2:30pm PT by Jackie Strause
'Black Mirror': All 19 Episodes, Ranked
With the fourth season of Netflix's Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker has a total 19 episodes of dystopian delights awaiting the ready viewer.
The anthology series, which first launched in the U.K. before being nabbed by the streamer, taps into collective unease with the modern world by exploiting techno-paranoia themes with each of its stand-alone episodes. A common misconception, however, is that technology is the enemy; in fact, the hypothetical gadgets featured in the stories are meant to be a black mirror, reflecting what these human characters are capable of right back at their staring faces.
In interviews, Brooker has often struggled when asked about the order viewers "should" watch the Black Mirror episodes. Season four is the first season for which he's ever released an episode sequence, and it still came with a caveat that the new batch can be watched "in whatever flippin' order you like."
Thanks to the anthology's Emmys win for "San Junipero" and "USS Callister," along with a unique rollout for U.S. viewers, there are bound to be some fresh eyes coming to the series. Not to mention, there is always something new to be gleamed from rewatching a Black Mirror episode after learning the shock twist. But one season-four episode challenges viewers to watch them all, since it contains Easter eggs to potentially every episode of the series.
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch also launched betweens seasons four and five as a choose your own adventure-style movie complete with many series Easter eggs. Since the offering is a stand-alone event — and the first official film in the franchise — Bandersnatch is not included in the episode ranking below. (But you can read all about it here.)
With that in mind, The Hollywood Reporter ranks all 19 episodes below to help guide viewers on their Black Mirror binge. The below spoiler-free ranking isn't "worst" to "best," necessarily, since they all should be consumed; but the must-watch episodes sit at the top of the list.
19. "Men Against Fire," season three
A soldier (Malachi Kirby) is tasked with exterminating sub-human creatures called "roaches," but a glitch in his microchip implant allows him to be the only one in his group to see the world clearly, exposing a government eugenics program. Michael Kelly plays a military psychologist, who is on the front lines of an argument that PTSD can be wiped out with memory, and by using implants to mask the reality and pain. The relevant episode takes on modern warfare, with a Black Mirror-like test of morality, but the ending still leaves much to be desired.
18. "Metalhead," season four
Maxine Peake is a woman who takes on a machine in the black-and-white, 38-minute episode, marking the shortest story of the series. Peake's character is motivated by her human relationships, an emotional story that contrasts heavily to the bleak world laid out for her in the future, where human life is sparsely seen and machine "dogs" are on the hunt for any trace of life. The survival thriller (which contains a "White Bear" Easter egg) is a commentary on the many areas of society where machines are replacing humans, but its simplicity makes it too much of a contained story when compared to the rest of the season four offerings.
17. "Arkangel," season four
Jodie Foster became the first female to step behind the camera for a Black Mirror episode with this mother-daughter tale. The story follows a protective single mother (Rosemarie DeWitt) as she raises her daughter, whom she had test out an experimental parental tracking device when she was a young girl. Appealing to a generation of children growing up with Find My iPhone and helicopter parenting, the indie movie-like episode questions the lengths a parent will go to keep their child safe, and how long a child can be restrained. The episode, however, has seen some backlash regarding a plotline surrounding the contraceptive pill.
16. "Fifteen Million Merits," season one
Taking on the reality competition genre, Daniel Kaluuya (below) exists in a sci-fi game-like world where people must exercise in order to earn "Merits" that are used as currency. When he meets a girl (Jessica Brown Findlay), he helps her compete in a televised talent show in hopes that if she wins, she will be able to escape. Taking a closer look at overnight stardom, class systems and a reality star-obsessed culture, the visual feat of an episode was even recreated as an art exhibition in London. It has also been called back as the series has continued, including in season four stories "Black Museum" and "Crocodile."
15. "Be Right Back," season two
One of a few of Black Mirror's romances, "Be Right Back" tells the story of a woman (Hayley Atwell) whose boyfriend (Domhnall Gleeson) is killed in a car accident. While in mourning, she enlists a new technology that can create an AI version of her loved one, putting him back together by his social media footprint and information found online. The touching story explores grief, how people linger on through their online presence after death and the difficulty of letting go, especially when an android can fulfill, and essentially rewrite, a relationship that has been lost. The episode was directed by Owen Harris, who later returned to direct "San Junipero."
