I had no intention of actually publishing a full ranking of every Black Mirror episode. Sure, I very much had my personal ranking saved and ready to go (who doesn’t in this day and age?), but I figured such a ranking would serve no purpose on the internet, what with the show being so radically different on and episode-to-episode basis, and the beauty of the anthology format allowing radically different opinions on what is the “best” and the “worst” installments of the show. What would posting my arbitrary ranking on the interweb ultimately prove?
But my opinion on the matter dramatically changed when, a few days ago, I got a phone call from out of the blue. I say “phone call” but, really, it was a weird video chat thing that popped up in my field of vision, projected from the tip of my iris. To be honest it freaked me the hell out and, personally, I can’t imagine much good can come out of continuously using the technology. But, in any case, the most important thing here isn’t the tech, but the message (kind of like Black Mirror itself, actually.) It was from seriescreator Charlie Brooker and, rather than butcher his beautiful words, I will simply quote the man himself.
“Yo Matthew, how’s it hanging? Saw you were watching Black Mirror via the neural connectors I have installed throughout all the social networks — people keep telling me there will be a downside to that technology, but what the hell do they know? I’m Charlie FUCKING Brooker, bruv. Don’t tell me the dangers of motherfucking technology!
Anywho, I’ve been reading a lot of people ranking episodes of Black Mirror on the internet, and I’m here to tell you they are ALL WRONG. They have no idea what they are talking about, actually — YOU are the only one who has the 100% factual ranking, the objective truth on which episodes of my work are amazing, and which ones are slightly less amazing. Only you have the correct ranking, Matthew. Please, spread your truth. Spread THE truth. You are the only one who truly can.
Your pal, Charlie Brooker.”
I don’t really know why he signed a video message, but that’s not the point — I had just been assigned a task from on high. Like God speaking to Moses, or God speaking to Abraham, or God speaking to Kevin Costner, I now knew what my purpose was. I knew what my task had to be. I knew why I was ALIVE, damn it — my opinion on Black Mirror was the only correct one, and it was my job to spread the truth of which episodes, objectively, rock. And so that’s what I’m doing. Here’s my ranking of every Black Mirror episode so far, all 19 stories of bad tech…and even worse people. Enjoy, but remember: I am the only one who is correct. And the rest of you are, simply, wrong.
Black Mirror tackling the world of VR and future gaming should have been a home run, but man what a misfire this one was, on practically every level. Simultaneously failing to be an interesting look at the technology AND failing to tell an emotionally powerful story about its main character, “Playtest” came to an overtly twist-filled end mostly feeling like a waste of time. Director Dan Trachtenberg and star Wyatt Russell deserved a hell of a lot more than being a part of Black Mirror’s all-time worst episode. As it shall be known, since I said it.
18. “Men Against Fire”
Men Against Fire’s biggest crime by far is being mostly unmemorable. Despite being a rather recent episode of the show, I can barely remember what actually happened in it. The idea of manipulating soldiers into doing whatever you want through mental augmentation is extremely fucked up, fantastic territory for strong Black Mirror material, but I just wish the finished project was more noteworthy than what we got. As is stands, you’re better off playing Bioshock to essentially get the same message. Or, hell, even watching Hardcore Henry!
Metalhead is undeniably a cool episode technically, with the beautiful black and white cinematography and terror-inducing direction from David Slade making a strong initial impression. But at the end of the day it’s the thematically lightest episode of Black Mirror, one that can easily be summed up as “Woman runs from robot dog, defeats robot dog, but dies anyway.” There’s nothing else thematically or character wise to really latch on than the simple atmosphere, and well I can appreciate the bare bones approach works for some, it didn’t work for me. And since my opinion is the only one that is correct when it comes to Black Mirror, BOTTOM THREE TIME, “Metalhead.”
I liked “Crocodile” more than most I imagine, and kind of appreciated how wonderfully fucked up the entire journey is (it might be Black Mirror’s most darkest, or at the very least, most cynical episodes.) But despite Andrea Riseboroughs’ stellar performance, it’s hard to deny there’s more thematically interesting and emotionally powerful episodes of Black Mirror. 15 more, in fact!
The first half of “Arkangel” is GREAT, and what the episode says about child rearing in the modern (and near modern age) is really interesting. Too bad it kind of devolves into standard “teenage daughter dealing with controlling mother” fair in the second half, though. Turns what should have been an all-timer into a merely decent episode of the show. Jodie Foster’s direction was aces, though.
14. “Hated in the Nation”
Yes, I like the robot killer bee episode. Don’t @ me.
