After a four-year hiatus, Black Mirror is back. Season six is now on Netflix, along with the whole back catalog—including one Christmas special and an interactive movie.
The show, created by Charlie Brooker and producer Annabel Jones, is a modern take on classic anthology series like The Twilight Zone. Through Brooker’s dark, playful, and sometimes uplifting lens, the show examines the unintended ways technology impacts our lives.
Because it’s an anthology series—in which each installment has new subject matter and a slightly different tone—each episode has its fans. And detractors. Picking the best of the best and the worst of the worst is tough. Nevertheless, we tried. Below is WIRED’s definitive ranking of every episode of Black Mirror released thus far.
28. “Smithereens” (Season 5, Episode 2)
Black Mirror’s take on a British police drama, “Smithereens” tells the story of Chris (Andrew Scott)—a man who blames social media for the most tragic moment in his life. And that’s it. The paper-thin plot is just enough to keep this episode plodding from scene to scene, and despite being based around a hostage situation, the stakes never feel particularly high. Think an episode of The Bill but with a little bit of “social media is bad” thrown in.
27. “White Bear” (Season 2, Episode 2)
Half disturbing zombie thriller and half slamming indictment of society’s hankering for public punishment, “White Bear” boasts one of the most unpredictable twists of any Black Mirror episode. But the setup to get there is brutal, a horror-inspired slog that lacks any emotional depth. In the final tally, “White Bear” has only one hand to play, and it does so in a burst of violent catharsis.
26. “Men Against Fire” (Season 4, Episode 5)
Black Mirror is sometimes guilty of fixating on an interesting idea or concept without a whole story to support it. “Men Against Fire” is such an episode. Its warning about the potential misuse of technology in warfare is valid and interesting, but it’s hard to cover in a 50-minute installment of TV. The final twist is suitably bleak, in true Black Mirror tradition, but you can’t help wondering about the wider context of the story and its central character.
25. “The Waldo Moment” (Season 2, Episode 3)
Along with “The National Anthem,” this episode of Black Mirror took a while to line up with the times. Set in the midst of an election, “The Waldo Moment” tells the story of Jamie (Daniel Rigby), a comedian behind a puerile animated bear who unexpectedly finds himself having an outsize impact on national politics. Imagine Bo’ Selecta’s Avid Merrion running for office and you won’t be far off. At the time, this episode seemed to lack firm footing, and it tosses a few too many ideas into the air without developing them. But following the election of a certain US president, it looks as prescient as any in Black Mirror’s canon.
24. “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too” (Season 5, Episode 3)
Brooker took on an entirely new genre with this teen-drama-tinged rumination on vapid pop music, exploitative managers, and impressionable fans. Miley Cyrus plays Ashley, a pop star who has inexplicably had her personality downloaded into some futuristic dolls. Done right, “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too” could have been one of Black Mirror’s best episodes yet. But it fails to really grapple with the technology in question, and it’s never clear whether the episode is an ironic comment on teen films or just a poor simulacrum of the genre, with a “pop music is bad” argument tacked on.
23. “White Christmas” (2014 Special)
Despite Black Mirror’s success, one of the best things about the show is its ability to cast relative unknowns in starring roles. You’ll see plenty of recognizable faces, but you’re unlikely to know many names. Enter Mad Men’s Jon Hamm. A fan of the show from the start, Hamm wanted to congratulate Brooker in person. As a result of the meeting, Hamm was cast in a starring role for the show’s first (and only) Christmas special. Simply put, Hamm is too famous for Black Mirror. More frustratingly, the episode lacks a strong enough idea to hold its plot together. As a result, it feels disjointed, and the brilliant final plot twist arrives too late. But it is better on a second viewing.
