Unless you live under a rock or in a dystopia where you sleep in a boxed room with advertisement-laced screens for walls, then you are at least familiar with Black Mirror by now. It is Charlie Brooker’s masterpiece series that poses questions of what not-so-distant futures would look like if certain technologies advanced beyond our control, and more importantly asks how humans would instinctually react in the face of these technological adversities. “The Twilight Zone for millennials” is how your uncle would probably describe it. The tone ranges from funny to thrilling to just plain dark, but above all else, each chapter is seriously thought-provoking in its own unique way. For fans like me, it has become an absolute obsession, which I’m well aware is setting up perfectly for a meta finale centered on the Black Mirror community who treat the show as a way of life.
Part of the beauty of the show is its anthology format, meaning each episode is completely independent of one another. Now, unless there is an actor or director attached to one of these episodes that prompts you to watch that entry first, you probably would have no idea where to properly begin your journey. Allow me to serve as your cookie and help out (nailed that reference…you’ll get it soon.)
Almost every episode has a major twist and is way more fun if you have no clue what’s about to go down, so I’ll keep reviews simple for all of the newbies. I will include spoiler-filled sections though, because these are essentially my personal rankings and debating Black Mirror with fellow fanatics has become a hobby of mine. So whether you’re watching for the first time or the tenth time, go forth and enjoy!
1. “The Entire History Of You” (Season 1, Episode 3)
For The Rookies: I’d say there are four of five Black Mirror classics, but this is the only one of that group that embodies everything we love about the show. In an alternate reality where everyone has devices implanted in their brains that allows them to rewind and stream memories, how far down the rabbit hole would you go to potentially prove suspicions about a loved one, even if it meant tearing apart everything that matters to you? Would you be able to resist those feelings of jealousy and paranoia? Black Mirror has tackled the subject of memory in a few episodes now, but this spin is still the most original and chilling.
For The Veterans: Fucking Jonas. That name is forever ruined for me. I’ll never forget my feelings of doubt and embarrassment for Liam slowly turning into “oh no…oh no…oh god no he’s actually right.” It’s been nearly two years since watching this episode for the first time, and I still have absolutely no idea what I would have done in his shoes.
2. “San Junipero” (Season 3, Episode 4)
For The Rookies: The episode that officially brought Black Mirror into the mainstream, with some assists from the Emmys and Saturday Night Live. It’s commonly called “the happy one,” although that totally shortchanges the script and isn’t even all that true. The story seesaws between beautiful and heartbreaking and poses the deepest of deep questions. Would you spend your afterlife on loop in a virtual paradise or roll the dice on the natural outcome? What if your loved ones didn’t get the chance to make that same decision? And good luck getting “Heaven Is A Place On Earth” out of your head!
For The Veterans: Kelly and Yorkie forever. One of the best love stories ever produced on television, I can’t even begin to describe my rush of emotions once those credits rolled and we found out that Kelly chose her. It’s like the “Red Wedding” episode of Games Of Thrones in the sense that it’s impossible to overstate just how shocking the ending was at the time. Oh, and you bet your ASS that I’m picking San Junipero if I’m in Kelly’s deathbed.
3. “Be Right Back” (Season 2, Episode 1)
For The Rookies: So I settled on the order of this list through a mixture of objectivity and subjectivity, which is the reason that “Be Right Back” clocks in at only third. While I absolutely adore this episode, I might be underselling it because it could definitely be called the best episode of the series. Would you bring back a deceased loved one if he/she left some of himself/herself behind? It is truly a spectacle to watch and features what is legitimately some of the best acting I have ever seen from Hayley Atwell and Domhnall Gleeson. And it’s just about as emotionally gutting as it sounds.
For The Veterans: That scene on the cliff. My god. I’m getting teary-eyed just writing about it. Do I buy the idea that Martha would let the daughter visit the clone of her father? I guess so…beats her stumbling upon him during a game of hide-and-seek. Do I buy the idea that Martha isn’t breaking Robot Ash out of the attic every other night to take advantage of his jackhammer abilities? Uhhh no.