13. “The National Anthem”
Black Mirror’s inaugural episode is not even close to its finest hour, and is honestly probably not the best place to introduce viewers to what the show can really be at the height of its power. Why they would choose to open the show with the episode in which the Prime Minister fucks a pig is beyond me.
12. “Black Museum”
I LIKED BLACK MUSEUM FOLKS, AND ALL YOUR HOT TAKES ABOUT IT ARE BAD. CHARLIE BROOKER WANTED TO MAKE A SILLY LITTLE ANTHOLOGY EPISODE WITH A HEAVY DOSE OF META, SELF REFERENTIAL HUMOR, AND I SAY LET HIM! !!! IT’S LIKE TALES FROM THE CRYPT: BLACK MIRROR EDITION, AND I DUG IT. ALSO, THE TEDDY BEAR STORY WAS SUPER SAD, SO THERE!!!! CASE CLOSED, NO ARGUING, IT’S THE FACTUAL TRUTH. LET’S MOVE ON.
11. “White Bear”
I know a lot of people love “White Bear” but, man, I just found the entire episode to be mentally and emotionally exhausting. I can appreciate the subversion of the final scene and the important message it sends about how we treat those we view as criminals…but, man, I’d be totally fine to never have to experience this episode of television ever again.
10. “The Waldo Moment”
“The Waldo Moment” is bar none the most underrated episode of Black Mirror. I’m pretty certain that at least 50% of viewers probably have it as their least favorite episode, but I’m just here to say that they are completely wrong, that their opinions have no validity, and that they don’t deserve to ever watch this show again. “The Waldo Moment” is smart satire, the kind that only grows finer and finer as the world turns to shit and everything goes crazy. Ever since The Trump Infestation, the episode’s themes and message have failed to leave my mind. Certainly one of the show’s most surprisingly prescient installments.
9. “U.S.S. Callister”
“U.S.S. Callister” is, first and foremost, a surprisingly fun episode of Black Mirror. It doesn’t take itself extremely seriously, which is an enjoyable and different mood for the show to be in. The performances are also all top tier, from Cristin Miloti (who rocks everything) to Jesse Plemons (who rocks everything) and even Jimmi Simpson (who…you get the point.) I think it missed an ending that packed a bit more of a punch but, other than that, “U.S.S Callister” is a super enjoyable episode of Black Mirror, one that rightfully skewers the occasional grossness of obsessive, entitled video game players. After GamerGate, they probably deserve to be taken down another peg.
8. “San Junipero”
Is it a contrarian take to put “San Junipero,” undebatably the most beloved episode of Black Mirror, right at the halfway point in the rankings? For many of you, probably. But, to that, I say with the height of all my powers: BOO HOO, YOUR 80’s NOSTALGIA LESBIAN ROMANCE STORY ISN’T THE TOP OF THE LIST. HOW SAD.
But, in all seriousness: “San Junipero” is good! The performers do a great job, the writing is pretty good, and the direction is well-handled. But this episode didn’t punch me in the gut with greatness in the way the best episodes of the show usually do, and I can’t help but feel like the overwhelming love for it stems primarily from the fact that it was the first episode of the show to have a happy ending, which in 2016 filled people with so much joy and enthusiasm it became overwhelming. But, don’t worry, I’m here with clarity: the episode is straight down the middle of Black Mirror installments. Let the truth be known!
7. “Hang the DJ”
“Hang the DJ” is pretty much in the same basic territory of “San Junipero,” in that it tells a fundamentally romantic story in the midst of a crazy science fiction concept. And though it’s close, I would have to say that I like “Hang the DJ” a tad bit more, which is probably considered something of a Black Mirror crime from the fanbase. But, remember: you are wrong. “Hang the DJ” is a sweet episode of Black Mirror anchored by a fantastic main relationship, and a fascinating look into the world of future–and modern–dating. Plus, the song where the episode is SUPER catchy:
“Nosedive” is the rare episode of Black Mirror not written by Charlie Brooker, but in no way does that take away from the greatness of the episode. It helps that Brooker brought in equally talented writers Michael Schur and Rashida Jones to pen the episode, both of who give “Nosedive” a nice satirical drive, in the midst of the typical Black Mirror tragedy. And, sure, Community might have done it first, but A) the MeowMeowBeenz episode isn’t very good if we’re being honest and B) this episode does a far better job of bringing the concept to its proper, inevitable conclusion. Add on the best performance Bryce Dallas Howard has given in pretty much anything, and some excellent visuals from director Joe Wright, and you have one of Black Mirror’s best installment. In fact, I would wager that it’s the SIXTH best one! You heard it here first.
