Black Mirror is a complex show. Not only does it deal with some very scary subject matter with a look into many possible futures from our technological obsession and over-reliance, but each episode’s quality varies greatly depending on the concept, writing, directing, acting, and execution of the core idea. While I’d absolutely argue that every episode of Black Mirror is worth watching, there are certainly some that are better executed than others.
Here are all 20 episodes of Black Mirror, ranked. One of the great things about the show is that it’s highly divisive. Someone’s favorite episode might be someone else’s least favorite. That’s the blessing — and sometimes curse — of anthology television. Here’s my list. Let me know your favorite episode, and enjoy!
20. The Waldo Moment
I think most Black Mirror viewers would agree that The Waldo Moment is among the weaker offerings of the show. Its look at modern politics and the power of loud voices is certainly an interesting one, but the execution here leaves something to desire. The main character in this episode is just so unlikable that it’s hard to invest in his story. He isn’t a sympathetic character, and even worse, he just isn’t all that compelling.
This episode also lacks a lot of the cool sci-fi pulp that the show usually focuses on, instead presenting a more typical dystopian vision of the future. The writing just isn’t as funny or clever as it should be considering the subject matter, and it all ends up feeling a bit pointless by the end.
19. Shut Up and Dance
This episode had so much promise, which only makes the wet fart of an ending even more disappointing. Shut Up and Dance follows a young man — and I use “man” very loosely here — who gets caught up in increasingly insane scenarios, all created by some malevolent figure or group. The guy is only participating to keep a video of himself masturbating from leaking to the public.
The narrative hook is definitely interesting, and the ride is a fun one, despite the poor casting of the lead. I think they were going for a young “everyman” type, but when the detailed reveal of what his video actually contains happens at the end, most of the impact is taken away because he looks and seems so young. This concept would have been far more effective with an older main character. I hate to detract so much of the episode solely because of the ending, but it really is that bad. Even with Black Mirror’s history of not always sticking the landing with their episodes, Shut Up and Dance is probably the worst offender.
Another episode that started strong, Nosedive focuses on a woman living in a world where everyone gets rated by their peers for everything. Being friendly, making coffee at work, posting pictures online — everyone’s entire life is all driven by trying to get a higher score and becoming one of the elite.
The problem is, Bryce Dallas Howard is horribly miscast in this. She’s a fine actress, but nothing about this role seemed right for her, and I’m still confused by her decision to gain weight specifically for the role. She can do whatever she wants, but I don’t think it added anything to the performance and her personality as an actress made it hard to believe and invest in her breakdown at the episode’s climax. And not to be shallow, but she’s frankly just too uniquely attractive to be taken seriously as the dumpy, desperate friend-type. While some of the story in the episode is strong, it feels too long, has some pieces and scenes that seem unnecessary, and just sort of ends with no resolution or real statement about the world it represents.
17. Men Against Fire
Men Against Fire ends up so low on the list for just kind of being generic. There’s also a huge twist that happens during the course of the story, and I can’t imagine anyone not seeing it coming, it’s so obviously telegraphed. This is a future where humanity is currently hunting down some sort of dark, humanoid creature for the government. It’s the eventual reveal of what’s actually going on with these creatures that had me saying “well, duh.”
And that’s to say nothing of the cinematography, which feels like someone had a lot of cool action movie ideas but not the skill to execute them. Then there’s the main character, who’s so vanilla and under-developed that this crisis of conscience he deals with at the end with has no impact whatsoever. This, in my opinion, is one of the less ambitious episodes of Black Mirror, which only makes it that much more uninteresting.
The basic “murderer covering their tracks by committing further murders” aspect of Crocodile is super cool, but the obligatory tech tie-in drags this episode down. I just found the story of this one to be completely absurd. Basically, an insurance agent stumbles upon the murder because she’s investigating a potentially fraudulent claim by helping witnesses relive their memories with a device that helps them see things again.
First of all, in a world where most other technology isn’t all that advanced compared to what we have now, there’s no way an insurance agency would commit the financial or personnel resources for a single claim like this. Second, there’s a conceit of the episode that the government has deemed it mandatory for people to assist with insurance claims like this. Yeah, I’m gonna say no way on that one. Finally — and this is more specific to the writing than the concept — the build-up takes way too long when it becomes increasingly obvious how the two stories will tie together. There’s also a reveal at the end about one of the murder victims and how it wasn’t necessary for them to be killed, and I literally laughed at how stupid it was. I’d say this episode should have been better, but there were just too many conceptual issues for Crocodile to have ever been great.