4. “Hang The DJ” (Season 4, Episode 4)
For The Rookies: I love this episode so much. If you told me prior to the season that Black Mirror would be taking its magnifying glass to dating apps, I’d be irrationally excited. And “Hang The DJ” still exceeded all expectations for an episode of its kind. Depending on the kind of person you are, you will either immediately sign up for eHarmony or delete your Bumble account following this essential hour of television.
For The Veterans: I knew the twist had to be coming, and they laid out a bunch of clues along the way, but I was still so pleasantly surprised when it finally happened. And you better believe that I was smiling like an idiot during the real-life meeting in that final scene. Considering the perfect chemistry between Frank and Amy, I’m assuming the 0.2% of simulations that didn’t end in rebellion were due to Frank killing himself after a year of a forced relationship with that one nightmare of a girl.
5. “USS Callister” (Season 4, Episode 1)
For The Rookies: Another gem from Season 4, “USS Callister” is nothing short of an accomplishment. Its 76-minute running time allows it to address more than the average episode, but it still effectively explores so many themes without feeling overstuffed. The episode has star power, is extremely topical, looks amazing, and happens to be really funny in a super twisted way. Only Black Mirror can have an episode get this dark while still touchingly paying tribute to Star Trek.
For The Veterans: Lesson learned: be nice to the tech guy in your office. This episode does such a good job of having us buy into Daly as a simply misunderstood guy just to suddenly reveal that he’s actually the Harvey Weinstein of cyberspace. I do think the plot has some flaws – how does the smartest coder in the world miss a backdoor in his own simulated reality that leaves him vulnerable to permanent entrapment? Still, the rebellion led by Lt. Cole is so exciting and ultimately rewarding that all faults can easily be overlooked.
6. “White Christmas” (Season 2.5)
For The Rookies: Maybe the most ambitious chapter of the series, even to this day. It has a 74-minute running time and doesn’t waste a single second, considering it’s essentially three mini-episodes squeezed into one holiday special. There’s so much to break down with this plot, but at the same time there’s almost too much to tease. It might sound like I’m of the opinion that this episode tried to do too much, but I actually think it all comes together in a pretty compelling fashion. Oh, and Jon Hamm stars in it…just trust me on this one.
For The Veterans: Where to begin? The first vignette, the one where Jon Hamm’s character accidentally coaches a man into a murder-suicide, could have been an episode on its own. The second vignette, with Talisa from Game Of Thrones playing the digital copy of a rich woman stuck inside an Alexa-like product, is horrifying in a good way, but also underdeveloped and improved upon by future episodes. The final vignette, which reveals why the two men are at the outpost in the first place, is the highlight of the episode. The resulting two-part twist is both a hit and a miss. From the perspective of Rafe Spall’s character, it’s absolutely devastating and a nightmare to consider. But for Hamm’s character, it feels kinda weak and anticlimactic.
7. “Nosedive” (Season 3, Episode 1)
For The Rookies: The premise of “Nosedive” is one that you might’ve discussed with friends with some possible marijuana involvement: what if we judged each other in our daily interactions on the Uber five-star scale? The bright color palette fits perfectly with the episode’s materialistic tone, even if they both make you want to throw a brick at your TV by the end of it. If you choose to watch chronologically, then you’re definitely gonna be thrown off by an episode written by The Office and Parks and Recreation alumni. But it’s a great introduction to what Netflix brings to Black Mirror.
For The Veterans: I know a lot of people don’t love the ending. It’s definitely predictable and barely qualifies as a twist, but I’m cool with it. Bryce Dallas Howard is amazing in that wedding speech scene, and the final shots from the jail cells really stuck with me. Also shoutout Alice Eve, who’s just delightful in everything she’s in.
8. “The National Anthem” (Season 1, Episode 1)
For The Rookies: The episode that got it all started, and Charlie Brooker definitely didn’t choose to lay up with his first shot off the tee. I sincerely apologize for this graphic image, but it’s the question this episode asks (in modern American terms): if a universally beloved figure, say Reese Witherspoon, was kidnapped and her captor’s only demand was for the President to bone a pig on live TV, would you expect him to do it? And on top of that, would you watch? Yup…things get real FAST. It’s captivating stuff and speaks volumes to modern societies, but I rank it closer to the middle of the pack than the top. Black Mirror doesn’t have to go total sci-fi to succeed, but this chapter still just doesn’t feel much like Black Mirror. An undoubtedly great episode of television, but not where I’d recommend you start.
