A new season of Black Mirror is coming out, and I have high hopes. You can read in my review of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch how I wasn’t impressed by Netflix’s latest attempt to innovate, and to be honest, the fourth season was mostly forgettable save for one, possibly two, episodes. Given that this next season is only going to be three episodes, I can only imagine that they are the best that Charlie Brooker and Co. have to offer.
Until the season drops, however, I thought it’d be interesting to look back over every Black Mirror episode we’ve gotten thus far, just to see how far we’ve come and possibly to see where we can still go from here.
19. The Waldo Moment
Easily the most disappointing entry in Black Mirror, if only because all the other episodes are of such high caliber. While the idea behind “The Waldo Moment” isn’t terrible—and actually proved to be quite prophetic given the results of the 2016 US Presidential election—the stakes weren’t there, the writing wasn’t refined, and it all just sort of fell flat.
18. The National Anthem
“The National Anthem” is an OK hour of TV when considered on its own, but quite disappointing as the pilot episode of Black Mirror. The techy aspects are too subtle, the political commentary is too on the nose, and the shocking moment—and what a shocker it is—is gratuitous in its vulgarity, even for this show. It’s not a good representation of what the series would end up becoming.
I like the premise of “Arkangel” as it’s an important one to explore in our current age: What happens when helicopter parenting becomes just a little too easy thanks to technology, and how does that affect a child’s development? But it’s overly predictable, uncharacteristically empty, and extremely pessimistic—even for Black Mirror.
16. Men Against Fire
“Men Against Fire” is an interesting episode by all rights, but loses points for its heavy-handed commentary and uncreative exploration of the technology that drives the episode, hampered by its desire to shock with its big twist ending—an ending that was telegraphed way too early.
I love the scenery and setup of “Crocodile,” taking us away from the hustle and bustle of city life all the way to Iceland. I also like the tech on display—self-driving vehicles and the memory recall device—and the general premise that humans could replace CCTVs if memory recall were possible, which is frightening to think about. But with such an unlikable protagonist, it was hard to care about anything that happened in this episode.
14. Black Museum
I kind of get what Charlie Brooker was aiming to do with “Black Museum,” but the end result was overstuffed. While the callbacks and tie-ins to previous episodes were neat, it just wasn’t interesting enough overall save for the mystery of “What is this place?” It’s one of the rare episodes where you can see the writer behind the work, and the character motivations don’t quite stand up to scrutiny.
As a thriller story, I love “Metalhead.” The post-apocalyptic setting with man-killing robot dogs having taken over the world? Devastatingly terrifying. The black-and-white filming and the 41-minute runtime were both interesting creative choices that proved good. But the plotting is just too simple and the commentary just isn’t there, so it doesn’t feel like an episode of Black Mirror.
12. Be Right Back
“Be Right Back” is one of Black Mirror’s best episodes as far as emotional punch is concerned. It’s well-written, it’s heartbreaking, and it’s flawlessly acted. It introduced me to Domhnall Gleeson, who is now one of my favorite actors. However, the overall concept is unoriginal—with only a few original bits here and there—which is why it’s ranked here. Black Mirror can do better!
11. Fifteen Million Merits
“Fifteen Million Merits” was the second ever episode of Black Mirror, but it should’ve been the first. It gives a much more accurate impression of what Black Mirror is all about than “The National Anthem,” and it’s one of the stronger episodes of the entire series. The visuals are outstanding, the tone is both bleak yet strangely optimism, and it really gets you thinking. As a thought experiment, it’s a resounding success.
10. San Junipero
“San Junipero” stands out in many ways: the LGBT story, the throwback to a 1980s setting rather than the futuristic atmosphere that Black Mirror is known for, and the uncharacteristic uplifting ending. On top of strong performances, “San Junipero” doesn’t just tackle the idea of simulated reality, but really burrows down and explores it at length—and you don’t realize it until after the fact. What a whomp.
9. White Bear
I will always remember “White Bear,” which is a testament to its power as a story. For most of the episode’s runtime, you’re caught up in a mystery thriller that has you on the edge of your seat—and then you’re slammed in the face with that twist of an ending, which completely upends everything you saw leading up to that moment. It’s what a proper plot twist ought to be, yet even better because it’s so gut-twistingly dark and chilling.
To some degree, “Nosedive” is too one-dimensional and overstays its welcome. But it’s so beautifully done and it’s so well-crafted that those downsides almost don’t matter. Watching “Nosedive” feels like looking into a crystal ball, and it’s depressing because we know how plausible all of this is—I’m talking about America, not China, by the way. It’s also an excellent example of a bittersweet ending done right.
What I love most about “Playtest” is that it’s the only Black Mirror episode that feels like a genuine horror story, rather a suspense or thriller story like most of the others. The mood and anticipation are unbearable at points—at least for a scaredy-cat like me—but the real kicker is the ending, which is horrifying on a whole new level. And I think that’s what I like most about “Playtest”: it’s a reminder that technology doesn’t need to be wielded in the hands of malicious intent in order to have dangerous consequences.
6. Hang the DJ
I love the idea of “Hang the DJ,” which doesn’t become clear until the very end. There are red herrings all over the place, but they never feel cheap or misleading. Everything makes sense and it all ties together well. And like “San Junipero,” “Hang the DJ” ends on a victorious high note that feels unusual for Black Mirror; fortunately, in this instance, the ending feels earned and proves satisfying.
5. Hated in the Nation
When Black Mirror gets creative, that’s when things really take off. In the case of “Hated in the Nation,” it’s the idea that something so innocent as social media can be weaponized. A bit cheesy? Maybe. But the execution of this episode treats the premise with the respect it deserves, not to mention the other cool techy bits like the Autonomous Drone Insect.
4. Shut Up and Dance
Edging just ahead of “Metalhead” and “White Bear,” “Shut Up and Dance” is the most thrilling episode in all of Black Mirror. The weird thing is, there isn’t much tech in this one. The setting is modern day England, and the only influence of tech is the ability of a hacker to anonymously blackmail a regular citizen thanks to a hacked webcam recording. But maybe that’s why it’s so thrilling; this could actually happen today.
3. USS Callister
Imagine being trapped in an RPG against your will. Wouldn’t you do everything you can to escape? That’s basically the premise of “USS Callister,” and it sounds a bit stupid on paper. But the real excellence of this episode is in its characters and the midpoint twist, where the protagonist slowly turns into the antagonist. An incredible display of writing skill, resulting in the third strongest episode of the series.
2. The Entire History of You
“The Entire History of You” is ranked second for one reason: it made me feel physically nauseated, which is something no other episode has managed to do. You want to talk about an emotional gut punch? This episode is more like a body slam followed up by a suplex. It’s ambitious in its exploration of the “record everything you see” concept, but skillfully intertwines a personal story with extremely personal stakes.
1. White Christmas
With a runtime of 73 minutes, “White Christmas” is basically a feature film—and thanks to its layered plot and interesting characters and a full array of jaw-breaking plot twists, I’d confidently say that “White Christmas” is better than most sci-fi thriller films. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll just say this: the way this episode deftly weaves together three separate stories into one is a masterclass in writing.