No. 23: 'Shut Up and Dance' (Season 3)
A tense and plausible nightmare about a young man (Alex Lawther) blackmailed by hackers that leaves you feeling awful about every character involved and wanting to take a shower.
No. 22: 'The Waldo Moment' (Season 2)
The closest Black Mirror has to an agreed-upon misfire, this political spoof doesn’t quite connect as it follows the rise of a Triumph the Insult Comic Dog-like figure (Daniel Rigby). Ever since the 2016 U.S. presidential election, however, some have cited this episode as one of the show’s most prophetic hours.
No. 21: 'Black Museum' (Season 4)
There’s an enjoyable Creepshow vibe to this trio of horror tales, though each segment felt like a runner-up idea for a full episode. Also, by the time this episode aired at the end of season 4, the show’s “people trapped in a digital world” trope was wearing thin. Still, who can forget the gleeful existential horror of “monkey needs a hug!”
No. 20: 'Arkangel' (Season 4)
A cautionary tale of helicopter parenting about a mother (Rosemarie DeWitt) who monitors her daughter (Brenna Harding) with intrusive technology has some fine moments, then takes a violent turn in the final act that doesn’t feel earned.
No. 19: 'Men Against Fire' (Season 3)
A grim tale with an underdeveloped protagonist (Malachi Kirby) makes some compelling points about modern warfare, yet lacks the depth and impact of other episodes.
No. 18: 'Crocodile' (Season 4)
Everything that came before this episode from this point forward is recommended viewing regardless of ranking. In “Crocodile,” an executive (Andrea Riseborough) spirals deeper and deeper into a murderous pit while trying to cover up a secret from her past, while an insurance investigator (Kiran Sonia Sawar) uses a tech innovation to solve crimes that Alfred Hitchcock would love. Finely crafted, yet one of the show’s most agonizing episodes.
No. 17: 'Rachel, Jack and Ashley, Too' (Season 5)
There’s something to be said for an episode simply being fun. “The Miley Cyrus one” will never be a critical darling. It’s a bit all over the place and doesn’t make a lot of sense. Yet it’s easy to feel empathy for its teen protagonists and the tone refreshingly shifts gears midway into previously unexplored Scooby-Doo territory. Plus, Black Mirror’s sarcastic virtual assistant version of the classic haunted doll trope puts a fresh twist on Tina, Chucky, and Annabelle.
No. 16: 'Playtest' (Season 3)
The Black Mirror version of a haunted house story follows an affable tourist (Wyatt Russell) who tries out an immersive new game. This story stays one step ahead of the viewer at every moment with unsettling direction by Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane). There’s no moral here, and doesn’t need to be.
No. 15: 'Striking Vipers' (Season 5)
A terrific premise: Estranged midlife crisis bros (Anthony Mackie and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, both very compelling) become virtual lovers in an immersive Tekken-like videogame. “Vipers” raises all intriguing questions about identity, gender, sexuality and fidelity (plus contains the showstopping line: “I f—ked a polar bear and I still can’t get you out of my mind”). Yet its execution is a bit of a dour and overlong slog despite the normally A-level Owen Harris (“Be Right Back,” “San Junipero”) behind the camera.
No. 14: 'Bandersnatch' (2018 Film)
A technological home run that generated an unprecedented amount of buzz for the show. A supremely clever script. An engrossing (and stressful!) experience. Yet the story itself — a Donnie Darko-like tale set in 1984 about a game developer (Fionn Whitehead) descending into madness — comes up short, with five abrupt endings and several blind alleys. An episode billed as a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ tale feels like it should have more, well, adventure — as the most gonzo alternate ending of this ultra-meta tale points out.
No. 13: 'Smithereens' (Season 5)
A season 5 episode that feels like a return to the show’s season 1 roots. That’s both good (it’s a taunt British-y thriller that doesn’t require any sci-fi inventions) yet also not so good (much of this feels rather familiar). There are strong performances by Andrew Scott as a rideshare driver from hell and Topher Grace as unmoored tech mogul and the episode scores a thematic bullseye in its the final moments where a tragedy is reduced to — as creator Charlie Brooker put it in an interview — “one more little crouton of a notification.”
No. 12: 'Hated in the Nation' (Season 3)
Scandi-noir meets The X-Files in this feature-length procedural drama tackling online mob outrage, but what you’ll remember most is its frighteningly unstoppable murder weapon.
No. 11: 'White Bear' (Season 2)
Others rank this early fan-favorite much higher: A woman (Lenora Critchlow) is relentlessly pursued with a twist you won’t see coming. “White Bear” could have easily been a classic episode of The Twilight Zone, but it aruably doesn’t have the same level of writing and character development as the show’s best episodes.