22. “Bandersnatch” (2018 Interactive Film)
“Bandersnatch” is simultaneously brilliant and underwhelming. Brooker’s take on choose-your-own adventure TV has five endings dictated by the choices you make. At first, the novelty of controlling the story is exciting, especially as it takes numerous dark turns. The 1980s setting is pitch-perfect, and there’s the kernel of a great story in “Bandersnatch,” but eventually the novelty overtakes the storytelling and proves why TV is best in a linear format.
21. “Demon 79” (Season 6, Episode 5)
Cowritten by Brooker and Bisha K. Ali, the writer who penned Disney+’s Ms. Marvel series, “Demon 79” is billed as the first “Red Mirror” episode—it’s more horror than science fiction. Or horror-comedy. Or horror-fantasy. It’s hard to categorize this tale of a shop worker in 1970s England who is forced to turn to murder to save the world after accidentally releasing a demon. It might have been better off without the Black Mirror tag.
20. “Beyond the Sea” (Season 6, Episode 3)
This one dragged. That’s ironic, because it’s about the tedium of long-distance space travel, with Aaron Paul and Josh Hartnett playing astronauts on a years-long mission who can jump into their lives back home by transferring their consciousness into android replicas of themselves. When tragedy strikes, things take a dark turn, but this is slow-burn sci-fi, more about human emotions and relationships than space travel. It wins points back for a suitably unhinged cameo from Rory Culkin.
19. “Striking Vipers” (Season 5, Episode 1)
Probably the raunchiest Black Mirror episode, “Striking Vipers” starts with an intriguing premise—what happens when VR sex is as good as the real deal—but it fails to explore the tantalizing questions this raises about human sexuality. Its Street Fighter-style VR world, rendered in brilliant video game color, is nice but falls flat after an anticlimactic ending that locks this brave new world of sex back in its box.
18. “Metalhead” (Season 4, Episode 5)
Social media’s fear of those Boston Dynamics clips made manifest, “Metalhead” is full of humans on the run from murderous robotic dogs roaming the countryside. The episode’s black-and-white style and direction successfully evoke classic horror films. It’s tense, exhilarating, and genuinely scary, but the final twist undercuts the episode’s menacing tone. Special mention must be made of the moment a robot dog picks up a kitchen knife and spins it menacingly.
17. “Playtest” (Season 3, Episode 2)
Charlie Brooker likes video games. And “Playtest,” as the name suggests, is all about video games. One particular game, in fact: Resident Evil. There’s the genius Japanese game developer, the haunted house, a character called Redfield (Chris, not Claire), and even covers of Edge hidden in the background. Brooker’s familiarity with the subject matter really shows, with cultural nods and winks carefully mixed into a well-paced, inventive plot. This is a real love letter to the survival horror game genre, told with an expertly crafted dollop of Black Mirror gore and fear.
16. “Mazey Day” (Season 6, Episode 4)
This short, sharp shock of an episode was inspired by a documentary about Britney Spears and follows a paparazzi photographer in mid-2000s Los Angeles on the hunt for a celebrity who hasn’t been seen in weeks. It’s not particularly clever, but it is schlocky, fun, and difficult to discuss in detail without giving the game away.
15. “Hang the DJ” (Season 4, Episode 4)
“Hang the DJ” is nice. It drops us into a tightly controlled world where people date by algorithm. You go on dates decided for you, eat meals chosen for you, and stay in relationships for a predetermined period of time, which could be hours or years, all in the name of finding the perfect match. Georgina Campbell and Joe Cole (of Peaky Blinders fame) make for likable protagonists, but the ending is somewhat telegraphed. Whereas “San Junipero” touches on the complex morality of death and consent, “Hang the DJ” is a less challenging but ultimately feel-good 50 minutes.
14. “Fifteen Million Merits” (Season 1, Episode 2)
Aired in 2011, at a time when The X-Factor was at its cultural peak, this take on the grim endgame for reality television hasn’t aged well. Sure, the shrill caricature of Simon Cowell is entertaining, but the whole episode lacks the subtlety of Brooker’s most compelling morality plays. Black Mirror is at its best when you feel complicit in the awful scenes unfolding before you. Unless you’re a huge fan of make-it-or-break-it-style Saturday night entertainment, the drama of “Fifteen Million Merits” will feel a bit overcooked.
