenzied killing is visceral and shocking but doesn’t provide much insight. By its conclusion, the message is unclear. Is this technology good or bad? Ethical or unethical?

Metalhead (S04E05)

“Metalhead” is one of the series’ most distinct stories, an adrenaline-pumped 41 minutes illustrating Black Mirror‘s variation. The monochrome landscape is befitting of the no-thrills, cat-and-mouse chase between Bella (Maxine Peake) and a weaponized robotic “dog.” The sense of inescapable dread is heightened due to the antagonists being inspired by Boston Dynamics’ real-life robots.

The final reveal of a teddy bear in a box — the item that led Bella (Maxine Peake), Tony (Clint Dyer), and Clarke (Jake Davies) to the dog’s warehouse — acts as a reminder of humanity in the post-apocalyptic landscape. Though an entertaining waltz through a nightmare scenario, its surface-level critique lacks the deeper meaning viewers have come to expect. Its lack of a trademark bone-chilling revelation, however, doesn’t detract from its quality.

Arkangel (S04E02)

“Arkangel” builds on a concept of neural implants that allow the broadcast of experience, depicted in numerous episodes. “Arkangel’s” premise places the responsibility of the implant in the parents’ hands, using it as a monitoring device. Marie (Rosemarie DeWitt) opts to trial the technology on her daughter, Sara (Brenna Harding). As well as a live-feed of Sara’s experience streamed to her tablet, Marie uses an accompanying app to filter Sara’s experience, like parental controls hardwired to the brain.

As with “Crocodile,” the technology leads to violent repercussions. Unable to ever witness blood or violence, Sara self-harms. At the request of a child psychologist, Marie agrees to disable the app, allowing Sara to experience life fully. As she grows up, Sara does the things most teens do. However, Marie’s curiosity get the better of her; she reactivates the device and begins to manipulate Sara’s life without her knowing. Here, the technology is used to analyze overprotective parenting and how shielding children from suffering — mental or physical — can cause more harm than good.

National Anthem (S01E01)

This is where it all began, back in 2011. Set in the U.K., events kick off when high-profile and adored Princess Susannah (Lydia Wilson) is kidnapped. The culprits make demands, not in monetary value, but via a bizarre, lewd request — they want the Prime Minister, Michael Callow (Rory Kinnear), to have sexual relations. With a pig. Live on TV.

The themes in “National Anthem” are a natural progression from Screenwipe, the TV show where Brooker took a humorous and biting look at current affairs, news coverage, and television production. It delves deep into the psychological nature of viral videos, the lack of representation in the news, and how the freedom of the internet challenges authority.

In Charlie Brooker’s 2015 Wipe, Brooker admitted he was “particularly weirded out” by the coincidental foretelling of the 2015 Piggate scandal centering around then-Prime Minister David Cameron. Brooker noted the alarming similarities between his story and the real-life response, including “people making wisecracks on Twitter, even using the same hashtags” and the event playing out like a “national sport bringing the nation to a standstill.”

Shut Up And Dance (S03E03)

Webcam hacking has made the news in recent years. High-profile, credible authorities such as former FBI director James Comey and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg cover their webcams, suggesting the threat significance. “Shut Up and Dance” taps into the fear of this particularly intrusive hack, while deftly withholding a crucial detail of the story to make the impact of its reveal a violent gut-punch. The most disturbing element of this episode is its closeness to present day. It’s almost too real.

Kenny (Alex Lawther) is blackmailed by hackers who access his webcam and record him masturbating. After playing along with a depraved “Simon Says” at the order of the hackers, it’s revealed in the closing moments that Kenny was watching child pornography at the time of the hack. As well as explaining his blind compliance with the hacker’s demands, it echoes Season 1’s “White Bear” (covered further down the line) by pushing the boundaries of the ethics of punishment.

Common rhetoric for the pro-surveillance crowd is the “nothing to hide” argument, claiming lawful citizens need not be concerned about their private lives being exposed. Kenny’s criminal activity leaves the moral message hanging tentatively in a powerful grey zone at the fade to black. Is hacking immoral if it punishes criminal activity, albeit in an unethical way?

Black Museum (S04E06)

Mirroring “White Christmas,” the finale of Season 4 contains multiple stories, each equally compelling and creatively morbid. Black Museum curator Rolo Haynes (Douglas Hodge) describes the “authentic criminological artifacts” of his museum to visitor, Nish (Letitia Wright). The sinister main attraction is the imprisoned, holographic consciousness of convicted murderer Clayton Leigh, captured during his execution. By pulling a lever, Clayton’s pain-receptive hologram endured a re-creation of the electric chair, causing him to experience repeated agony.

