Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Robert Zeglinski

Ranking all 28 Black Mirror episodes, from San Junipero to Fifteen Million Merits



OK. Here we go.

Black Mirror captivates us as the spiritual successor to The Twilight Zone because its horrors are both believable and stretch our imaginations. It puts prototypical normal people through the seemingly inconceivable and keeps us on the edge of our seats.

But not every episode in this now legendary anthology series is created equal. Dystopia is a theme that usually rings true — you just have to execute it well.

For example, I wouldn’t necessarily directly compare one of the more uplifting love stories in modern media to a grating bulletin about ferocious werewolves. It simply wouldn’t be fair to the highs of Black Mirror to drag it down with its strange lows. This doesn’t mean I’m against conducting (inexact) science experiments, er, rankings.

There are now six seasons in the books for this inventory of technocratic tall tales. Six seasons and 28 episodes. I’m ranking all of them by quality and not-so-subtly hinting at the terrors I personally find most terrifying and touching.

Rachel, Jack and Ashley, Too (Season 5, Episode 3, 2019)

Miley Cyrus is one of the last people I ever expected to see in a Black Mirror episode. It’s a shame her appearance is wasted in a sparse plot about celebrity exploitation that could have used a lot more time cooking in the oven. The most memorable moment here was the “Ashley Too” robot doll with pink hair — something else that should’ve been way cooler. A missed opportunity all around.

The Waldo Moment (Season 2, Episode 3, 2013)

In a second season full of smash hits, “The Waldo Moment” falls flat on its face as a political satire. Lost in this forgettable mess was something about how our obsession with entertainment and general distrust of government can lead to a fascist police state. Timely and evergreen in one!

Well, I don’t know. At least, I think that’s what this story’s trying to tell me. I can’t stop thinking about that doofus blue bear I’m supposed to take seriously as a grave warning in metaphor form for some reason.

Mazey Day (Season 6, Episode 4, 2023)

Series creator Charlie Brooker has professed that, moving forward, Black Mirror won’t always present a cautionary tale about technology. “Mazey Day” is a prime example of that mission by seemingly starting with a motif about the paparazzi before becoming a monster thriller featuring a werewolf.

The tone of this episode shifts so jarringly fast, and there’s no coherent message. Is it about the press “hounding” celebrities? Is it about celebrities being turned into monsters (so to speak) because of that attention? If that’s the case — I literally guessed the idea while writing the last two sentences. The werewolf’s out-of-nowhere massacre is enough for me to ignore any rewatches of this story in the future. What a mess.

Hated In The Nation (Season 3, Episode 6, 2016)

Season 3 of Black Mirror was the first under Netflix’s umbrella, meaning the showrunners had a lot more creative flexibility (and money) to work with. They may as well have set that money on fire with the bloated feature-length “Hated In The Nation” that looks like it belongs on The CW.

We could’ve been told that being toxic and hateful on the internet is harmful in half the allotted time. But that was the least of this snoozefest’s problems.

Smithereens (Season 5, Episode 2, 2019)

There is nothing inherently wrong with “Smithereens.”

It’s well-made and thoughtful. It’s got actor Andrew Scott losing his mind over how social media poisons our minds. Topher Grace even makes a hilarious cameo as Billy Bauer — the stand-in “Big Tech” CEO who may as well be guys like Jack Dorsey, Elon Musk, and Mark Zuckerberg wrapped in one.

But there are no surprises in the journey “Smithereens” presents. It is a grounded tale centered around a hostage situation. Nothing more. This episode might have been precisely when Brooker and Co. realized they needed to take more ambitious swings.

Crocodile (Season 4, Episode 3, 2017)

I can appreciate actress Andrea Riseborough’s palpable desperation as she tries to cover her tracks of a murderous hit-and-run from her past. But outside of Riseborough’s terrifying resolve to steamroll anyone in her character’s path, “Crocodile” is a poor sequel to the “recallable” memory technology already introduced in a much better episode.

Playtest (Season 3, Episode 2, 2016)

Again, “Playtest” is kind of rooted in reality — what happens if we don’t properly accent our virtual reality video games? Spooooookyyyy, oh no! I just think it’s a half-baked story about Cooper (played by Wyatt Russell) trying to strike it out on his own with a nonsensical final “dial-up” twist of death. Extra points are marked off for failing to channel Russell’s fabulous charisma.

The National Anthem (Season 1, Episode 1, 2011)

Given the, er, graphic nature of “The National Anthem,” — I’d venture to guess many people gave up on Black Mirror after its first-ever episode. It’s actually kind of solid with a good premise — a fictional British Prime minister has to have intercourse with a pig to save a princess. It is ludicrous and full of Big Important Government People arguing and yelling about public relations. “The National Anthem” is far from one of the best episodes, but it is entertainingly chaotic… if you have the stomach for it.

Black Museum (Season 4, Episode 6, 2017)

“Black Museum” is almost like an anthology series self-contained within an anthology. (Insert Inception joke here.) But none of the introduced technology is particularly novel or receives enough spotlight, and the final revelation of someone getting sweet revenge over a sadistic museum curator for their deceased loved one is more of a bloop single than a home run.