13. “Arkangel” (Season 4, Episode 2)
The only episode of Black Mirror’s first four seasons to be directed by a woman (make of that what you will), “Arkangel” is one of the least futuristic and, as a result, most hard-hitting. Directed by Jodie Foster, it tells the simple story of a mother (Marie) who decides to implant a tracking system in her daughter (Sara) to monitor her health and emotional state, and also to censor what her young eyes can see. Unlike episodes that take a bounding leap of faith, “Arkangel” feels like it could happen right now, which makes its gruesome conclusion all the more chilling.
12. “Loch Henry” (Season 6, Episode 2)
Brooker told WIRED that this episode was inspired by binging true crime during the Covid-19 lockdown, and it adheres closely to the tropes of the genre, with sweeping vistas and a mounting sense of dread. It’s about more than gruesome murders, though, and the dark, devastating conclusion for two young filmmakers and their investigation into a notorious serial killer in remote Scotland lingers in the mind for some time.
11. “Joan Is Awful” (Season 6, Episode 1)
In the standout episode of the latest season, Black Mirror bites the hand that feeds: A mildly awful young woman gets home after a tough day at work to find that her life has been turned into content on “Streamberry,” a Netflix-like entertainment platform. From this slightly flimsy premise, the episode builds into a sharp examination of the content machine, the AI apocalypse, and even quantum computing, with the series’ usual mix of the satirical and the scatalogical, along with some genuine star turns.
10. “The Entire History of You” (Season 1, Episode 3)
Perhaps the most crushingly negative of Black Mirror’s romantic stories—or, well, stories that involve people in a relationship—“The Entire History of You” is a real gut-punch of an episode. As in most Black Mirror episodes, the world is recognizably our own, apart from one crucial detail. In this case, it’s that most humans have been implanted with a “grain” that records everything they see and allows them to play back any memory at will. This does not lead to good things. Written by Jesse Armstrong—the creator of Peep Show and Succession—this is the only episode of Black Mirror not written or cowritten by Brooker. An unrelenting examination of technology’s role in self-inflicted damage to our fragile human egos, things in this episode start off bad and end up much, much worse.
9. “Crocodile” (Season 4, Episode 3)
An even moodier take on the Scandi noir genre, “Crocodile” is set in a world where insurance companies tap into people’s memories in order to settle claims. Again, things start off bad—with a hit-and-run accident—and spiral downward. Although the original script had a man in the lead role, Andrea Riseborough stars as Mia, who finds her perfect life unraveling when past misdeeds catch up with her. Shot in Iceland, with stunning images of vast open roads and lonely homes, this is one of the best-looking Black Mirror episodes, with a plot to match. The very last scene, in classic Black Mirror style, undercuts the awfulness of it all with just a touch of on-the-nose bleak comedy.
8. “Shut Up and Dance” (Season 3, Episode 3)
When did people start covering up the webcams on their laptops? It was definitely a thing before “Shut up and Dance,” but this darkly cynical episode no doubt inspired many to take precautions. The setup is simple enough: A teenager (Alex Lawler) is blackmailed by a hacker who recorded him masturbating. But his path soon crosses with other victims of the hacker, all with their own indiscretions to hide. Events develop at breakneck speed as the increasingly desperate victims dance to the hacker’s tune, culminating in an ending so brutal you’ll have nightmares about the things you don’t want your friends and family to know.
7. “Black Museum” (Season 4, Episode 6)
This remains the most divisive episode in the history of Black Mirror. Directed by Colm McCarthy of Peaky Blinders and Sherlock fame, “Black Museum” is a visceral distillation of Brooker’s obsession with the macabre. It’s also the closest Brooker has gotten to The Twilight Zone and Hammer House of Horror, both of which were inspirations for its anthology style. And while it’s entertaining to watch a man ruined by technology compelled to plunge a drill into a homeless person’s skull in order to orgasm, you can’t help but feel this is relying on shock for the sake of shock.
