In celebration of the long-awaited sixth season of Black Mirror dropping on Netflix last week, I've decided to mark the occasion by ranking every single episode (including the choose-your-own-adventure special Bandersnatch which (spoiler alert) you won't find very high on this list.
Black Mirror isn't for everyone. A dystopian anthology series that primarily delves into the dark and ruinous potential of our obsession with technology and media, it's not a show that always leaves you with a particularly pleasant feeling. But, those are the times where it can do its best work. Not every episode is a winner — sometimes, creator and head writer Charlie Brooker simply tries too hard — but when Black Mirror hits its target, it absolutely obliterates it.
The great thing about anthologies is that every episode is a self-contained story, so if any of these don't appeal to you, you can simply skip them. How good!
Let's get into it.
28) Striking Vipers (2019: S5E1)
I absolutely loathe this episode. Tapping into the increasing popularity and curiosity surrounding virtual reality, it follows two mates unable to resist the allure of a new video game with a surprising feature. Brooker takes a massive dump on fidelity in the most cynical way possible. I hate it.
27) The Waldo Moment (2013: S2E3)
Not the only time Black Mirror tries to be funny, and not the only time it doesn't work. Waldo is a CG bear that asks politicians embarrassing questions during interviews and eventually runs in a by-election. It's not anywhere near as biting as it thinks it is and is exactly as funny as it sounds.
26) Black Museum (2017: S4E6)
Here is a prime example of the show tripping over its tendency to be controversial, self-referential and clever, all the while forgetting to make the episode compelling on its own merit. A needlessly vicious tale of consciousness transplants and the ethical quandary contained therein that Get Out did much better.
25) Bandersnatch (2018: Netflix Special)
This had such potential, but is ultimately just a wasted interactive TV experiment that forgot about its obligation to tell an interesting story at the same time as showcasing its ho-hum gimmick.
24) Mazey Day (2023: S6E4)
The undeniable low-point of the new season. Its attempt to skewer the paparazzi and celebrity culture was a fair idea, but the tonal U-turn it takes at the climax turns out to be the only interesting thing about it while simultaneously bringing into question why it's a Black Mirror episode at all.
23) Hang the DJ (2017: S4E4)
Hang the DJ had such promise but was ultimately thwarted by its own desperate desire to pull the rug out from under you when it really wasn't necessary (I love M. Night Shyamalan, but this episode is all his worst tendencies set in a different universe). Exploring the world of online dating, an electronic device called 'Coach' assigns each person their next partner and predicts the duration of their relationship with 99.8% accuracy.
22) Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too (2019: S5E3)
Ripping into AI, celebrity, oppressive music managers and ultimately encouraging us to stick it to the man, Miley Cyrus stars as a version of herself replicated into doll-form for her fans. Inverting the misstep Black Mirror sometimes takes, the conclusion actually shows a good germ of an idea. It's just a shame that the journey to get there is so underwhelming.
21) San Junipero (2016: S3E4)
I know I'm in the absolute minority here — San Junipero won two Emmys and two BAFTAs. Another attempt at consciousness transplants, but this time with a more deceptively twee and morally dubious mask. One of Black Mirror's least pessimistic episodes but with a deeply unpleasant undercurrent that I couldn't shake.
20) Arkangel (2017: S4E2)
From here on in, this is where Black Mirror starts to get interesting. An arguably paranoid helicopter mum installs the Arkangel system in her young daughter so that she can see her vision, allowing her to track her at all times. Crucially, though, it also has a filter that blocks her daughter from seeing or hearing anything stressful. Know anyone like that?
19) Men Against Fire (2016: S3E5)
Soldiers are tasked with executing mutated humans called 'roaches' in a foreign country, implanted with a chip that gives them extra information about their targets. Maybe a little too much information.
18) Smithereens (2019: S5E2)
A whimpering, by-default high-point of an otherwise dreadful fifth season that asks "how far would you go to retrieve a password?"
17) Demon 79 (2023: S6E5)
This episode being listed as #17 is less about anything it did wrong and more a testament to Black Mirror's earlier seasons — it starts to get harder to separate them now. A demon-in-training is unwittingly selected by a young woman who comes across a talisman on her lunch break and informs her she must sacrifice three people to prevent the end of the world.
16) 15 Million Merits (2011: S1E2)
Not the only episode that tackles social credit and people as a commodity. The majority of society ride stationary bikes that generate merits, which are the primary form of currency for essentials. But who decides how much entertainment is worth?
