Note: this article is updated from an article originally published on Jan. 2, 2018.
Black Mirror is one of the highest rated, most buzzed about shows on Netflix. If you haven’t heard about it by now, you likely don’t have an internet connection…which is to say, you’re not reading this right now…nevermind.
With season five having dropped today, it seems as good a time as any to rank the 23 episodes of the show, from worst to best.
For an episode-by-episode review of season four, click here. For season five, click here.
23. Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too
Taking the often recycled Black Mirror concept of mixing AI and human consciousness, “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too” does it in the least interesting way. There is nothing to “Ashley Too” other than a “limiter” which shuts off a percentage of her brain. And the medical tech involved in extracting music out of a comatose Ashley is conceptually interesting, but it isn’t used in a compelling way.
22. Hated in the Nation
Overlong and not really worth the time, “Hated in the Nation” makes an obvious statement about social media to drive its narrative. Even with a strong actress like Kelly Macdonald at the head of this thing, it never gets off the ground.
21. Striking Vipers
An intriguing idea, “Striking Vipers” never truly sinks its teeth into the implications of the romantic tryst at its center. The characters are distant and lacking in emotional depth, rendering the virtual reality love affair as a mere curiosity.
20. Men Against Fire
“Men Against Fire” has an interesting (if not predictable) arc for its protagonist, but the episode also contains very obvious commentary about othering in wartime. It doesn’t really work, given that there is nothing else going on here but this commentary.
“Crocodile” is bleak even for a Black Mirror episode, mostly because it is bleak to no particular narrative end. The character at the center, played by Andrea Riseborough, has motivation to act so darkly. However, the violent stakes of the episode never lead to anything fulfilling.
Redeemed by its central performance, “Smitheerens” is nevertheless a slight volume with superficial aspirations. Andrew Scott is a compelling watch. But the story only goes so far as to condemn phone-based distracted driving. Consider it a gritty PSA.
The technological angle of “Arkangel” is interesting, mainly because it seems like a realistic possibility. However, you know from the moment Rosemarie Dewitt’s character is given the ability to watch her child through a video feed that she will see something bad. It’s a foregone conclusion. That nothing else of narrative interest happens with this technology makes the episode feel lacking.
16. White Bear
“White Bear” is certainly a creepy episode of the show. It opens with a lot of questions to be answered in a very Twilight Zone way. Unlike your average Twilight Zone episode, however, the final revelation is not worth the buildup. Instead, it reads as much ado about nothing.
“Metalhead” doesn’t really feel like a Black Mirror episode. It doesn’t work in a world that is near to the present. It doesn’t formulate toward a twist ending. It barely even has characters. Still, it has a strong sense of pacing and is shot quite well.
14. Black Museum
The three distinct stories in “Black Museum” are all intriguing. That they are short and sweet help its cause. But how the episode decides to wrap up and how there isn’t a real arc that reaches from beginning to end makes the episode feel inconsequential. The stakes are never really established to justify the “twist.”
13. The Waldo Moment
“The Waldo Moment” is entirely farcical, and yet it still reads as a predictive social commentary. It is ridiculous and crude, but it works. It might not be subtle or deep…maybe I’m convincing myself that this isn’t a good episode…but no, it’s good. Not great, but good.
12. Hang the DJ
Of all the episodes in season four, “Hang the DJ” creates the best world. The conceit of “expiry dates” for relationships is interesting, and the acting from the two leads makes it all read as believable. The “twist” is a bit on the nose, of course, but I think they sell it well enough.
11. White Christmas
The central acting performances from Jon Hamm and Rafe Spall make this feature-length episode a breeze to watch. The tripartite story involving their two characters, too, is fairly compelling. Unlike “Black Museum,” which tells three narratives that are mostly disparate, “White Christmas” weaves the three stories together in a way that makes the entire episode compelling. Plus, it builds up to its twist in an unexpected way.
Undoubtedly ambitious, the choose-your-own-adventure stylings of “Bandersnatch” are initially intriguing. It is fun to uncover the various endings, but by the time you reach dead end five or six it gets somewhat exhausting. The revelations of new branching paths are less exciting as you go. The more you find, the less you care.
9. Be Right Back
“Be Right Back” is perhaps the most emotionally mature episode of Black Mirror. It handles grief in a way that is believable—thanks in large part to Haley Atwell’s performance. The episode’s larger questions about what it means to be alive and dead doesn’t fit in as well into this sentimental narrative, but on the whole the episode is effective in what it sets out to do.
8. USS Callister
The best episode of season four, “USS Callister” builds a sinister and creepy antagonist in Jesse Plemons. What it does with A.I., too, is intriguing. While it is near feature length and could be seen as too long-in-the-tooth, the episode is pure Black Mirror.
7. San Junipero
The only truly happy episode of Black Mirror, “San Junipero” reads very different than the average episode. Still, it weaves a technology-centric story with a beating heart at its center. It’s quaint and beautiful. Even a show about how despairing our tech-culture world is needs to stop and take a breath of fresh air every once in a while.
6. The National Anthem
The inaugural episode of Black Mirror is more of a punchline than anything else, but that doesn’t stop “The National Anthem” from writing out a character’s emotional undoing in a darkly comic fashion. Watching Rory Kinnear’s PM character lurch his way through an unsolvable ordeal is fantastic. Watching everyone else watch the ordeal go down is all too real. And the episode’s denouement: heartbreaking.
Less bleak in execution than most Black Mirror episodes (until the end, that is), “Playtest” offers a fun ride through a digital haunted house that is simply a joy to watch. The charisma of Wyatt Russell is mostly who’s to thank for this, but director Dan Trachtenberg’s ability to control tight spaces also adds to the fun.
4. Shut Up and Dance
The tension of hiding something terrible ratchets up the tone and narrative stakes of “Shut Up and Dance” wonderfully. The story unravels simply, but that doesn’t stop the episode from having an unsettling feel to it from beginning to end. Alex Lawther and Jerome Flynn help this unsettling tone play out with their wonderful performances.
Similar to the obsessive character in “The Entire History of You” (we’ll get to this one in a second), Bryce Dallas Howard’s precipitous fall in “Nosedive” is a glorious trainwreck. Hers may be the best acting performance in the entire show. Having Joe Wright as a director doesn’t hurt the episode any, either.
2. The Entire History of You
The brutal look into obsession that is “The Entire History of You” is fantastic. Toby Kebbell and Jodie Whittaker act their hearts out in one of the better-written episodes of the show. And how the beats of the story fall leading into the final moments: tragic.
1. Fifteen Million Merits
It’s self-contained world is the most realized. It’s bleak twists turn the knife in the wound until the final moments. It’s characters are most easy to sympathize with. The acting is good, the writing is good, and the tonal control is great. It’s just…the best.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)