Every ‘Black Mirror’ Episode Ranked, From Worst to Best

Black Mirror
Netflix / Art Design by Erik Shute

With "Black Mirror" set to return with six new episodes on Netflix, it’s time to look back on how the older installments hold up.

Here’s the problem with ranking Black Mirror episodes: The difficulty in choosing “bad” ones proves how often they succeed. This smart, satirical anthology series offers a slew of gut-wrenching, standalone stories exploring our ethically questionable and psychologically complex relationship with technology. Each episode, almost all written or co-written by series creator Charlie Brooker, features new characters dealing with different aspects of the disturbing capabilities of technology -- and the people who use it. Sometimes a futuristic sci-fi parable, sometimes a modern-day meditation on machines, Black Mirror is a collection of critically lauded stories investigating how our inventions affect our values and vice versa.

With the Emmy-winning series' fourth season -- featuring six new episodes starring Jesse Plemons, Rosemarie DeWitt, and more -- upon us, it’s time to determine which installments to watch soon, and which to watch sooner.

Let ET’s spoiler-free episode ranking be your guide.


19. "Playtest"

Season 3, Episode 2
Featuring: Wyatt Russell (22 Jump Street), Hanna John-Kamen (Killjoys)
Directed by: Dan Tratchenberg
Written by: Charlie Brooker

While “Playtest” has some admittedly gripping horror sequences, its flaws outweigh some of its finer aspects. A whopping 14 minutes pass before the core storyline begins, taking far too much time to familiarize us with Cooper, a laid-back American breezing through Europe to distract himself from haunting mommy issues. When money problems force him to become a test subject in an advanced augmented reality program, the fun seemingly starts in earnest: unnerving illusions give way to immersive nightmares that increasingly obscure reality. But the farther down the virtual rabbit hole Cooper goes, the more hollow the plot twists become, ultimately adding up to nothing. The final minutes of the episode double down on a basic storytelling no-no that renders most of the episode moot, or -- even worse -- meaningless. “Playtest” packs a punch, but Black Mirror has done better.

18. “Crocodile”

Season 4, Episode 3
Featuring: Andrea Riseborough (Battle of the Sexes), Kiran Sonia Sawar (Murdered by My Father)
Directed by: John Hillcoat
Written by: Charlie Brooker

For several reasons, “Crocodile” never quite finds its footing among the greats in the Black Mirror pantheon. Although its protagonist is an initially sympathetic woman named Mia who tries to move on years after a lethal hit-and-run incident, her character becomes an insufferably devious antihero with less and less complexity to grapple with as the episode stretches on. Meanwhile, as her antagonist closes in on her, Mia has little else to do but sulk and silently suffer in the middle portion of the episode, making her a bit of a bore in her own story. Finally, Mia’s actions become so incredibly sickening by the over-the-top finale that they steal any sense of soul or contemplative power the episode may have had before. On top of that, a strangely absurd final twist -- involving a guinea pig, of all things -- makes this installment fall far short of sticking its landing.

17. “Black Museum”

Season 4, Episode 6
Featuring: Letitia Wright (Black Panther), Douglas Hodge (The Night Manager)
Directed by: Colm McCarthy
Written by: Charlie Brooker

Taking place after season three’s “White Christmas,” “Black Museum” shows us three bleak, loosely connected flashbacks all framed by one present-day conversation. This time, the dialogue takes place between two strangers: Rolo, the smarmy owner of the titular museum, and Nish, a young woman killing time in his tourist trap. Unfortunately, the twists and turns in the vignettes recounted, as well as in the Black Museum itself, fall short of the emotional surprises of “White Christmas.” This episode’s vicious, mean-spirited take on modern society renders several of its characters so inhumanly cruel and one-dimensionally self-serving that its overall story comes across as crude, rather than challenging. Black Mirror is at its best when we can see ourselves in its characters’ grippingly gray decisions. But in “Black Museum,” we watch people act with such heinous disregard for others -- and to such a cartoonishly hideous degree -- that this ambitious episode feels painfully heavy-handed.


