Yesterday we published a ranking of all six episodes in Black Mirror Season Four. Believe it or not, I just recently caught up with the show and got a little carried away. Today, may I present to you, my complete ranking of every Black Mirror episode produced thus far. Enjoy!
19th S4 E5 Metalhead: Either this episode went right over my head, or it was just objectively poor. In a dystopian Britain, killer robot dogs have taken over, and a woman searching for supplies must outrun and outsmart one of the machines in order to survive. And that’s it; we are given no other information about the world, the people or the dogs (or why the episode is in black and white). This isn’t happening in an intentional, fill-in-the-blanks style either, but instead simply screams: “we couldn’t be bothered to write a real plot but thought this would look cool.” There was nothing I liked about this episode and therefore earns the last place on my list.
18th S2 E2 White Bear: Unlike “Metalhead”, where it felt like nothing was going on, “White Bear” evoked almost the opposite response in me. This episode was the one that disturbed me the most, and although I definitely appreciated the twist in the plot, this didn’t make up for the truly horrific journey to get there. Hunting, torture and trauma was the theme here and I didn’t enjoy any part of it. Even in the name of imagining possibilities in a fantasy universe, I couldn’t suspend disbelief that enough humans would get behind a torture, sorry, ‘Justice Park’, where criminals were abused daily to the delight of masses. I’ll admit that I’m probably more sensitive than the average Black Mirror fan, but I stick by my assessment that this was one of the weaker episodes.
17th S3 E5 Men Against Fire: This episode is low on my list for a number of reasons. Firstly, the theme just isn’t something I’m a fan of; post-apocalypse, war, hunting and gross zombie/monster people aren’t for me. Other than that, the plot lacked anything more than “the thing inside your brain is making you think innocent people are monsters,” which would have been interesting if it wasn’t quite so predictable.
16th S2 E3 The Waldo Moment: A classically political and depressing episode. “Waldo” could be banded together with “The National Anthem” and “Hated in The Nation“, all sporting a similar message: look what happens when we gang up on people through the media, look at the destructive power we can have! “Waldo” was good in that it felt very real [Heck, it predicted Trump! – Ed.]. It’s no stretch of the imagination at all to see an animated anarchist compete in a real election. However the story lacked a revelation, and was nowhere near as convincing in its delivery of a message Black Mirror has already conveyed.
15th S3 E6 Hated in the Nation: Similarly to “Waldo”, “Hated in the Nation” looks at how seemingly harmless social media polls could really make a difference, and in this case, a horrifying one. I liked this element though, which is why the episode beats out “Waldo “in this list because the public voting on a public figure to be killed is far more interesting than whether a crude cartoon will win an election. However, “Hated in the Nation” just had far too much going on. There was the dynamic of the futuristic detectives, the environmental crisis, the role and danger of relying on technology as well the power of the people for the worse. The episode was long and would have been much more effective if it focused on one or two of these elements. Because it tried to do too much I just wasn’t as engaged, and therefore it slid down the ranks.
14th S1 E1. The National Anthem: If you think there might be a pattern emerging here, you’re right. I’m not a huge fan of the episodes surrounding political figures and public opinions, which is why they’ve all ended up in a clump here on my list. Of the three, however, “National Anthem” definitely does it best; straight to the point with a very clear message. That being said, the process of watching this episode is so unpleasantly tense and, as with “White Bear”, I just don’t believe in the reaction from the general public where London would be literally empty for the full half an hour before the broadcast. However, the conclusion of the episode was great. I enjoyed the fact that the Prime Minister actually went through with the act (there’s no need to go into details here), and the entirely depressing moment between himself and his wife was the highlight.
13th S3 E1 Nosedive: I’m so disappointed in “Nosedive” because from the outset it had the makings of a really good episode. I loved the futuristic Stepford Wives setting and the ruthless use of social media in order to reflect social standings. But for some reason, these ideas just weren’t pulled off well. I didn’t feel for Lacie, though I wanted to, and I wasn’t satisfied with the ending. I recognise, that this was probably the point, but her speech at the wedding and subsequent breakdown dragged on. Though one of the most intriguing settings, “Nosedive” really lacked the plot to do it justice.
12th S1 E2 Fifteen Million Merits: For me, this episode has one of the most distinct, standalone stories set in a seemingly very distant future, and for that very reason it’s engaging and stimulating. I loved the take on reality television, the desperation for fame and approval, where becoming a celebrity is a literal escape from the ultimate mundane existence. However, not enough happens for me. There seem to be so many introductions, so much explanation of this new world and how it works, that it leaves little room for a story. Bing is a great character, but his actions and motivations are quite hard to follow. I think if it had been a longer episode then the story would have had more time to be fleshed out, but I was left with many questions. I will say though that I absolutely love the way the song from this episode, “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)” is scattered throughout many others.
11th Special: White Christmas: The simplest way to describe my thoughts on the Christmas special would be to say that I liked the way different stories were woven into one, but “Black Museum” did it better. “White Christmas” is all depressing, there’s no fun or glimmer of hope as there are in some of the other episodes, and I think the episode could benefit from it. The technology aspect was also very heavy in this episode, and as you’ll see further down the list there are some instances where this is done almost seamlessly and believably, but the “cookie” gadgets just aren’t up there for me. Again it relies on a form of torture, trapping a conscious being (albeit a digital one) and tormenting them until they submit to instructions to simply control a person’s house, which I couldn’t believe would ever happen and therefore removed some of the episode’s draw. I liked the ‘blocking’ function and the grubby business of helping men to get dates, but otherwise, this “White Christmas” was a pretty gloomy hour and a half.