For The Veterans: Still one of the best twists, and I still feel like an idiot for not catching it before it went down. Bravo to Brooker and Co. for making the audience feel like just another person at the bar watching the pig fucking.
9. “Metalhead” (Season 4, Episode 5)
For The Rookies: A ton of fans probably don’t have kind things to say about “Metalhead,” but I really like this episode! I’ll just get out in front of what makes it different: it’s shot in black-and-white and it’s the series’ shortest with a 41-minute running time. That’s probably what so many people hate about the episode, but I thought the minimalistic strategy was risky in a good way. I can also tell you entirely what the episode is about, because that’s revealed right off the bat: humans are running for their lives from murderous robot dogs. That’s it, and it’s awesome! And Boston Dynamics…hey idiots…keep this shut down forever, ok?
For The Veterans: There really isn’t too much else to discuss because of how straightforward this episode is. I was momentarily confused why the woman chose to attack the dog that was blinded by paint, but then a few minutes later it made sense once it was revealed that more dogs were on the way. The teddy bear twist also totally worked for me.
10. “Black Museum” (Season 4, Episode 6)
For The Rookies: Arguably the most polarizing episode of the show. I’ve seen a lot of people whose opinions I trust call it Season 4’s best episode, while I’ve also seen a ton of reviews calling it a series low point. I fall somewhere in the middle, because I really enjoyed the episode but also recognize its glaring weaknesses. I can’t really preview anything from the story without giving something away, so my only advice to first-timers is that “White Christmas” is required watching first, because “Black Museum” rips off its structure to a point where it would be copyright infringement if done by a different show.
For The Veterans: OK, I’ll start with the bad. I didn’t like either of the first two asides that Rolo narrated. The pain addict story just made zero sense to me. I almost think it was supposed to be parody of some sort, but if not then good lord that sucked. And as for the dude who signed up to have his comatose wife’s consciousness put inside his brain…how the hell did he think that was going to go?! He voluntarily signed up for schizophrenia! And even Rolo’s side comments like the boner joke…beyond cringe-worthy. So if you’re wondering why I really liked the episode, it’s because the twist is that good. It was set up perfectly and registered as a full 10/10 on the satisfaction scale. I think the final scene with the stuffed monkey being put in the front seat and Nish’s mom being implanted in her brain (did she not learn the lesson of that story?) was really cheesy, but oh well.
11. “Men Against Fire” (Season 3, Episode 5)
For The Rookies: This episode is pretty consistently ranked near the bottom of similar lists, but I think it’s a bit underrated. It takes place in a post-genocide dystopia brought on by the American military, so it’s probably not surprising that “Men Against Fire” focuses on possible advancements in military technology, which I think is a fascinating subject. It’s a powerful episode that places the Black Mirror microscope on the ruthlessness of the people in charge of American institutions.
For The Veterans: Yes, the overall message of the episode is heavy-handed and essentially exists as a middle finger to American military strategy. And yes, the twist is kinda obvious and is executed way too early. But the reveal that the “roaches” are actually genocide survivors is still devastating and works as a painfully effective metaphor for how certain leaders view certain groups of people. Take your pick which scene is more emotionally crushing: the one where Stripe is forced to watch his murders on loop, or his return home to what’s actually a rundown shack.
12. “Hated In The Nation” (Season 3, Episode 6)
For The Rookies: This episode is probably better than a few in front of it on this list, but I’m sorry…it’s just way too long. Clocking in at an hour and a half, it’s still the longest of the chapters (besides “Bandersnatch”) when it really didn’t need to be. It’s paced perfectly for a murder mystery, but there are just some elements of the story that felt like fluff to me. But like I was saying, “Hated In The Nation” is still great and finally gave us the Black Mirror spin on social media that we had been waiting for. Just get ready for what’s practically a movie when you sit down to watch this episode.
For The Veterans: You KNOW that you or one of your friends would’ve participated in the #DeathTo hashtag. While the twist is incredible, this is the worst episode to watch with your parents, just because of the inevitable “you know you’re never really protected behind a keyboard” lesson during the ending credits. And I know from memes that bees are dying globally at an alarming rate, but did we really need the Black Mirror take on colony collapse disorder?