No. 10: 'Nosedive' (Season 3)
A successful shift into comedy anchored by star Bryce Dallas Howard and written by Parks and Recreation veterans Mike Schur and Rashida Jones along with Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker; this social media spoof that takes online reviews to their ultimate desperate extreme. We give “Nosedive” four stars!
No. 9: 'Fifteen Million Merits' (Season 1)
One of the show’s most unique and underrated episodes, “Fifteen Million Merits” keeps creeping higher up this list (it gets better upon repeated viewings). The hour explores a romance between two people (Daniel Kaluuya and Jessica Brown Findlay) trapped in a dystopian reality TV future.
No. 8: 'White Christmas' (2014 Special)
At this point, ranking these epsides gets tough; they’re all terrrific. “White Christmas,” despite a 70-minute length and a trio of storylines, Brooker’s script about two men (a terrific Jon Hamm and Rafe Spall) stuck in a snowbound cabin is a marvelously tight construction that weaves together its seemingly totally disparate tales in an unexpected way that makes a surprising amount of sense. The tech nightmares presented here (blocking, the egg) are among the most haunting the show has ever concocted.
No. 7: 'The National Anthem' (Season 1)
A mad-brilliant series opener so divisive that fans tend to advise their friends not to start watching Black Mirror with this episode; a political satire with a premise that left viewers jaw dropped — a kidnapper demands the Prime Minister (Rory Kenner) has sex with a pig on television or he’ll kill a beloved royal family princess. Proves Black Mirror episodes don’t need sci-fi elements or twists to feel original and surprising.
No. 6 'Hang the DJ' (Season 4)
Some will disagree with this episode’s lofty placement. Black Mirror‘s take on dating apps has been criticized as overly cute, and its twist too familiar. But we swooned for this unabashedly romantic look at modern dating, expertly directed by Sopranos vet Tim Van Patten and starring Georgina Campbell (in a breakout performance) and Joe Cole as a couple navigating a rather bossy version of Tinder.
No. 5 'Metalhead' (Season 4)
A complex, brainy show’s most simplistic story: A woman (Maxine Peake) is chased by a robotic “dog.” “Metalhead” is a black-and-white post-apocalyptic blast from start to finish, full of dark humor and a scarily plausible robotic villain that’s like BB-8 crossed with a xenomorph. Note to Netflix: “The Walking Dead with robots” isn’t a terrible idea idea for spinoff series.
No. 4: 'Be Right Back' (Season 2)
Deciding the order of these final four episodes was insanely difficult — all took turns at No. 1 during deliberations. “Be Right Back” is a high-tech version of “The Monkey’s Paw,” about a woman (Hayley Atwell) who tries out a cutting edge service that synthetically recreates her dead boyfriend (Domhnall Gleeson). This is a moving exploration of grief and the drama’s most emotional hour.
No. 3: 'USS Callister' (Season 4)
“The Star Trek episode” is stuffed with more clever allegory than you can shake a tricorder at, throwing jabs at everything from sci-fi tropes to workplace sexual harassment. Jesse Plemons stars in a monstrous tech company’s CTO who has digital clones of his coworkers trapped in his favorite yesteryear TV show. Sure the ending is solved by a convenient bit of technobabble, but even that could be seen as spoofying Trek.
No. 2: 'San Junipero' (Season 3)
A story of two visitors (Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis) to a California beach town in 1987. Seldom has an episode of TV been better served by its final moments; the ending of “San Junipero” marries humanity, technology, and nostalgia with a stunning two-minute masterfully edited sequence that elevates everything we’ve seen before it. Many Black Mirror episodes leave you feeling like you’ve survived a nightmare; this is a vision of the future — and the past — that you’ll long to relive.
No. 1: 'The Entire History of You' (Season 1)
Ranking Black Mirror episodes can feel like comparing apples to oranges to Toyotas. I recently re-watched this episode, wondering if it still earns the top slot. And it does. The episode (from writer Jesse Armstrong) is Black Mirror’s most archetypal example of its premise. “The Entire History of You” (itself an amazing title) takes a wholly plausible near-future tech innovation (the ability to record and replay whatever you see), then expertly squeezes it for every last ounce of its dark dramatic implication, constantly finding new ways to put a spin on a gripping domestic drama. While there are Black Mirror episodes you might enjoy more (this one is pretty cringy at times), and ones with finer performances, this hour’s execution is sophisticated and flawless.