We’re really excited for the new season of Charlie Brooker’s brilliantly dark sci-fi anthology Black Mirror. The series takes a look at how technology influences our lives … and not necessarily for the better. (Well, it’s Black Mirror, so honestly, it’s rarely ever for the better.) To help prepare for its return, we’ve ranked the 13 previous Black Mirror episodes. If that weren’t enough, a few days after the Dec. 29 premiere, we’ll be ranking those too.
All 13 Black Mirror episodes from the first three seasons, ranked from worst to best.
13. “The Waldo Moment”
“The Waldo Moment” usually seems to end up on the bottom of the stack of Black Mirror episodes, and we’re not going to argue. That said, it’s still Black Mirror and worth watching. This episode is about a crude cartoon bear who runs a joke campaign to represent a town in Parliament. In 2013, viewers wrote off the episode as too cartoonish. However, in 2017, “The Waldo Moment” has become a bit too depressingly real.
This episode was made from an idea Charlie Brooker and Chris Morris had for Nathan Barley, a politician based off the animated pop group Gorillaz.
12. “Men Against Fire”
Again, there’s no such thing as a truly bad Black Mirror episode. And truthfully, there’s a big jump in quality between “The Waldo Moment” and the rest of this list. “Men Against Fire” follows a soldier fighting Starship Troopers-esque “roaches” of frightening humanoid form — but being Black Mirror, there’s a twist.
While the episode is excellent politically — looking at how governments view people in poverty as either tools or trouble — the final twist is a little obvious and on the nose.
11. “The Entire History of You”
One of the few Black Mirror episodes not written by or with Charlie Brooker, “The Entire History of You” nonetheless left a big footprint on the series. It’s the episode that introduced the “grain,” a tiny device implanted into your head that can record and playback memories and life events as they actually happened. The grain has popped up a few times in later episodes — sometimes with different names — but generally the same functionality.
In “The Entire History of You,” we follow a man who becomes obsessed with the idea that his partner has cheated on him, and he plays and replays various memories looking for clues. That said, the episode — though it makes its points well — is a little harder to watch because the lead, Liam (played by Toby Kebbell) can be a bit too moody and suspicious to fully identify with. Liam’s partner, Ffion, is played by Jodie Whittaker, who is the new lead on Doctor Who.
“Nosedive” was written by Rashida Jones and Mike Schur (co-creator of Parks & Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and the creator of The Good Place) based on a story by Brooker. The episode follows Lacie (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) as she has the worst day ever in a world where your worth is determined by other people’s ratings of you — sort of like if you rated everybody the way you rate your Uber driver.
With its focus on forced cheeriness, this episode feels a little too American for a British-born sci-fi series, though — unlike “San Junipero” which feels American, but in the exact right ways — and Community fans will find it hard not to compare “Nosedive” to “App Development and Condiments,” better known as the “MeowMeowBeenz” episode. (And we’re not the first to point that out.)
9. “Be Right Back”
“Be Right Back” looks at grief. When Ash (played by Domhnall Gleeson) is suddenly killed in a car accident, his pregnant partner Martha (Hayley Atwell) embraces an artificial intelligence program that takes Ash’s place.
It’s both an intriguing idea for anyone who has ever lost someone close to them, and a terrifying one that we could be replaced by a (mostly accurate) simulation. And, of course, since the A.I. pulls its information from social media, it’s a potentially scary look at how much of ourselves we put online for anyone and everyone to see.
Though it’s unstated in the episode, it raises the question: What if unsavory elements of our society use this technology for extreme identity theft?
“Playtest” is one of the most straightforward horror episodes of Black Mirror. It follows a thrill-seeker named Cooper (Wyatt Russell) as he signs up to test out a augmented-reality survival horror video game. However, this is one of the twistier Black Mirror episodes — it pulls you in deeper and deeper in until the final ending.
That said, there isn’t really a deeper meaning, or societal criticism in this episode. It’s not necessarily a bad thing — sometimes a story is just a story.
7. “The National Anthem”
“The National Anthem” is both the first ever Black Mirror episode, and one of the worst to start with. Not because it’s a bad episode — far from it — but the logline gives the wrong idea about the series.