13. “Striking Vipers” (Season 5, Episode 1)
For The Rookies: The only solid entry from Season 5, “Striking Vipers” has all the makings for a classic episode. It has a bona fide star in Anthony Mackie, the director of two of the top three episodes on this list, and insanely impressive visuals and effects. The central idea is great too, diving DEEP into masculinity through VR erotica. So why does it only land at #13? Because “Striking Vipers” plays it disappointingly safe, and that’s especially frustrating in an episode where two best friends are syncing into a video game to hook up with one another.
For The Veterans: I do think this episode is good, but man it could have been GREAT. The scene where Danny and Karl kiss in person is so ambiguous that I don’t even know what they were trying to say. And when a hard stance is finally taken on a theme, it happens during the credits and focuses on…monogamy? Super random.
14. “White Bear” (Season 2, Episode 2)
For The Rookies: Ahhh, “White Bear.” The story opens with a woman waking up in a house with no recollection of how she got there, only to go outside to find other people either hunting her or filming her. So basically, a woman lives an actual nightmare. But considering this is Black Mirror, you can correctly guess that there’s more to it than that. I’m not at liberty to divulge what that is, but just know that you’re probably gonna be sitting in silence for a few minutes after this one.
For The Veterans: It’s been nearly six years since this episode was released, and it’s still widely debated by the “love it” and “hate it” camps. Personally I lean more towards the latter camp, although I totally get the appeal. While you can’t really dispute against this twist being the most disturbing, you can definitely argue that it’s still the best that the show has ever pulled off. My thing is, it just took so long to pull out the rug from underneath us that I was almost bored during the first 30 minutes. And as for the twist itself, it lasted so long that my “HOLY SHIT” reaction had time to devolve into “oh ok” before the episode was over. Some critics probably have ethical issues either empathizing with a child murderer or publicly torturing someone against their will, but this is Black Mirror we’re talking about. I actually think “White Bear” offers one of the more accurate representations of our culture, because I am positive that I know people who would willingly participate in this social experiment on a nightly basis.
15. “Fifteen Million Merits” (Season 1, Episode 2)
For The Rookies: Another reason why I’d recommend binging in this order instead of chronological order is the show’s suggested back-to-back of “The National Anthem” into “Fifteen Million Merits.” It goes directly from the most tech-absent episode into what is by far the most sci-fi entry in the series, and it might catch you off guard. This episode takes place in a dystopia where humans are relied upon to pedal stationary bikes in order to generate electricity, which in turn earns them virtual currency called “merits.” Merits can be spent sparingly on vending machines or to skip advertisements on the television walls within bedrooms, or they can be spent in bulk to participate in a talent competition that offers the only escape from this indentured servitude. I actually think this is one of the most profound episodes of the series, and you get an A+ performance from Daniel Kaluuya in it. But at the same time, I wouldn’t blame you for writing it off as too weird.
For The Veterans: I struggle a lot with this episode, because I think it manages to simultaneously be ahead of its time while falling victim to not aging well. The final twist is BRUTAL and yet so good, and left me permanently paranoid that politicians have the leaders of the resistance movements against them on their payroll. Also something I didn’t remember until a recent rewatch…how about Black Mirror low key exposing the Harvey Weinstein types six years early in the scene where Abi has her drink spiked then is peer pressured into doing porn? Still, I really dislike a lot of the technical aspects of this episode. I’m not too sure why the show assumes that Wii avatars and shows styled like The Wiggles will be staples of our future culture. And while American Idol and X Factor were huge when this episode was released, we’ve fortunately started to move past shows where people publicly try their hardest to prove their talents just to face judgment from millions of viewers at home.
16. “Shut Up And Dance” (Season 3, Episode 3)
For The Rookies: I actually kinda like this episode, but I admit that I am overrating it despite its ranking at #15. It’s not particularly good. In a way the events of this episode are strangely relatable, considering we are shown in the first few minutes that our teenage protagonist is a normal kid who rides his bikes to and from his restaurant job. But then he downloads some shit he shouldn’t have downloaded, and all hell breaks loose. Sure, it’s well acted (Bronn!) and definitely exciting, but it doesn’t really offer any insight whatsoever. I just don’t understand its purpose outside of terrifying every single person who watches it.