14. "Shut Up and Dance," season three
Playing out like a crime thriller, Alex Lawther kicks off the chase when his character is seen being blackmailed by hackers. He must carry out their cryptic demands, otherwise they will release damaging information into the world. He soon discovers other equally desperate players in the twisted saga, but not until the end is the uniting thread between them all revealed in devastating fashion. This episode is likely to have a Snowden effect, as many stars of the series have been influenced by episodes like "Shut Up and Dance" and have admitted to placing tape over their computer cameras. Lawther's performance stands out and the episode will leave viewers questioning humanity in a way that rings familiar to a previous episode in the series listed below, "White Bear."
13. "Crocodile," season four
Led by Andrea Riseborough, "Crocodile" explores how memory, when advanced by technology, can help to solve crimes. The bleak thriller flips gender roles to show what one mother is capable of when her own life is on the line, and displays how the past can come back to haunt the present — a theme Brooker has not shied away from utilizing in some of his most powerfully daunting stories. The role was initially written for a man, until Riseborough asked Brooker and Jones if she could read for the part, sparking the creator and his executive producer to buck the trope and tell an even more compelling thriller.
12. "Hated in the Nation," season three
Clocking in at a whopping 90 minutes, the pacing of "Hated in the Nation" is unlike any other in the series. Kelly Macdonald stars as a detective who attempts to stop the deaths of people who are being targeted by a social media "game." The mini-movie takes on cyber-terrorism when robotic bees, used to pollinate the planet amid the insect's extinction, are hacked and used to carry out the game's mission. The longest episode of the series was inspired by detective thrillers like The Killing and also contains a key reference to another episode that took on voyeurism, "The National Anthem" (mentioned below) — more proof that the worlds of the episodes are all connected.
11. "Hang the DJ," season four
Black Mirror's first version of a rom-com, "Hang the DJ" serves as a social commentary on online dating. Singles played by Georgina Campbell and Joe Cole are matched together, but an unfamiliar dating system sets their time together to only 12 hours. The ensuing and mysterious romantic tale explores human relationships through the endless options and dating cycles women and men go through in order to find their perfect match. One of the most well-received of the new season, due to its unsuspecting ending, the story is one of many in the series (along with "San Junipero" and "White Christmas") to tackled digital consciousness from a new angle.
10. "White Christmas"
This extra-long episode starring Jon Hamm (above) aired between seasons two and three and over Christmas when it launched first in the U.K. As episodes were migrating over to Netflix, "White Christmas" arrived on delay for U.S. viewers and when it did, it delivered a compilation story that can be similarly seen in season four's "Black Museum" (ranked below). Two men harboring secrets who are stuck in a remote cabin share their life stories with one another and the episode plays out with three mini-stories within the larger story from there. Ending with, yes, a twist, the whole is better than the sum of its parts — a narrative tactic that pays off best by season four.
9. "The Waldo Moment," season two
Arguably the politicized episode that put Brooker on the U.S. map, "The Waldo Moment," it was later realized, predicted the rise of Donald Trump. The story, which aired in 2013, tells of an outsider (Daniel Rigby) who voices a cartoon bear that goes on to win an election by utilizing anti-establishment rhetoric. The human controlled the avatar, named Waldo, with a sort of face technology that is now similarly used in the new iPhoneX — until the avatar ultimately outgrows its handler. Waldo (pictured below) insults voters, who lapped it up because they are sick of the status quo, one tactic that was later utilized by Trump in the 2016 presidential campaign. After Trump's election, along with Brexit, Brooker and Jones said they didn't plan to tackle politics head on for 2017's fourth season, since the climate is moving too quickly.
8. "Black Museum," season four
No one should attempt to watch "Black Museum" until they have seen all 18 other Black Mirror episodes. Named last in Brooker's season four sequence for a reason, the story at one point contained an Easter egg reference to every single episode in Brooker's catalog — proving once and for all that all stories do exist in one Black Mirror universe. Brooker said he isn't sure all of the nods will make the final cut, but viewers' eyes should stay peeled for references when a woman (Letitia Wright) visits a secluded museum of techno-horrors run by an expert in the history of all the criminology on display (Douglas Hodge). Once again telling three vignettes within its larger story, "Black Museum" evokes a range of emotions while exploring new hypothetical technologies and digital consciousness.