5. “Shut Up and Dance”
Remember in 2016, when Black Mirror Season 4 came out and everyone gave “Shut Up and Dance” its proper due as an amazing episode of television? No. of course you don’t, because it didn’t happen. But, don’t worry guys, I have come to pass the only correct judgement on the episode: it’s Black Mirror’s most socially relevant episode, a hell of a ride to watch, and features the show’s most shocking and subversive conclusion. In essence, it’s one of the show’s top 5 episodes. IT HAS BEEN KNOWN.
4. “The Entire History of You”
Probably the episode people think of most when they think of Black Mirror, “The Entire History of You” is so awesome that it’s the only episode of the show that got a deal for its own standalone movie. And, to that, I say why not? The central tech at the center of “The Entire History of You” is so cool that Charlie Brooker returned to the basic idea a few times throughout the show (he likes eye based, pervasive tech you guys), and the story that the tech lends itself to in “The Entire History of You” is aces. Also, lead actor Toby Kebbell! Give Toby Kebbell more things, Holllywood. The Black Mirror God™ demands it.
3. “White Christmas”
“White Christmas” had me at “Jon Hamm making potatoes in a trailer,” and the episode only got better from there. Comprised of three mini-vignettes that ultimately combined to tell one grand story, “White Christmas” is something of a deviation for the show, even by Black Mirror standards. The anthology episode concept would ultimately be tried again in “Black Museum” but, given its position on the list, it is clear the show couldn’t top its first take on the idea. All the stories in “White Christmas” represent the show at some of its very best, and the fact it comes together in a haunting, thought-provoking way only adds icing on the cake. But…seriously. Jon Hamm. Makin’ potatoes. This episode was destined for greatness from the start.
2. “Fifteen Million Merits”
By far the show’s most ambitious, most intriguing, and most pure sci-fi leaning the show has ever been, it’s kind of insane that “Fifteen Million Merits” was the SECOND episode of the show to be created. It already presented such boldness and confidence, and a willingness to take the audience on a journey that is equal parts horrifying and intriguing. The world that “Fifteen Million Merits” manages to build is extremely impressive, especially when you consider they only had an hour to build it. Props especially have to be given to director Euros Lyn, whose experience with visually complex science fiction (particularly in Doctor Who) helped give the episode its most striking look. And lead by an absolute powerhouse performance from Daniel Kaluuya (who showed his penchant for largely non-vocal performing a full five years before Get Out), Fifteen Million Merits was Black Mirror going full swing into crazy science fiction, and I loved pretty much every single moment of it.
1. “Be Right Back”
I was very much torn with my ranking of the show’s best episodes, which just goes to show how great Black Mirror can be at its strongest. Conceivably, ANY of the Top 5 could have made this spot. But, as The Grand Decider of All Things Black Mirror (TM), it was my duty to actually dub an all-time best episode of the show. And, ultimately, I went with “Be Right Back.” After all, I I will never forget the first time I watched this installment of the show.
Easily the most emotionally powerful episode of the series, the first episode of Season 2 is unforgettable, it’s exploration of death and grief so brilliantly executed in its 48 minutes that I was left breathless by the end of it…and absolutely devastated. The performances from both Hayley Atwell (as always, R.I.P. Agent Carter) and Domhnall Gleeson are absolutely fantastic, and the direction from Owen Harris is memorable and beautiful (Harris also directed San Junipero, which is only Ranked #8 on this list. Just thought I would remind you.) The best thing I can say about “Be Right Back” is this: I didn’t see it until after I saw Her, and in no way was the concept any less powerful or unique. Hell, considering the circumstances of the phone AI love story, “Be Right Back” is even more emotionally stirring. And I LOVED Her, you guys, so that’s a pretty big deal for me. Regardless, as THE ULTIMATE BLACK MIRROR DECIDER (TM) “Be Right Back” is complete TV brilliance. And I will hear no argument otherwise!
…But in complete, 100% seriousness: my list probably divulges substantially from yours. And that’s 100% okay. I’m not wrong for having “The Waldo Moment” in my Top 10, and you’re not wrong for having “San Junipero” as your likely number one. To quote the real Decider of All Things, Oprah Winfrey…live your truth. One of the best things about this show is that it affects viewers in wildly different ways, and what some might find great others might end up hating. By its anthology nature, you’re bound to get a lot of reactions to the dozens of things the show attempts to do.
But that’s the beauty of Black Mirror, isn’t it? Any show that can do “Be Right Back” AND “Metalhead” AND “San Junipero” is one very much worth praising. I don’t know if this is it for Black Mirror, but even if the show is never perfect and veer wildly from amazing to only okay between installments, there’s nothing else like it on television. And I’ll gladly take more of it any day of the week.
Also published on Medium.