For The Veterans: If “Shut Up And Dance” is one of your favorites (which I know is the case for a lot of fans), that’s all good. You and I just happen to like Black Mirror for different reasons then. The climax of this episode is absolutely bananas. The kid LITERALLY MURDERS a man. So yeah, I’d argue it’s way more nonsensical than thoughtful. Like, what was the message here? That some people are just dicks? That we shouldn’t watch kiddie porn? Um…got it?
17. “Arkangel” (Season 4, Episode 2)
For The Rookies: This episode asks the question that makes every 21st century teenager’s heart sink: what if your mom had one of those child tracker apps embedded into your brain as a toddler? I was SO psyched for “Arkangel” upon learning the premise of the episode, which is why I am sorry to report that I found it really underwhelming. Look, I’m not aiming to rain on any parades here. I encourage you to still watch it, and I hope you enjoy it! But aside from the acting (Rosemarie DeWitt gives an all-time Black Mirror performance), I’m not really sure what there is to like about it.
For The Veterans: Ugh, how did this end up as such a “meh” episode??? There was SO much potential here. It just seems like every decision related to the episode’s vision was the wrong one. The mom choosing to reactivate the tablet just as her daughter was losing her virginity then later snorting coke was way too convenient. But those are minor critiques…let’s talk about that ending. It STUNK. Sara literally beating her mother over the head with the tablet was some laughably clumsy writing. And like, I get that Sara had no sense for the exact damage that she was inflicting, but how was she surprised that she was fucking up her mom’s face? And then she freaks out and decides to…hitchhike a ride? Whatever.
18. “Playtest” (Season 3, Episode 2)
For The Rookies: A lot of fans vouch for this episode, and there’s a solid chance that you’ll soon be one of those fans. But I think it’s the single-most overrated episode of the show. I was STUNNED when some people told me that this was their favorite episode of Season 3. It just does nothing for me at all. Maybe it’s because I’m not a gamer. Maybe it’s because I’m completely disinterested in virtual reality technology. Or maybe it’s just because I don’t love the horror genre. But if you feel differently about one of those qualifiers, then this could be an episode for you.
For The Veterans: I know I’ve already told you how I really feel about “Playtest,” but even from an objective standpoint I think it’s a mediocre episode of Black Mirror. I’ll acknowledge what I found great about it. The cheap-looking CGI monsters trick Cooper into thinking the haunted house isn’t so scary, only to be lured deeper into the test to have his Alzheimer’s fears exploited. That was really smart and genuinely terrifying. But the twist that reveals that Cooper actually died within a second of beginning the test is just so convoluted that it leaves the audience with the wrong kinds of questions. I’m not really sure what the social commentary of this episode is either…Cooper seems like literally the only person that would face the consequences of this technology. He goes out of his way to visit an experimental video game company and knowingly breaks the specific rules given to him. What did he expect? And what’s the overall message? To call your parents more? The whole episode is just way too clever for its own good. Oh, besides when it decides to take the simple route when Cooper casually hooks up with the hottest girl I’ve ever seen through a dating app. Honestly more unrealistic than any of the video game tests.
19. “Bandersnatch” (Season 4.5)
For The Rookies: “Bandersnatch” is…a lot of things. It’s the longest chapter of the series, with a minimum runtime of 90 minutes. It’s probably the most innovative of the bunch, being the first of the Choose Your Own Adventure variety. It’s also possibly the…dumbest? The interactive technology is definitely cool and impressively operates without any glitches, but that doesn’t stop it from feeling annoying and confusing and unnecessary all at the same time. Tie that in with a forgettable story and forgettable themes, and you have this whiff of an episode. It’s a whiff I suppose you can appreciate, but a whiff nonetheless.
For The Veterans: I might have just given “Bandersnatch” too much credit in that opening section, because this plot stinks out loud. On top of being impossible to follow and not genuinely Choose Your Own Adventure since the characters basically tell you no if you make the wrong choice, it’s just so goddamn lame. It features an unbearable amount of meta commentary, especially with the Netflix stuff. Hated that. Will Poulter’s character is cool and has the only interesting things to say on the subject of free will, but his moments are few and far between. There was definitely a massive miscalculation here, because instead of going back and watching the alternate endings when my path ran its course, I was just relieved that the episode was finally over.