6. “Be Right Back” (Season 2, Episode 1)
The moment when Martha (Hayley Atwell) meets the android version of Ash (Domhnall Gleeson) remains one of the most profoundly sad and brilliantly acted in the history of Black Mirror. This story about grief and love uses a sci-fi leap of faith to grapple with a very contemporary problem: what to do with someone’s online identity when they die. What starts off as a touching process of prolonged grieving soon turns ghoulish. The only thing that lets the episode down is an ending that tries to be one twist too clever. Ash, of course, should 100 percent jump off the cliff.
5. “Hated in the Nation” (Season 3, Episode 6)
Although the plot of “Hated in the Nation” is straight out of sci-fi—involving rogue robotic bees that become embroiled in a sadistic murder plot—the episode plays things straight with a gripping take on your typical British crime drama. At 89 minutes, it’s the longest Black Mirror episode, but it doesn’t feel like it, with the plot unfolding neatly and culminating in a delicious twist that adds a depth some episodes lack. The improbable plot works in the episode’s favor, keeping it from feeling too preachy and turning it into something that might make people think twice before piling on the hate the next time social media selects its enemy for the day.
4. “Nosedive” (Season 3, Episode 1)
In one of the standout Black Mirror performances, Bryce Dallas Howard plays Lacie, a young woman obsessed with her rating in a world where people are scored on a scale of 1 to 5 for every interaction they have. Set in a superficial American suburbia filled with insipid pastel shades, “Nosedive” is a great rebuttal to naysayers who deride the show as too bleak or depressing. Black Mirror episodes are often riffs on a particular genre, and this is Brooker’s spin on a road trip movie, as Lacie’s spiraling rating sends her on a mishap-laden journey across America and into the path of the excellent Cherry Jones. The penultimate scene—while a little predictable—is one of the most enjoyable closers in the entire series.
3. “The National Anthem” (Season 1, Episode 1)
The episode that started it all, “The National Anthem” set the tone of the Black Mirror universe in its first five minutes, when the British prime minister is told he must have sex with a pig on live TV or face the execution of a beloved kidnapped princess. At the time, the plot felt so farcical that it was hard to see how Black Mirror would acquire its later reputation for predicting the future. Four years later, when a memoir by former Tory donor Lord Ashcroft alleged that David Cameron put his penis in a dead pig’s mouth during a bizarre university ritual—something Brooker insists he had no knowledge of—the show’s future-predicting credentials were sealed for good.
2. “USS Callister” (Season 4, Episode 1)
Black Mirror is often at its best when it’s scaring you with thought-provoking demonstrations of technology run amok, but “USS Callister” is more grounded in the real world than its sci-fi setting suggests. Yes, antagonist Robert Daly creates a virtual world in which he imprisons and abuses avatars of colleagues who’ve slighted him, but mostly he’s just another angry young man who takes his grievances to a virtual space because he’s incapable of addressing them in the real world. The brilliant Star Trek-inspired backdrop lends the story a grand scale as Daly and his business partner James Walton portray two sides of toxic masculinity and its degrading results. The fact that “USS Callister” tells this story in a morbidly funny, often terrifying manner seals its status as one of Black Mirror’s finest.
1. “San Junipero” (Season 3, Episode 4)
Quite a few things changed when Black Mirror moved to Netflix. “San Junipero” probably best captured a subtly different approach from the show’s creators. Here, the grit and (relatively) low-budget grime of the Channel 4 days is replaced by an American dream sheen. The extra budget means more elaborate and detailed sets, but it also brings the action closer to Silicon Valley, the source of so many Black Mirror plots. But what really makes this episode stand out is that the show abandons ghoulish farce to explore something more human. In short, it will make you cry in sadness rather than recoil in disgust.