“Black Museum” is another story reminiscent of “White Bear” (covered later) due to its commentary on punishment, but it’s much clearer on where the moral boundaries lie — Haynes’ exhibition is immoral. That makes the payoff satisfying and sagacious, with Nish revealing her true identity and Haynes facing retribution for his exhibition. Not only does this have relevant tie-ins to Black Lives Matter and capital punishment, the exhibition and mini stories ponder the nature of consciousness and the civil rights of artificial intelligence.

Men Against Fire (S03E05)

Brooker’s most poignant political commentary looks at the morality of warfare. Stripe (Malachi Kirby) belongs to a military of the future. An implant known as MASS turns soldiers into Terminator-esque killing machines, augmenting reality and keeping them focused on the task at hand — to wipe out “roaches,” mutated humans who roam the post-apocalyptic world.

A glitch in Stripe’s MASS implant reveals a chilling truth: These roaches aren’t mutants. In fact, they’re humans whose appearance has been manipulated by the device in order to convince soldiers to follow orders and shoot on sight. Similar to “Arkangel,” this implant filter’s soldier’s experience, eliminating blood and guts to help them follow orders. Stripe learns he is working on behalf of a eugenics program, which has been running for over a decade to “protect the bloodline.” Roaches are members of society deemed inferior.

The story is inspired by the study of the psychology of soldiers forced into combat, known as killology. The area of research was invented by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, who studied firing rates of soldiers in World War II and discovered the hit rate surprisingly low. Many soldiers deliberately aimed above their target, unable to kill another human in even the most dire of circumstances. Disturbingly, in “Men Against Fire” (taken from the title of Marshall’s book), the tech is used to sidestep this thread of common humanity.

The Entire History of You (S01E03)

Perhaps “Crocodile” and “Arkangel” flounder because Black Mirror‘s depiction of an Orwellian, grain-enslaved society was done so well the first time around. Capturing every moment, the grain in “The Entire History of You” allows people to replay memories with all the ease of Apple TV. The vulnerability of the implant is shown through the eyes of Liam (Toby Kebbell), a young lawyer whose growing mistrust of his wife leads him down a paranoid, memory-revisiting tunnel of self-indulgence.

Though the episode touches on themes of mass surveillance (Liam’s boss asks to see his recent memories, and airport security scans his brain before travel), the story mainly explores how the implant has fractured social interactions. This decision epitomizes how Black Mirror creates a near-future dystopia that is fully relatable. It distills problematic attitudes and behaviors most of us experience occasionally — from Facebook envy to sharing intimate details of our lives readily online — and brews them into a vicious concoction.

White Bear (S01E02)

As previously referenced, “White Bear” imagines future society’s unsettling attitude toward justice. Victoria (Lenora Crichlow) wakes up in an unusual location, with no memory of who or where she is. As she leaves the building, she notices many people transfixed by a symbol displayed on their smartphone. Those not affected by the message chase down Victoria as she attempts to unravel the eerie mystery.

Beginning with a blank canvas and leaving tantalizing clues along the way, the tease requires a serious payoff, and “White Bear” does pay off. In a depraved and morally provoking twist, it is revealed the entire scenario is staged. Victoria, along with her boyfriend, had abducted a young girl. She recorded her beau murder the girl, but, today, with her memory wiped at the end of each day, she lives in a perpetual loop of punishment — confused, hunted, and showcased at the “White Bear Justice Park.”

The eye-for-an-eye approach makes the punishment less morally clear than “Black Museum,” but clearer than “Shut Up and Dance.” A testament to Brooker’s brilliance at crafting a thought-provoking and unpredictable ride, the audience is unsure whether to deplore the concept, adding an interesting slant to the perspective of moral outrage and media witch hunts.

Hated in the Nation (S03E06)

Black Mirror is always surrounded by buzz, but no more than “Hated in the Nation.” In this near-future dystopia, bees are replaced by Autonomous Drone Insects (ADIs). The fallout of this technological breakthrough mixes with a reflection on moral outrage.

Detective Karin Parke (Kelly Macdonald) investigates a series of murders — of a journalist who wrote a provoking article, a rapper who mocked a child imitating his dance move, and a woman who posed for a photograph, pretending to urinate over a war memorial. The shrewd Black Mirror twist here is a hashtag used on Twitter, #DeathTo, as part of a sadistic online “Game of Consequences.” The game’s creator kills the person with the most hashtags by hacking the ADIs, killing the victim in a vicious, robotic swarm.

Brooker carefully balances a number of themes: Surveillance again rears its head, but it’s more a warning of how social media can act as a desensitized, cyber equivalent of mob mentality, eroding empathy and common humanity. ADIs are close to becoming a reality. Harvard University is developing Robobees, used for crop pollination and surveillance but hopefully not murder.