The episode can be tersely described as, “An English princess is held for ransom — and the ransom is that the Prime Minister must fuck a pig on live TV.” We can only imagine a number of people were turned off by the pig-fucking element, but the episode really gets into the way media works. People are built up and destroyed, and it can happen at a moment’s notice. And think of the poor Prime Minister, who’s damned if he does (the pig) and damned if he doesn’t.
It’s an interesting gambit, putting this episode first. Anyone not turned off by the pig-fucking premise will get a great, nuanced television episode of media criticism. (A similar thing happened with Brooker’s sometime collaborator Chris Morris, when he released the Brass Eye: Paedogeddon Special. On the surface, it looked like an episode making fun of pedophilia — but the show was so deft with its media criticism, the episode was praised by victims’ groups.)
6. “Hated in the Nation”
“Hated in the Nation” is surprisingly similar to “The National Anthem.” The disgraced Prime Minister from that episode even makes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo. However, while “The National Anthem” only hinted at it, “Hated in the Nation” deals with what happens when someone is disgraced in the public eye.
Mirroring a police procedural, “Hated in the Nation” is about the sudden horrific deaths of social media pariahs — a journalist who mocked a disability activist’s self-immolation, a rapper who insulted a young fan, a teen who photographed herself pretending to pee on a war monument.
While still taking place in the not-too-distant-future, there’s still a sci-fi element to this one, but it feels like it could be real.
5. “Shut Up and Dance”
And then there’s “Shut Up and Dance” which actually could be real.
Oddly enough, when it came out, reactions to this episode were mixed. Some people found the plot — in which a number of people are blackmailed for things they’ve done online — ridiculous and unbelievable. Other people, however, found it absolutely terrifying, because it could literally easily happen today.
4. “White Christmas”
“White Christmas” was Black Mirror‘s entry in the U.K. tradition of the Christmas special. In America, Christmas specials are where your favorite characters have a cheery, Christmas-themed story like having to earn extra money for the family’s presents. But a U.K. Christmas special is usually just a non-holiday related one-off episode that airs around the holidays.
“White Christmas” has nothing to do with Christmas other than a wintry theme. It’s also the only Black Mirror episode thus far to feature multiple, interwoven stories. The special stars Jon Hamm and his story focuses on body-hacking technology involving the “Z-Eye,” an augmented reality device implanted in the eye, similar to the “grain” in “The Entire History of You.”
The second half of the episode focuses on the “cookie,” a device that can take a backup of your entire brain. The Z-Eye and cookie combine for absolute bleak horror, reflected in the dreary, grey, snowy settings.
3. “15 Million Merits”
Though the episode that takes place farthest in the future, “15 Million Merits” would have most likely been a better episode to start the series than “The National Anthem” which aired the week before.
“15 Million Merits” is a brilliantly dystopian look at reality television — and the depressing fact that rebellion is almost always co-opted and commodified by the ruling class. Or, as Bill Hicks once put it, “going for that anti-marketing dollar.”
In it, people have to earn privileges, like eating or having a better place to live, by generating “merits” through creating energy on a stationary bike. Many people hate the system, but there’s only a few ways to get out of it, that is, if you’re willing to generate enough merits and go on live television….
2. “White Bear”
“White Bear” is one of the very best Black Mirror episodes. Unfortunately, it’s hard to talk about without spoiling, but we’ll try our best. While the episode initially looks like it’s going to be a un-insightful “OMG, our smartphones are making us zombies” riff, we should know by now to trust Black Mirror to not let us down with something so hackneyed and obvious.
Instead, the episode goes infinitely darker than that, ultimately leading to one of the most terrifying, hellish conclusions in the Black Mirror universe.
1. “San Junipero”
Like “The National Anthem,” “San Junipero” is probably not the best place to start watching Black Mirror. While it’s an amazing episode — and well earns its number one slot on our list — it’s probably the least like the rest of the Black Mirror episodes because the Emmy-winning episode is a beautiful queer love story. Though there is a twist, perhaps the biggest twist of all is the ending… it’s happy.
New Black Mirror episodes will come to Netflix on Dec. 29.
Featured image courtesy of Netflix