Yes, I’m still bitter at how woefully underused the always delightful Letitia Wright was.

Arkangel (Season 4, Episode 2, 2017)

I think “Arkangel” would’ve hit me harder if I had kids of my own. I like to think I’d let my children have the necessary autonomy they need to grow up, but you never know!

The urge to harmfully helicopter parent is apparently quite strong, as poor Marie Sambrell (played by Rosemarie DeWitt) learns. You can tell that director Jodie Foster had her fingerprints all over this cautionary parenting tale. Still, I think I prefer when Foster herself is launching a battle of wits against a maniacal, fictional serial-killing cannibal. Not bad, but not great, either.

Be Right Back (Season 2, Episode 1, 2013)

Look, who wouldn’t want to be in love with the sparkling Hayley Atwell? Well, it’s a little different when you’re a reincarnated android with no real human emotions, isn’t it?

Over 10 years after it first aired, “Be Right Back” chillingly asks us what lengths we’d take to always be around our loved ones — whether they’re tangible or not. I like the idea, and Atwell has a spellbinding performance of a wife struggling with grief. There are definitely better Black Mirror episodes, but we’re starting to reach the point where the lowest bar is still quite good. I mean, the emotional prescience itself deserves extra credit.

Joan Is Awful (Season 6, Episode 1, 2023)

An inventive and extremely meta Black Mirror, “Joan Is Awful” hits all the right notes. Annie Murphy’s “Joan” is stuck in a dead-end job, a dead-end relationship, and dead-end life she all despises. So, of course, Streamberry (a.k.a. Netflix) abuses a terms and conditions agreement to turn her life into a misery-bait binge-able series.

Not only do we get a spirited performance from Murphy, but there’s also a welcome Salma Hayek comedic appearance. Heck, Michael Cera even gets slapped around. After a four-year hiatus, “Joan Is Awful” was a delightful return to top-notch dystopian form.

Men Against Fire (Season 3, Episode 5, 2016)

The premise is a little hamfisted and on the nose — imperialistic countries dehumanize people in invaded nations (duh) — but the twist concerning the disgusting “roaches” works to a tee. And when you see that the military even projects a trick on our hero Stripe, the overarching message of leaving veterans behind is a poignant one. Try NOT to cry at the end. I dare you.

Striking Vipers (Season 5, Episode 1, 2019)

You’ve got the fire of Anthony Mackie and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and a very … intimate VR fighting game they play together. Oh, and the story about people discovering their sexuality and coming to terms with it genuinely resonates in the 2020s. A neat, tidy, and fun episode all around. 

Bandersnatch (Interactive film, 2018)

I don’t know if “Bandersnatch” is actually any good. But I do know that the choose-your-own-adventure concept of asking us viewers at home to decide the ending hasn’t really been done before. “Bandersnatch” takes bold risks, and not all of them pan out. I still highly recommend strapping in with someone on your couch and taking this journey together.

The story possibilities aren’t endless, but it seems like it, which is such a narrative achievement.

Shut Up And Dance (Season 3, Episode 3, 2016)

No one is “good” in this episode. I don’t think I was rooting for any particular character to succeed, even the pathetically desperate Kenny. That said, it’s terrifying to watch how the lives of all the people featured are turned upside down because of poor internet security. There’s nothing high-tech about “Shut Up And Dance.” That’s what makes it so special and so terrifying.

Game of Thrones fans out there will certainly appreciate Jerome Flynn (a.k.a. Bronn) becoming the funniest bank-robbing partner in England.

Demon 79 (Season 6, Episode 5, 2023)

“Demon 79” is a wonder. It manages to warn us about the fascist tendencies inherent to racists focused on immigration — using the political party National Front of 1979 England as its narrative conduit. At the same time, we’re treated to a delightful “buddy cop” duo between shy sales assistant Nida Huq and incompetent demon Gaap.

Together, they must save the world by … committing murders. To no one’s surprise, they couldn’t even do their one job! The beauty of “Demon 79” is that it leaves it open-ended as to whether Nida and Gaap’s human sacrifice mission even mattered in preventing a grim nuclear apocalypse. Better yet: Was Gaap even real?

I’m not convinced, and I don’t want a definitive answer.

White Christmas (Christmas special, 2014)

Netflix/Black Mirror

You take a conniving Jon Hamm, the ability to block people in real life as you block them on Twitter, and mix that with a holiday aesthetic, and you’ve got a delicious frittata of futuristic tragedy. No further notes. Watch this episode around Christmas to try something a little darker than the Hallmark archetype.

Loch Henry (Season 6, Episode 2, 2023)

In a way, “Loch Henry” subverts the Black Mirror formula. Not only is it clearly in a contemporary setting with zero advanced technology to speak of, the core truth — Davis’s parents were responsible for their hometown’s grisly murder story — is discovered on VCR cassette tapes. How ironic.