Playtest (S03E02)

Black Mirror has a reputation for unnerving stories, but “Playtest” is next level. The all-out horror begins when a skint traveler named Cooper (Wyatt Russell) is offered what appears to be the dream job — a week’s work for a cutting edge video company. The technological quirk here is a miniature computer implanted into Cooper’s neck. Known as a “mushroom,” the technology mixes virtual reality with the user’s direct experience, without the need for a VR headset.

The company’s technology combines augmented reality with the ability to scan the brain and uncover the user’s deepest fear. Cooper agrees to go ahead, safe in the knowledge what he will witness isn’t real. What ensues is a genuinely unsettling, paranoid unraveling of Cooper’s mind, thanks to hallucinations, holograms, and more.

“Playtest” is an interesting take on the psychology of the exploitation of fear as entertainment, how the immersive nature of virtual reality can push this too far and the ethical implications media companies need to consider. Will we reach a stage when too real is too much?

Hang the DJ (S04E04)

Black Mirror turns its attention to dating, exploring how romance is affected by the increasing reliance on apps such as Tinder. The starring couple, Amy (Georgina Campbell) and Frank (Joe Cole), unite thanks to a dating device, known as “Coach,” that acts as a cyber-cupid. The device promises to find its user’s perfect match by gathering data from a host of interactions in a complex compatibility algorithm.

Each coupling has a preset time limit. After immediate chemistry, Amy and Frank are disappointed to discover they only have 12 hours together. After being matched with streams of partners, it’s clear the pair care deeply for each other. They’re eventually re-matched by the system and attempt to break free from the closely monitored surroundings, shunning Coach’s promise of the perfect match by following their intuition. It is then revealed these events were simulated within the app, as digital clones of the pair were placed together in a virtual reality setting 1,000 times. They rebelled 998 times, making them a 99.8% match. All before the pair meet in real life.

In true Black Mirror style, Brooker provides and understated view of romance, and dating, as a commodity. “Hang the DJ” also raises the all-important questions: Can a complex algorithm really predict if two people will fall in love? And can love ever be simulated?

Nosedive (S03E01)

Netflix’s debut episode is a highly polished, Instagram, #NoFilter portrayal of the impact of social media and its entanglement with self-worth and social acceptance. Although Black Mirror touches on social media numerous times, this commentary excels precisely because of Brooker’s shrewd decision to make this the sole focus of “Nosedive.”

There’s plenty of reasons for Brooker to decide to do so. Studies have suggested prolonged Facebook use is linked to depression and feelings of jealousy, Instagram can have a dramatic, damaging effect on body image, and more and more of us are seeking validation online. Brooker combines all of these worrying trends by imagining a future world where our sense of selves has completely merged with social media — all social interactions are given a numerical score.

Taking this one level deeper, this social status score has direct impact on housing, finance, and job opportunities. Protagonist of “Nosedive,” Lacie Pound (Bryce Dallas Howard), desperately tries to increase her score from a 4.2 to a 4.5, so she can invest in a luxury apartment. She soon discovers, though, that seeking validation is draining and superficial. Its climax isn’t the most innovative, but the message is loud, clear, and alarmingly similar to China’s planned Social Credit System.

USS Callister (S04E01)

“USS Callister” uses simulated reality to explore fictional escapism, fandom, abuse of power and the dominance of male-driven narratives. Robert Daly (Jesse Plemons) is a tech genius, responsible for crafting an immersive, virtual reality multiplayer video game, Infinity. Despite his hard work and creative talent, Daly is overlooked at the company he co-founded, Callister, Inc. His colleagues show little respect for his authority, his co-founder, James Walton (Jimmi Simpson), shames him in front of others.

To offset his frustration and lack of social skills IRL, Daly creates a bespoke version of the game, one only he can access. This universe is based on Daly’s favourite TV show, Space Fleet. In-simulation, the confident, outgoing and powerful Daly takes out his anger on the fleet’s crew, who are consciousness-clones of his real-life colleagues. He threatens harm if they don’t obey his orders, forces female members to kiss him, and is generally abhorrent and power hungry as the leader of his very own sci-fi dictatorship.

“USS Callister” is grand in scope, making full use of Netflix’s budget to create a world that doesn’t feel like a tacky imitation. Perhaps most impressive is how “USS Callister” humanizes the digital clones. Their revenge over Daly, both simulated and real, is worth celebrating, even though Daly didn’t cause them harm in real life.

Fifteen Million Merits (S01E02)

Brooker confirmed the title of Black Mirror refers to “the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone.” Fittingly, cold, shiny screens are everywhere in “Fifteen Million Merits.” Members of this Brave New World-inspired society live completely surrounded by screens, with no windows in sight. “Merits” — earned by cycling on a stationary bikes — replace standard currency.