16. "The Waldo Moment"

Season 2, Episode 3
Featuring: Daniel Rigby (Flyboys), Chloe Pirrie (Misfits)
Directed by: Bryn Higgins
Written by: Charlie Brooker

To this episode’s credit, “The Waldo Moment” is even more prescient now than when it first aired; it involves an election cycle being upturned by an insulting, irreverent entertainment figure making a mockery of the establishment. However, this installment just doesn’t have the devastating twists or darkly imaginative nuance that make other Black Mirror episodes shine brightest. For such a potentially bonkers story about a voice actor launching a cartoon character into legitimate political candidacy, “The Waldo Moment” should feel less by-the-numbers; events take their largely predictable course (except for an over-the-top post-credits sequence that’s way too heavy-handed for a series this sophisticated).

15. "Men Against Fire"

Season 3, Episode 5
Featuring: Malachi Kirby (Roots), Madeline Brewer (The Handmaid’s Tale), Michael Kelly (House of Cards)
Directed by: Jakob Verbruggen
Written by: Charlie Brooker

This well-intentioned episode follows Stripe, a fresh military recruit whose eyes are linked to a computer network named “Mass.” The program betters your aim, lets you see what drones see, and, oh -- tricks you into thinking enemies of the state are literal monsters. Nicknamed “roaches” by Stripe’s compatriots, these victims of military slaughter manage to wake him up to the truth. But as soon as he learns it, Stripe essentially becomes a passenger for most of the story’s remainder, reacting to the major choices of other characters and never becoming much of a driving force himself. He has so little agency -- and stands such a small chance of effecting change -- that genuine suspense pays the price. This episode’s promising plot is also burdened by its on-the-nose allegory. It’s admirable that “Men Against Fire” attempts to communicate the danger of dehumanizing others, especially during war, but the delivery feels a bit too obvious in the end.

14.”Hang the DJ”

Season 4, Episode 4
Featuring: Georgina Campbell (Broadchurch), Joe Cole (Peaky Blinders)
Directed by: Tim Van Patten
Written by: Charlie Brooker

This episode has almost everything going for it: heart, humor, a drama-stirring technological idea, and two wonderfully compelling leads. On paper, it has the makings of an episode as rightfully celebrated as “San Junipero.” The remarkably earnest love story that unfolds between Amy and Frank -- two strangers whose lives are dictated by an algorithm that tells them who to date, and for how long -- is a sweet and charming tale that stands out among Black Mirror’s less sentimental counterparts. But this installment’s sweet and sensitive strokes lead to a conclusion that ultimately disappoints. Like “Playtest,” “Hang the DJ” pulls one final hat trick that undercuts the value and importance of nearly the entire previous hour. While twist endings have often made Black Mirror excel, they’re sometimes completely unnecessary -- and this episode proves that perfectly.

13. “USS Callister”

Season 4, Episode 1
Featuring: Cristin Millioti (How I Met Your Mother), Jesse Plemons (Breaking Bad)
Directed by: Toby Haynes
Written by: Charlie Brooker and William Bridges

“USS Callister” is an episode that ruminates -- rather colorfully -- on what our behavior in video games says about us as people. Are our decisions in simulated environments truly “harmless”? Is it acceptable to unleash our dark sides in simulated systems? Black Mirror goes to extraordinary and implausible lengths to ask these questions, resulting in a decent, if flawed, final product. Robert, an introvert with a crippling lack of confidence -- despite having designed a massively successful video game -- gets his kicks by enslaving sentient, digital copies of his coworkers in a retro simulation of his favorite TV show. Even when he’s not inside the simulation himself, the thinking, feeling computer versions of his colleagues are still trapped, fully conscious, in Robert’s game. Soon, the newest member of the simulation rallies the group to rebel against Robert’s tortures and abuses, leading to a fun, high-stakes confrontation. But one can’t help but feel that, with this episode, Black Mirror may be starting to run out of fresh ideas. Between this installment, “White Christmas,” and “Black Museum,” the show’s repeated focus on artificially intelligent avatars whose agency is stolen by others is growing a touch repetitive.