Beyond that, I could actually feel my skin crawl when I saw people packing a previously empty bar purely because a “true crime” story took place there. And when the vapid Hollywood creators of “Loch Henry: Truth Will Out” talked about the tragedy Davis just endured like it was content, I wanted to throw my remote at the TV.

This is an episode that turns your head upside down, brings you to tears, and incites a healthy amount of rage all in one.

USS Callister (Season 4, Episode 1, 2017)

If there is a more chilling setting than weasely nerd Jesse Plemons forcing clones of his coworkers to fight their way through an amusing Star Trek mock-up, I haven’t seen it. There is no fluff in this episode. Live long and prosper and watch it. Watch it right now.

The Entire History of You (Season 1, Episode 3, 2011)

Behold! The episode that officially reeled in a consistent audience for Black Mirror.

Our tragic hero Liam isn’t necessarily in the right when he suspects his wife Fi of cheating — he crosses a few too many lines. But with every unfortunate discovery Liam makes, thanks to the “recall” technology in “grains,” your gut wrenches together with him. “The Entire History Of You” is about a man plunging himself deeper into love’s abyss and getting irredeemably burned in the process.

Its effect is haunting long after you stop watching.

Metalhead (Season 4, Episode 5, 2017)

We never get an explanation for the mysteriously deadly robot dogs hunting a group of humans. In fact, in the black-and-white color palette of “Metalhead,” we just watch a poor woman try to evade a killing machine for some of the tensest 40 minutes. No further detail is necessary. What needs to be explained, too?

The moral of the story: Robots are scary, but they are so compelling as villains. It’s hard to screw that up!

Nosedive (Season 3, Episode 1, 2016)

Everything in the world of “Nosedive” is hollow and insipid. Despite a cutesy color scheme, a laugh in every interaction, and a desire to share “meaningful” updates on platforms clearly modeled after Facebook or Instagram, this reality is tedious and fake through and through.

Bryce Dallas Howard puts on a tour de force as a distraught young woman who will, quite literally, do anything to win the approval of people more concerned with projecting a happy life than actually living one.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Beyond The Sea (Season 6, Episode 3, 2023)

Set in an alternative 1969, “Beyond The Sea” takes the classic love triangle dilemma and spins it like a top. Pitting Aaron Paul and Josh Hartnett’s astronaut characters against each other like two closeted misogynist dogs was a master stroke. You’ll struggle to pick your jaw up off the floor after Hartnett’s David puts Paul’s Cliff in the same devastating, family-less boat.

Hang The DJ (Season 4, Episode 4, 2017)

There is no horror in “Hang The DJ.” Unless that is, you count the unforgiving algorithm of dating apps designed expressly to keep you from finding your soulmate. But Amy and Frank — our star-crossed lovers who shine with incredible chemistry — don’t let the endless swiping drag their vibe down. They fight for each other, they win, and you’re moved by their genuine expression of affection and devotion.

“Hang The DJ” starts pessimistically and ends with a beautiful note of hope — light at the end of the tunnel for anyone seeking love.

White Bear (Season 2, Episode 2, 2013)

The best way I’d describe White Bear is a roller coaster that hits its descent from a jaw-dropping height and … never stops descending. That terror from a confused woman trying to evade murder and torture has essentially the same effect as a lot of G-force. You might even throw up after watching it, too.

Victoria Skillane is not a hero. She did, after all, stand by as an onlooker and film the suffering of a kidnapped little girl. But that “White Bear”‘s sociopathic town takes such a perverse pleasure in her never-ending punishment is appalling. At what point is justice served? When is enough, enough?

“White Bear” is a special Black Mirror episode because it’s so easy to envision society coming apart at the seams and a hive mentality turning on cruel vigilante afterburners. (Shudders.)

Fifteen Million Merits (Season 1, Episode 2, 2011)

“Fifteen Million Merits” features a younger Daniel Kaluuya before he was DANIEL KALUUYA. Even over a decade later, I struggle to think of a better performance in the superstar actor’s career. It’s also easily the best individual showing from any actor or actress in the entirety of Black Mirror’s catalog.

This episode resonates because although our characters live in boxes, inundated by garbage, fatphobia, and pornography while having to barely scrape by … it doesn’t seem all that different from parts of our world. “Fifteen Million Merits” is believable, poignant, heartbreaking, and it features the official breakthrough of one of the finest actors alive.

San Junipero (Season 3, Episode 4, 2016)

This is my challenge to you: Try not to cry after watching the masterpiece love saga, “San Junipero.” It is so unabashedly upbeat and authentic I struggle to even think of it as part of Black Mirror’s library. For once, some newfangled technology — in this case, a fully-developed artificial reality that lets older and deceased people continue life after their time on Earth — facilitates a happy ending.

Kelly and Yorkie never had the fortune of meeting and falling in love during their lives on the third rock from the Sun. That’s just the way the cookie crumbled. But the titular San Junipero gifts them the blessing to find love after life. It gives them a second chance many people never get. And you will be bawling profusely by the time they find each other at the end.

Folks, don’t let the haters tell you otherwise: Heaven is absolutely a place on Earth. And there might even be a place there for you and your soulmate if you miss out during this lifetime.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.