20. “Smithereens” (Season 5, Episode 2)
For The Rookies: “Smithereens” is one of the few Black Mirror episodes to take place in a world that closely resembles our own, and guess what? It would have been a hell of a lot more interesting if that wasn’t the case! While this chapter is thoroughly not good, it’s more silly and annoying than offensively bad. Questioning our obsession with social media and our impulsive reactions to notifications? It’s minor league stuff. Of all the episodes to clock in at 70 minutes, it’s unfortunate that it’s one that feels more like it was written by a freshman psych student than by Charlie Brooker.
For The Veterans: I’m repeating myself, but “Smithereens” just annoys me. The characters all suck and are thinly written — seriously, why was that mom with the dead daughter not cut out of this episode — and it’s not nearly as dramatic as the premise would imply. And what on earth was the goal with Topher Grace’s character? The not-so-subtle inclusion of a Jack Dorsey type CEO was funny, but to go fairly out of the way to sympathize for him? Weird move.
21. “Crocodile” (Season 4, Episode 3)
For The Rookies: An episode about insurance investigations that is just about as exciting as that sounds. A total dud from Season 4, “Crocodile” starts out with a genuinely interesting scene where a couple accidentally kills a biker then decides to dispose of the body. It all goes downhill from there. It’s another episode built around memory-based technology, but this take is the least cool and innovative of the bunch. Again, I encourage you to watch it and form your own opinions, as is the case with the previous 20 episodes on this list, but I’m pretty positive you won’t love this one.
For The Veterans: Whew, I have so much to get off my chest about “Crocodile.” I’ll start with the acting, which was easily my least favorite of Season 4. And that’s coming from an Andrea Riseborough fan, but her performance was way too one-note for my liking and limited my engagement in her character. Are we positive that Mia doesn’t just get off on killing people? When it became clear that she was also going to murder the investigator’s husband (yes, her fourth kill of the episode), I was out. And THEN she decided to kill the baby. WHAT. THE. FUCK. And then we find out that the baby was blind and didn’t need to die at all, because of course he was. I seriously felt like I was being tested by this episode. Even for Black Mirror standards, it went too far and was barely even worth the watch for entertainment purposes.
22. “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too” (Season 5, Episode 3)
For The Rookies: I clearly do not hold a high opinion of this episode with where I have it ranked on this list, but I do have some kind things to say about it. It’s an original idea with Miley Cyrus as the perfect casting choice to carry it out. OK, that’s actually all of the kind things I have to say. It flat out sucks. It’s terribly paced, not funny, and falls into the eye-rolling thematic trap of “pop music = bad” that’s plagued movies and TV over the past few years. You are consistently asking yourself “what the hell am I watching” throughout the episode, and not in the good Black Mirror kind of way.
For The Veterans: Like…I think I know what Brooker was going for here? It was supposed to be a fucked-up spin on a Disney Channel original movie starring the Queen of the Disney Channel herself? But yeah…no. If Miley wanted an excuse to do Nine Inch Nails covers, she didn’t have to resort to this.
23. “The Waldo Moment” (Season 2, Episode 3)
For The Rookies: So I’ve said it a few times now, but I cannot recommend highly enough that you watch every available episode of Black Mirror. Each chapter brings something new to the table for the most part, and public opinion is so split on so many of them that you might end up really liking an episode that’s among my least favorite. HOWEVER, none of these rules apply to “The Waldo Moment.” It is the only episode of the show that has zero redeeming qualities. I’m paraphrasing here, but it essentially asks, “what if Stewie Griffin ran for President?” You can seriously just skip it.
For The Veterans: This episode annoys me so much that I don’t even want to spend any more time writing about it. It is aggressively non-funny, and I’m pretty sure at least part of its purpose was to be the first comedic Black Mirror episode. And get the hell outta here with your thinkpieces on how it’s gained relevancy in the age of Trump and Brexit. It was bad in 2013, it was bad in 2016, and it’s still bad in 2020. It’s so fucking bad.
Disagree with my rankings? Or want to just tell me how smart I am? Find me on Twitter @Real_Peej