The internet collectively lost its mind when Bandersnatch was revealed. A choose your own adventure episode of Black Mirror that takes place in the 80s and involves video games? It couldn’t possibly miss! Well, it did. I’m not going to take anything away from the concept of the episode. Netflix is clearly playing around with more interactive experiences, and I think that’s a rad idea. Black Mirror was even a great choice as the first experiment of this type. But the issues with Bandersnatch hold it back from being a truly memorable or engaging experience.
First, the acting is largely bad. That makes it hard to care. Second, the timing of the choices is poor. Regardless of how quickly you make a decision, you still have to sit there for the full 10 seconds, watching characters awkwardly stare at each other. But most importantly, the implementation of the choices doesn’t make any sense. The way a choice should work is that there’s a impetus for a choice, the choice happens, and then there are consequences. In Bandersnatch, you’re often making a choice before you even know why you need to make the choice. That makes the choices feel arbitrary and unjustified.
Arkangel is just kind of boring, which is about as large an insult as you can lodge against an episode of Black Mirror. There have been news stories for years about implants parents can use to track their kids, and Black Mirror takes that real-life concept to the next level here. This implant not only acts as a GPS device, but also allows the mother to see things through her daughter’s eyes and actually block violent or otherwise negative images from being seen at all. This obviously leads to the daughter not fully developing as a person, since it’s often the scary or confusing moments in life that help define who we become. The daughter over-corrects when given free rein, which leads to the mom trying to wrest back control of her now-teenage kid.
The mother/daughter relationship in this context is a cool thing to explore, but again, the actual scenarios and build just aren’t all that satisfying. Plus, the climax of the episode is absurd and unjustified, in my opinion. This is one where the concept wasn’t particularly flawed, but the execution held it back from being a great — or even all that interesting — episode.
13. White Bear
Now that we’ve gotten past some of the Black Mirror episodes that I think are actively bad, we can talk about what separates an okay episode from a great one. If the internet is anything to go by, I like White Bear far less than most — and certainly less than my wife, who considers this episode one of her favorites. You’re probably noticing a theme here, but for me, it all comes down to the ending.
The episode does a great job of throwing you into the circumstances and establishing the protagonist as an audience surrogate. Neither of you knows what the hell is going on or who to trust, and it definitely creates a feeling of tension. The ride of this one is certainly fun, not unlike Shut Up and Dance (though this episode handles things better on every front). But when the ending reveal happened, I found it to be so hilariously implausible that everything else fell flat. The best episodes of Black Mirror make sense and are things you could really see happening, no matter how terrifying that concept might be. White Bear is not one of those episodes.
I had to wait a lot longer than I’d have expected for Black Mirror to do an episode focusing on video games, as Playtest didn’t air until season three. And while I didn’t love every aspect of the episode, I still found it to be cool, if not particularly ambitious. And yes, before you ask, the ending was “gotcha” television at its absolute worst. This episode centers around a young man who is traveling the world, and it spends a surprising amount of time focusing on him as a character before introducing the larger story. He ends up taking a quick gig from a huge virtual reality game company as a tester for their new product, where he’s placed in a virtual haunted house and is told he only needs to stay the night. He knows nothing in there is real or can hurt him, but there’s this undercurrent of feeling that he might not have all the information.
I assumed this episode would lean heavier into horror tropes than other Black Mirror episodes, and while it does, I wouldn’t call it all that scary. And this is coming from someone who hates horror films because he’s so easily terrified. While the ending is a bit cliche and confusingly multi-layered, Playtest has an engaging lead and fun concept — and seems to know it’s bordering on parody throughout.
11. Hated in the Nation
When compared to most other episodes in the series, Hated in the Nation is surprisingly straightforward. It’s a near future setting where there’s a serial killer around that is somehow killing people without physically being near them. But it’s the purpose behind the murder that’s the real hook in the episode, and why I think it ended up as a concept for Black Mirror.
See, the killer puts out a poll of the most hated people on a particular day, and whoever gets the most votes is the person that dies. The most obvious candidates are political figures, and while the episode does bring a few of them up, it focuses more on seemingly average people who go viral for doing something bad — think the parents of the Harambe kid or some random D-list celebrity that tweets something offensive. These are certainly not the most dangerous people in the world, but they tend to be the ones that get the most unilateral hatred that really only lasts until someone else does something stupid. The episode disappointingly doesn’t dive as deep into this subject as I’d like, and instead follows a semi-standard detective plotline that is actually quite well acted by all involved. I found the reveal of the killer to be a little lame, but overall the episode was engaging if a little underwhelming in general.
Continue onto the next page for my top 10!