12. “Arkangel”

Season 4, Episode 2
Featuring: Rosemarie DeWitt (La La Land), Brenna Harding (A Place to Call Home)
Directed by: Jodie Foster
Written by: Charlie Brooker

A deliciously uncomfortable and emotionally coarse episode, “Arkangel” follows the story of a mother named Marie and her daughter, Sara, as new parental control technology slowly comes between them. After Marie has a scare with a young Sara, she has an implant installed in her daughter’s brain to monitor her interactions with the world and censor its uglier details. Although Marie’s concerns about Sara’s health and safety are understandable, her reliance on the implant becomes an all-consuming force that drives her to encroach on her child’s privacy and independence. The episode ends in a violent climax that feels more soap opera than psychological thriller, but for the most part, “Arkangel” delivers a grounded, powerful thesis on what it means to protect our children in a threatening world.

11. "Hated in the Nation"

Season 3, Episode 6
Featuring: Kelly Macdonald (Boardwalk Empire), Faye Marsay (Game of Thrones)
Directed by: James Hawes
Written by: Charlie Brooker

This solid entry in the Black Mirror anthology has a feature-length running time, but thanks to a well-layered plot, it doesn’t feel like a slog. The episode first plays like a typical murder mystery, until detectives Parke and Blue discover that their case may be connected to a swarm of mechanical bees. Though their original purpose is to simply pollinate, these automated insects have been hacked by a killer targeting the nation’s most hated public figures. Decently paced and littered with increasingly juicy twists, “Hated in the Nation” builds up to the kind of final and devastating reversal that gives Black Mirror its signature sting. The ending’s only flaw is that it depends on villainous motivations a little too familiar to fans; like the “National Anthem” episode (up next), this one also features a mastermind exploiting an uncaring populace to make an ethical statement.

10. “Metalhead”

Season 4, Episode 5
Featuring: Maxine Peake (The Theory of Everything)
Directed by: David Slade
Written by: Charlie Brooker

This suspenseful, bare-bones installment of Black Mirror is the kind of episode that makes this show hauntingly relevant. “Metalhead” is a post-apocalyptic story that’s light on describing what led to said apocalypse, but once we meet a deadly mechanical “dog” seemingly hunting any and all human beings, we’ve got a pretty good idea of how to fill in the blanks. Quite quickly, a “dog” dispatches itself upon Bella, a survivor of the apocalypse who finds herself alone, injured, and stranded after a surprise run-in with her new predator. As she works to find weapons, a vehicle, and maybe even some human help, Bella becomes a heroine perhaps as formidable as her adversary. Gut-wrenching and disturbing even into its last few minutes, “Metalhead” arguably serves as a simple parable about drones -- or any machines that do the killing for us. Who are their victims? And perhaps more importantly: What monsters are their creators?


9. "The National Anthem"

Season 1, Episode 1
Featuring: Rory Kinnear (Spectre), Lindsay Duncan (Birdman)
Directed by: Otto Bathurst
Written by: Charlie Brooker

British Prime Minister Michael Callow is thrust into a bizarre crisis when he receives a recording of Princess Susannah, world-renowned member of the Royal Family, informing him that she’s been kidnapped. Her abductor dictates that Callow can only save her by having intercourse with a pig on live television. Thus begins Black Mirror’s polarizing pilot: a crass exercise in schadenfreude to some viewers and a cautionary tale about schadenfreude to others. Once British citizens are made aware of Callow’s conundrum, the episode chronicles their stages of dread -- or anticipation -- at watching the prime minister humiliate himself, ultimately forcing us as viewers to consider our own parts in piling shame on public figures. This installment, like the best episodes, drives home the “mirror” in the series title. And while it doesn’t quite serve as a full primer for what to expect from the rest of the show (given the pilot is sci-fi-free and arguably more concerned with media than technology), “The National Anthem” still nails the cutting, contemplative tone of what’s to come.