15) Crocodile (2017: S4E3)
Even by Black Mirror standards, this one's pretty bleak. A 'recaller' can allow you to view other people's memories (not the only episode that explores this device, either). A woman is caught in a spiral of frantic murders, and subsequently the witnesses of them too, to maintain her innocence. But she missed one.
14) Joan is Awful (2023: S6E1)
While the 'everyone prefers negative content' angle is a little unsubtle, this convoluted deepfake concept unfurls in a really entertaining way. A woman curls up on the couch with her fiancé to find a show to watch and comes across a new series that bears a striking resemblance to the day she just had.
13) Shut Up and Dance (2016: S3E3)
With one of the series' most stomach-churning final revelations, Shut Up and Dance takes on the unknown world behind your webcam and the horrors of faceless blackmail. This one's tough to watch.
12) Playtest (2016: S3E2)
Despite all the despair on offer, this is one of the only Black Mirror episodes that really leans into the horror genre as a means of telling its story. A man comes across an offer to test an experimental augmented reality game that learns from and plays on your fears. It's genuinely affecting and scary with a last-minute sucker punch that lands you squarely on your back.
11) USS Callister (2017: S4E1)
A bit of a tonal departure from most other episodes here, but USS Callister is a super entertaining riot that sees the under-appreciated creator of a popular multiplayer game make conscious copies of his coworkers inside it so he can control them. It deftly dances between their real-life selves and their CG counterparts and is a rare example of Black Mirror doing comedy well.
10) Beyond the Sea (2023: S6E3)
A couple of predictable plot points just prevent this entry from being the best of the new season, although they do partly serve to heighten the sense of tension, because you always feel like you know what's coming (but you also usually do). While on a long-term space mission, two astronauts have realistic replicas remain on Earth with their families that their consciousness can inhabit at any time. A horrific tragedy befalls one of them, creating a complex moral and ethical dilemma for the other.
9) Loch Henry (2023: S6E2)
I'm out on a limb with this one too, but I adored this episode. Taking aim at our obsession with true crime documentaries and our blindness towards the survivors as they deal with others finding entertainment in their suffering, it's a slow burn towards a terrifically unexpected and sobering climax.
8) The National Anthem (2011: S1E1)
One of the riskiest decisions in TV history was making The National Anthem the first episode of Black Mirror to be unleashed on the public. I have to imagine a huge percentage of viewers never came back for episode two. After a member of the royal family is taken hostage, the prime minister receives a ransom demand — he must do something unspeakable on national television in exchange for her release. Equal parts darkly hilarious and absolutely nauseating, don't say I didn't warn you.
7) Hated in the Nation (2016: S3E6)
Autonomous Drone Insects are developed to deal with the worldwide shortage of bees. A viral hashtag causes some of them to get a little distracted. What could possibly go wrong?
6) Metalhead (2017: S4E5)
Filmed completely in black and white, we are dropped into a chaotic world where people are on the run from brutal robotic guard dogs. No context, no story, just a 40-minute chase scene. Metalhead is absolutely epic.
5) White Christmas (2014: Christmas Special)
The second-best episode about being able to record what others see and hear that dances between two parallel stories, one about a man whose wife 'blocked' him so he can no longer see her or their child, and the other about...well...what if Siri and Alexa are trapped?
4) Nosedive (2016: S3E1)
The episode that introduced Black Mirror to a whole new audience. Nosedive depicts a society in which people rate every interaction they have, creating a social score that is visible to everyone. Not only that, but certain products and places are only available to those with a high enough rating. Chilling in its idyllic veneer.
3) The Entire History of You (2011: S1E3)
Black Mirror's obsession with surveillance and privacy is at its most threatening and vicious here. The Entire History of You (incredibly, the only episode not written by Brooker) shows the gradual disintegration of a relationship when one of them cannot overcome their suspicions about the other's infidelity. It's devastating.
2) Be Right Back (2013: S2E1)
Prepare thy tissues. After a woman's boyfriend is tragically killed, she learns of a new AI instant messenger that can pretend to be a loved one by collecting and analysing their social media posts and online activity. This service eventually provide her with a life-size replica. It's like he was never gone. Right?
1) White Bear (2013: S2E2)
A woman wakes up with no memories. She is followed by people recording her every move, some even seem to be hunting her, but they don't speak to her. Eventually, she realises that these people seem to be under the influence of a strange signal, so she tries to find the transmitter and destroy it before they catch her. I don't think I'll ever forget her screams.
Black Mirror is streaming on Netflix now.