When Bing (Daniel Kaluuya) inherits 15 million merits, he takes the route of altruism and gifts them to Abi (Jessica Brown Findlay) so she can enter the talent show, Hot Shot. The show’s prize is the promise of escape from the claustrophobic, screen-covered space to better living quarters. Things don’t go according to plan, though, as the panel of judges offer Abi a way out but only if she agrees to work in adult television.

Bing’s dismay leads to him obsessively earning extra credits to join Hot Shot himself. When fronted by the judges, he threatens to slit his own throat during a rant against the system. There’s no happy ending here. Bing is offered his own show critiquing the system, and he agrees, becoming another cog in the wheel as the masses continue to cycle away in merit-slavery.

“Fifteen Million Merits” is a cunning use of dystopia. It reflects the role of capitalism, consumer-culture, and the apparent futility of rebelling against these systems. Additionally, the surrounding screens and accompanying trash-TV highlight how mind-numbing media consumption can render the masses politically apathetic.

Be Right Back (S02E01)

Martha (Hayley Atwell) and Ash (Domhnall Gleeson) are young, in love, and excited to begin a new chapter in their lives. After Ash’s premature death, Martha makes the difficult decision to invest in an online service that promises to re-create her late partner. It starts with a simple messaging system but soon reaches sci-fi-heavy stages when she purchases a robotic version of Ash. As events unfold, Martha begins to realize that robot Ash is only a skin-deep replacement.

Numerous key themes are packaged into “Be Right Back,” like the rise of a social media “persona,” coming to terms with the loss of a loved one, and the monetization of grief. It’s fitting that Brooker creates robo-Ash by fictionalizing a complex algorithm using a person’s social media behavior to form a “personality.” It’s also fitting that this area falls short; our social media lives are but a fragment of who we really are, and Martha discovers this transfer of information only creates a pale comparison.

Emotionally, the story is just as focused on Martha’s journey through grief. Taken from her at the prime of her life, she struggles to let go of Ash. Not only is she pregnant with his child, but the company of robo-Ash makes letting go impossible. Eventually, like photos packages in a dusty box, Ash is consigned to the attic, where Martha’s daughter sometimes visits. Her journey also highlights the potential moral bankruptcy of capitalism; Martha’s grief is exploited by greedy companies looking to monetize her loss.

White Christmas (Christmas Special)

Christmas time. A time to be merry, joyful, upbeat and … question the very nature of existence. The multi-layered episode begins with Matt (Jon Hamm) and Joe (Rafe Spall) living in apparent isolation. From here, clues are filled in through three astutely intertwined stories. First, Matt explains how he witnesses the murder of a client he was date coaching, via a neural implant known as Z-Eye technology. Then he details his work with “Cookies,” devices that can capture consciousness in digital form.

Joe tells Matt his story. His pregnant girlfriend “blocked” him via Z-Eye technology. Once born, his daughter was also blocked. Unfortunate mishap after unfortunate mishap lead Joe to murdering his girlfriend’s father. Then comes the grisly, nerve-shattering twist — Joe and Matt are inside Cookie technology. Although Joe believes 5 years have passed, real-world time is only 70 minutes. Matt had been using his Cookie knowledge to elicit a confession from Cookie-Joe, as the real Joe sits in prison.

“White Christmas” focuses on society’s borderline abusive reliance on technology. It’s telling that the justice system uses Cookies to produce confessions, questioning the notion of presumed guilt, manipulation during interrogation, and whether cloned-consciousness is a credible, lawful way of assistance to the criminal system.

San Junipero (S03E03)

No matter how far science fiction travels from present day, it will always seek to remind audiences of very real, very present traits of humanity. Which is perhaps why “San Junipero” resonates so strongly. It shows love as an all-conquering, blistering light that fractures the dark dystopia Brooker carefully created, illustrating how technology could, after all, work out for the best.

Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) and Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) have a romance with tons of chemistry and more elements than the periodic table. Their story begins in 1987, visits 1980, 1996, and 2002. But this isn’t time travel, it’s a simulated reality. San Junipero is a virtual resort where the consciousness of the dead live on and those at the twilight of their lives can visit. In this virtual world, the elderly are young and vibrant. In real life, Kelly and Yorkie are elderly. Yorkie is paralyzed and wishes to be euthanized so she can live in San Junipero full-time. Kelly, however, is only passing by, intending to die naturally. But love has other plans.

“San Junipero” is a meditation on death, a neon-drenched statement that love can transcend the greatest barriers, a reminder of the finite nature of life. Aside from the heart-melting storyline, it’s aesthetically stunning, with a soundtrack that’ll rattle around the brain. “San Junipero” is fiction of the highest caliber, fiction so powerful it becomes ingrained in memory, and so relatable, a half-asleep recollection could easily wrap the viewer in the story, like a forgotten dream.