8. "Fifteen Million Merits"

Season 1, Episode 2
Featuring: Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), Jessica Brown Findlay (Harlots)
Directed by: Euros Lyn
Written by: Charlie Brooker, Kanak Huq

This episode is probably best upon a second viewing; the first pass will have you straining to fill in world-building gaps the script isn’t interested in exploring. But once you’ve drawn your own conclusions about the setting’s nuts and bolts, you’ll have more time to appreciate some masterful and emotional writing at work. “Fifteen Million Merits” tells the story of Bing, an unsatisfied cog in a community forced to generate electrical power with stationary bikes. When he encounters a pretty newcomer who dreams of becoming a celebrity, Bing offers her the currency she needs to leave biking behind forever. But his gift yields unexpected results, pushing Bing toward an emotional breaking point and an unconventional act of rebellion. The climax includes one of Black Mirror’s best monologues, which, like the episode’s denouement, demands we take a hard look at the cogs we’ve all become in modern-day society.

7. "White Bear"

Season 2, Episode 2
Featuring: Lenora Crichlow (Being Human), Tuppence Middleton (Sense8)
Directed by: Carl Tibbetts
Written by: Charlie Brooker

One of the bleaker episodes of the entire series, “White Bear” is a nonstop doozy. Time is always against our protagonist, Victoria, who wakes up to both amnesia and a masked murderer on her trail. To top things off, a mysterious broadcasting signal reduces virtually everyone in her neighborhood to silent, mindless voyeurs, all obsessed with recording the world through their phones. The stakes and pressure are relentlessly high, and while Victoria is understandably panicked as a result, she’s relegated to little more than screaming or crying during most of the episode’s running time, making it feel somewhat repetitive. Additionally, a monster twist ditches some of the mounting commentary about onlooker culture to make way for sharp-but-shoehorned-in new points. “White Bear” remains damn fine programming, of course, but ends up displaying as much patchwork as it does polish.


6. "White Christmas"

Season 2, Episode 4
Featuring: Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Rafe Spall (The Big Short)
Directed by: Carl Tibbetts
Written by: Charlie Brooker

This extended episode is worth every minute. Framed by a conversation between two co-workers in a mysterious outpost, “White Christmas” strings together three flashbacks with seemingly tenuous connections. Each vignette offers a self-contained, twisted tale with a deeply disturbing conclusion -- all the while critiquing the ways we employ advancing technology to cruel and selfish ends. The final minutes of the episode tie together elements of each story in a surprising crescendo of hard turns and horrifying revelations. As a bonus, we get to see Jon Hamm play someone with an even dirtier past than Don Draper, and a lesser conscience to boot. If you’re looking to get into the Christmas spirit, this is absolutely not the episode for you -- and that’s the highest praise we can give it.

5. "Be Right Back"

Season 2, Episode 1
Featuring: Hayley Atwell (Agent Carter), Domhnall Gleeson (Star Wars: The Force Awakens)
Directed by: Owen Harris
Written by: Charlie Brooker

“Be Right Back” is a textbook example of doing more with less. Count on Black Mirror to deliver a resonant episode with virtually no special effects, stakes that are entirely personal, and essentially two talking heads successfully driving the plot forward. This installment is the heartbreakingly half-finished love story of Martha and Ash, a couple who move to the countryside just before Ash is killed in a car accident. Devastated, Martha seeks comfort through a service that uses algorithms to simulate the personalities of deceased loved ones. Martha soon finds herself hungrier and hungrier for more lifelike versions of Ash to speak to, graduating from chatting with “Ash” on the internet to speaking with “Ash” on the phone to...well, let’s just say Ash becomes as lifelike as you might expect from Black Mirror. What makes this episode special is Martha’s complicated reactions to the lingering ghost of her partner. We’re with her for every instance of guilt, attraction, joy, revulsion, comfort, and mourning she goes through -- right down to the ending, which feels achingly, agonizingly real.