7. "Playtest," season three
With its extra twisty ending, "Playtest" pulls on the heartstrings. The horror romp warns of the near-future dangers of virtual and augmented reality, and the story's protagonist (Wyatt Russell) is a likable character — a rarity in the Black Mirror world. The episode takes Russell's character through a techno-fun house, testing both its star and the viewer on what is real and what isn't. Ultimately, the technologies employed here are not too far off in the future and as it shows, the consequences can be devastating.
6. "Nosedive," season three
Bryce Dallas Howard (above), set against a pastel pallette, lives in a near-future world where everyone is rated on a scale of 1 to 5. With her 4.2-rating, her character is obsessed with climbing up the ladder in a society that awards those with the highest ratings the best of life's offerings. A commentary on social media and those who use it, versions of the seemingly far-off technology can already be seen popping up across the world today, not to mention ranking systems utilized by popular technology apps like Uber and Postmates.
5. "USS Callister," season four
The feature-length space epic stars Jesse Plemmons as a CTO to a virtual reality gaming company. The episode contains homages to Star Trek (and Star Wars) as it charts a journey aboard fleet USS Callister — a spaceship was actually created on the London set —, and also stars Cristin Milioti, Jimmi Simpson and Michaela Coel (who also appeared in "Nosedive"). Cinematic feats and Easter eggs aside, the 74-minute sci-fi story is bound to be received similarly to "San Junipero," as its theme of reclaiming power under tyranny is a relevant message to be sending before 2017 comes to a close.
4. "White Bear," season two
A woman with amnesia (Lenora Crichlow) wakes up to find herself in a nightmare scenario, as she appears to be prey to "hunters," humans who have no remorse and who are controlled by a television signal. A commentary on many aspects of society — from the media to violence and human empathy — the ending shows just what Brooker is capable of along this Black Mirror ride, and is a story that tends to stick with those who make it through.
3. "San Junipero," season three
The Emmy-winning episode was designed to come as a surprise. Before winning the TV trophy, "San Junipero" became an instant cultural phenomenon, thanks to its neon palette, addictive '80s soundtrack and story between lovers, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis (pictured below). In an alternate place called San Junipero, Kelly (Mbatha-Raw) helps Yorkie (Davis) accept her sexuality and the star-crossed love story plays out to the tune of Belinda Carlisle's "Heaven Is a Place on Earth." The story, the first one Brooker wrote when the series jumped to Netflix, was praised for its LGBTQ storyline and, of course, unexpected ending.
2. "The Entire History of You," season one
One of Brooker's earlier offerings, "The Entire History of You" best displays what paranoid humans are capable of when technology is in their hands. Introducing a common Black Mirror gadget, a man (Toby Kebbell) questioning if his wife (Jodie Whittaker) has been faithful uses an implant in his temple to revisit their memories, which have been recorded to have the ability to played over as "re-do's." Two years after the twisted love story originally aired on Channel 4, Robert Downey, Jr. optioned the episode to be made into a film with Warner Bros. (though no updates have been announced) as the story has spawned think-pieces and a believable future reality worth exploring.
1. "The National Anthem," season one
The first Black Mirror episode to air on Channel 4, "The National Anthem" remains the story that should be used to indoctrinate viewers into Brooker's universe. The political satire is polarizing, and if it's viewed as a turnoff? A reminder that this series isn't for the faint-hearted. But it also forces the viewer to confront an impossible hypothetical scenario, which is what Black Mirror is all about. When a member of the British royal family is taken hostage, the only way the U.K. Prime Minister (Rory Kinnear) can save her life is if he satisfies the kidnapper's outrageous demand to have sex with a pig on live television. The prescient episode, infamous in the Black Mirror universe, has been referenced on subsequent episodes and is commonly referred to as "Piggate."
The fourth season of Black Mirror is now streaming on Netflix. Which episodes rank highest for you? Sound off in the comments section, below. For more coverage, head to Live Feed.