10th S4 E3 Crocodile: This was probably the hardest episode for me to rank. It was dark, disturbing and incredibly tense, and by no means a pleasurable experience to watch. But, unlike similarly unsettling episodes, “Crocodile“ had just the right amount of horror to keep me hooked without repelling me altogether. Mia’s decisions to kill seemed pretty far-fetched, and I couldn’t understand why she was so determined to keep going. However, watching her world unravel and the future insurance investigator close in was totally gripping, despite the not so convincing technology being applied to take her down. So “Crocodile” lands in the middle of my list, not because it was run-of-the-mill, but rather because despite its pretty gaping plot holes I was thoroughly engaged in the story.
9th S3 E4 San Junipero: Another tricky one to place because there were some really great elements to the episode. I liked the way it revealed a simulation by having the characters discuss visiting different decades. Truthfully, I probably liked the afterlife-technology concept more than some of the other themes in episodes further up the list, but the pace was a bit slow, which meant we didn’t get to the best parts, back in the real world, until too far in. It was refreshing to get a (relatively) happy ending, and a much more wholesome look at the potential applications of technology than what Black Mirror fans are used to.
8th S3 E2 Playtest: Relying heavily on the classic horror genre — it says a lot about this episode that it made it this far up my list considering my strong aversion to jump-scares. The reason I enjoyed “Playtest” despite this is that it explores the future of VR gaming, with a refreshing main character and a steady build of tension. The let down was the layered ending. For me it felt quite obvious that Cooper would be trapped inside the simulation even when he appeared to be coming out of it — the only mystery was not knowing which would be the ‘real’ awakening.
7th USS Callister: As a massive fan of Galaxy Quest, I thoroughly enjoyed the theme of this episode. As with Season Three’s “Playtest“, I also loved the way it explored the future of gaming. The biggest issue with “USS Callister”, however, is that the technology was just too far-fetched for me. I could believe so far as to upload DNA to a game and have characters that looked like your friends (and enemies!), but to be able to upload memories and consciousness in this way was a step too far. Despite that, this episode had one of the strongest endings in my opinion, where Daly is stuck in his chair, trapped in the game, and you remember a couple of scenes back to the assistant saying the office would be closed for ten days, which means no one will notice his absence: a satisfying end to a particularly creative and different episode.
6th Black Museum: Another episode where multiple stories come together. Black Mirror achieves what “White Christmas” didn’t. There is much less ethical ambiguity, which means when the villain gets punished it’s satisfying. I wasn’t too keen on the technology. Again, when trying to explain future neuro-tech and digital consciousnesses Black Mirror ends up leaving us with some pretty big plot holes. Each of the three stories told by Rolo are entertaining on their own, with a lot of meaty stuff going on that ties up nicely in the end. I especially loved the nods to past episodes in the trinkets around the museum. The characters are also fantastic in this one, and the ending is a wonderful rounding off of the new series.
5th S2 E.1 Be Right Back: I liked this episode because it was simple, sad and haunting. There was a minimal feel to the story: one woman desperately trying to cope with the loss of her partner through new technology. We see every event through her eyes, and it makes the story both easy to follow and somehow relatable. The concise and straightforward telling of this story balanced well with the ethical ambiguity of recreating a dead loved one, and for that reason I really enjoyed it.
4th S4 E4 Hang the DJ: Finally, a romantic episode of Black Mirror where no one dies, no one is being tortured, and there’s a happy ending [Is it though? What about the people in the simulations! – Ed.]. I loved the characters in this story, and the way it took a little while to realise that they aren’t living in some utopian future, but a dating simulation. Another refreshing episode where things go right, I enjoyed everything about “Hang the DJ” and its commentary on the future of romance.
3rd Arkangel: The moment I saw this episode was directed by Jodie Foster, everything came together. I loved the way “Arkangel” very subtly introduces technology, with comprehensible limits and conceivable consequences. It was like watching a well-made short film about the life of single parent and child evolving into the dynamic of mother and teenage daughter, but with a small insertion of Black Mirror technology paranoia. Though troubling and depressing, “Arkangel” presents a well-crafted consideration of neuro-tech in the hands of an anxious mother.
2nd The Entire History of You: This was the first episode of Black Mirror I watched where I was entirely drawn in, fascinated and shocked. It completely impressed me, and though “Arkangel” may have depicted future technology in a more plausible way, I just loved the way tension built in this episode, and you could see how something that everyone relied upon could be the downfall of a suspicious mind. Despite the extremely advanced personal technology, “The Entire History of You” felt undoubtedly like the most relatable and human story to me, something I believe is key to the best aspects of Black Mirror as a whole.
1st Shut up and Dance: “Shut Up and Dance” is unquestionably depressing, confusing and terrifying. However, the incredible (though disturbing) revelation of Kenny’s secret shocked me to the core, so much so that I was contemplating the episode for days after (just think about when he hands the girl back her toy in the café!), and for this reason, it has to take first place. I know I’ve given instances of where I have disliked an episode for its use of torture, and though the anonymous threats sent to Kenny and others cannot be classed as anything but, I just can’t get over how well Black Mirror bamboozled me. For most of the episode I was annoyed at the idea that Kenny would go to all this trouble, to fight a man to death even, just because an embarrassing video would come out. But after finishing the episode it all comes crashing down, with only a troll face to answer for the chaos. I love being shocked by a big twist, and here Black Mirror hit the nail on the head and gave me a closing scene I’ll never forget.