4. "Shut Up and Dance"

Season 3, Episode 4
Featuring: Alex Lawther (Goodbye Christopher Robin), Jerome Flynn (Game of Thrones)
Directed by: James Watkins
Written by: Charlie Brooker, William Bridges

Kenny, a shy and gentle-hearted busboy, finds his world upturned after a hacker records him masturbating through his own computer’s webcam. Blackmailed, Kenny complies with the hacker’s strange and dangerous directives, which require him to complete high-octane tasks across the city. As a result, Kenny’s is one of the most exciting and suspenseful journeys in the entire Black Mirror anthology -- leading up to a vicious, unforgiving finale that’s one of the very best the series has to offer. Additionally, “Shut Up and Dance” has real substance beneath the surface of its plot, demanding that we take a closer look at who our society is hungriest to shame -- and whether our brand of punishment always fits their crimes. Perhaps just as importantly, it forces us to remember that, like Kenny, our own privacy is shockingly obsolete, and perhaps our sense of judgment should be, too.


3. "Nosedive"

Season 3, Episode 1
Featuring: Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World), Alice Eve (Star Trek: Into Darkness)
Directed by: Joe Wright
Written by: Michael Schur, Rashida Jones

How often do we use social media to display lives more perfect than they really are? How much do we depend on online validation to renew our sense of worth? “Nosedive” asks these questions, and more, with a brilliant script by Michael Schur and Rashida Jones. This episode explores a turning point in the life of Lacie, a modestly popular young woman in a world where virtually everyone rates each other -- based on a cute posted photo, middling customer service, unpleasant personal interaction, and beyond. Highly rated people benefit from social and systemic privileges others don’t enjoy. When Lacie has the chance to move into a stunning new home should her ratings increase, she seizes a rare opportunity to boost her popularity overnight – though, as the episode title suggests, things don’t go so smoothly. Funnier than most Black Mirror episodes but still surprisingly tense, “Nosedive” is an inspired plea for us to embrace the messes we are beneath all the pretending.

2. "San Junipero"

Season 3, Episode 4
Featuring: Mackenzie Davis (Halt and Catch Fire), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (A Wrinkle in Time)
Directed by: Owen Harris
Written by: Charlie Brooker

The surprise of “San Junipero” is how unabashedly sweet it is. Compared to most Black Mirror episodes, this one has heart -- and you don’t have to dig beneath layers of satirical or sardonic subtext to find it. “San Junipero” is, quite simply, a love story; it follows a withdrawn, closeted lesbian named Yorkie as she finds herself attracted to a beautiful, brazen woman named Kelly. As the two reveal more about each other, the world around them also comes into focus for us: Kelly and Yorkie are avatars inside a simulated world inhabited by the dying and the dead. Outside the program, life’s troubles are pronounced for each woman, but if their connection is genuine, they just might provide for each other what the real world can’t. “San Junipero” will move you in a way no other Black Mirror installment will, and with just the right mixture of mirth and melancholy to make its impression last well beyond the closing credits.

1. "The Entire History of You"

Season 1, Episode 3
Featuring: Toby Kebbell (War for the Planet of the Apes), Jodie Whittaker (Doctor Who)
Directed by: Brian Welsh
Written by: Jesse Armstrong

This incredible hour of television, elegantly constructed and dramatically accomplished, epitomizes the imaginative heights and emotional depths Black Mirror can reach. Set in a world of subdermal implants that allow society to record and review memories at whim, “The Entire History of You” introduces us to Liam, a young lawyer between jobs. When he attends a dinner party with his wife, Fi, and her successful friend, Jonas, Liam senses chemistry between them. To Fi’s protestations, Liam later sifts through his memories of the dinner party, becoming increasingly fixated on his wife’s interactions with Jonas. As fixation gives way to obsession, Liam’s suspicions threaten to tear open old wounds between him and Fi -- and perhaps cause permanent damage to their marriage. Liam’s paranoia keeps this episode taut with tension, and his exquisite dialogue with Fi make it drip with even more dread. Eventually, Liam’s hunt for trouble reaps unexpected consequences, paving the way for the most powerful ending in Black Mirror’s arsenal. series would have been excellent even without this installment, but with it, Black Mirror has become something truly remarkable.

Black Mirror is now streaming on Netflix.