These Are "Black Mirror"'s Best Episodes of All Time
"Black Mirror" is the modern-day equivalent of "The Twilight Zone," except darker, scarier, and of course, more focused on technology. Over the course of its six seasons, the British Netflix series has captured the zeitgeist of anxieties around the Information Age while also showcasing some of technology's most terrifying consequences. The show is known for connecting its standalone stories through subtle Easter eggs in each installation, as evidenced in its choose-your-own-adventure film "Bandersnatch." Fans can't help but keep coming back for more, even though the show is made of the stuff of your tech-fueled nightmares — and season six, which dropped on June 15, definitely continues that tradition.
Over the years, many of the show's episodes have become pop culture icons, such as "San Junipero," which features an uplifting love story, and "Nosedive," which nods at the dark side of social media through an aggressively cheerful pastel color palette. Here, we've ranked the best "Black Mirror" episodes of all time — whether you want to rewatch the greatest hits to satisfy your pangs for more after finishing season six or get a feel for the best of the series as a new viewer, start with these.
Season 6, Episode 3: "Beyond the Sea"
Season six's standout episode is definitely "Beyond the Sea," which tells the story of two astronauts who are able to return to their lives on Earth by popping into artificial replicas of themselves. When a horrible tragedy strikes, though, the fallout winds up changing both of them — and their families — forever. This episode stands apart from the rest thanks to stars Aaron Paul and Rooney Mara's performances.
Season 4, Episode 4: "Hang the DJ"
An eerie reflection on dating in the algorithmic age, "Hang the DJ" follows Frank (Joe Cole) and Amy (Georgina Campbell), who both use a device called "Coach" that pairs them with different potential partners for specific lengths of time. When they match, the pair quickly develop feelings for each other — but they're soon paired with other partners. As they try to find each other again, the pair wind up questioning everything about their realities. Like many of the best "Black Mirror" episodes, this one has a thoroughly unexpected, paradigm-shifting ending.
"Bandersnatch" is a special interactive "Black Mirror" episode that aired in 2018. It stars Fionn Whitehead as a young programmer named Stefan whose game is picked up by a major studio owned by big-shot designer Colin Ritman, played by Will Poulter. Eventually, Stefan begins to feel like he's being controlled by outside forces — almost like he himself is a character in a video game.
The episode is exceptional thanks to its choose-your-own-adventure format, which prompts viewers to make choices about the story's direction via options that pop up onscreen. While mind-bendingly meta, "Bandersnatch" also offers emotional notes that draw it all together and make it one of the most unique episodes of television out there.
Season 3, Episode 3: "Shut Up and Dance"
"Black Mirror" is full of disturbing episodes, but "Shut Up and Dance" is definitely up there amongst its most desolate. It follows Kenny (Alex Lawther), who is being blackmailed after hackers discover his search history. Once he meets a fellow blackmail victim, things escalate.
Season 2, Episode 1: "Be Right Back"
"Be Right Back" artfully explores artificial intelligence through the lens of grief, enlisting Domhnall Gleeson and Hayley Atwell to execute its melancholy story. In the episode, a man named Ash dies in a car accident shortly after moving to the country with his wife Martha. Grief-stricken, Martha hesitantly tries a new technology that creates a virtual version of Ash by sourcing his texts, videos, and social media posts. (Side note: you'll find an Easter egg of its origins in "Bandersnatch.") After ordering a physical replica of Ash, she questions the authenticity of the technology as she realizes that it lacks her husband's humanity.
The storyline is both poignant and unsettling, posing to viewers the metaphysical question, "What makes us human?" "Be Right Back," unlike many darker "Black Mirror" episodes, ends with a bit of a twisted uplift as we glimpse into Martha's future relationship with her daughter.
Season 4, Episode 1: "USS Callister"
"USS Callister" is arguably season 4's best episode, blending together commentary about virtual reality and power hierarchies in the tech industry, especially as it affects women. It follows the life of the quiet Robert Daly, the CTO of an online game company. Stealing DNA, Daly replicates the consciousness of coworkers, including newbie programmer Nanette (Cristin Milioti). He controls them in his VR game, where he's the megalomaniac space captain of the USS Callister. Utterly shocked, Nanette encourages the crew to take down Daly.
Flaunting the aesthetics of a sci-fi feature, "USS Callister" thoughtfully elevates a female protagonist who's both complicated and badass. On top of that, it features a talented cast, which includes Milioti, Jesse Plemmons, and Michaela Coel. Plus, the punchy ending isn't too grim, which is a reprieve from typically bleak "Black Mirror" installations.
Season 1, Episode 2: "Fifteen Million Merits"
"Fifteen Million Merits" stars Daniel Kaluuya as Bing, a man who lives in a room full of screens. Each day he rides a motorbike in order to receive "merits," which allow him to pay for his life. He soon meets a fellow motorbike rider, and after hearing her sing, he challenges her to compete in a virtual talent show. Full of warnings about the dangers of exploitative media and capitalism and the way they feed into one another, this episode is definitely one of "Black Mirror"'s most thought-provoking installments.
Season 2, Episode 3: "White Christmas"
"White Christmas" isn't as cozy and festive as its name suggests — far from it. In fact, it's one of the darkest and twistiest episodes in the "Black Mirror" canon. Two men, Joe (Rafe Spall) and Matt (Jon Hamm) co-reside in a remote cabin in the woods and exchange stories of their troubled pasts. Matt, for example, discusses being physically blocked by his wife as well as his work where he replicates people's consciousness into "cookies."
The episode cleverly explores the gray ethics of using technology to alter reality and inhibit free will. We also learn about the technology that lays the sci-fi groundwork for future episodes such as "USS Callister." Other than its themes, the episode also has a delightfully twisty plot that's strengthened by a performance from Hamm at his peak charismatic antihero abilities.
Season 3, Episode 1: "Nosedive"
"The Good Place" isn't showrunner Michael Schur's only time playing around with a social point system. In "Nosedive, which the comedy writer developed with Rashida Jones, we enter a world where people rate each other on a five-star system for every interaction. A woman named Lacie (Bryce Dallas Howard) becomes obsessed with raising her average, but her dedication only ends up tanking her rating and driving her mad.
The commentary on social media never feels preachy or ham-handed. In fact, it's a pretty funny, if not heartfelt episode with strong performances from Howard and Cherry Jones. The pastel color palette also adds to the visual intrigue and subtly creepy tone in a Stepford Wife kind of way.
Season 3, Episode 4: "San Junipero"
"San Junipero" is refreshingly uplifting for a "Black Mirror" episode, featuring a tender, queer romance at the heart of its story. In it, a shy young woman named Yorkie falls in love with the much-more-extroverted Kelly in the carefree beach town of San Junipero. But their lives before this paradise isn't quite as heavenly, the past eventually taking its toll on the couple.
This season three episode deftly explores love, grief, and the afterlife while weaving in implications about virtual reality. Its story will satisfy drama and sci-fi lovers alike with an inventive premise that's gorgeously conveyed by lead actors Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis.