After 12 years, six seasons, 26 regular episodes, and two specials, it remains impressive that Black Mirror continues to find new stories to tell. Installments of the anthology series veer from romantic comedy to blackest horror with glee, episodes typically unified by an askew take on technology and its role in our lives — though creator Charlie Brooker hasn’t always felt compelled to hold to that brief, as the show’s most intriguing moments often reveal.
Black Mirror has undergone some significant changes over the years, primarily following Season 2, when the show was acquired by Netflix. At that point, the budgets got a little bigger and the casts got a lot more American (though every season still centers British talent in a few episodes), as Brooker’s focus also began to expand in ways that have helped the show find its current longevity.
Consequence is using the premiere of Black Mirror’s sixth season as an excuse to look back at the show in full (so far) and evaluate what’s come up until now. Key to our ranking strategy was recognizing the qualities that define Black Mirror as a series: the twists and the terror, plus the drama and even laughs that occur in between. For, while every season features a burst of new ideas from Brooker, the great episodes are the ones where the twist doesn’t just change the tone or direction of the story, but make us totally rethink what we were watching. The very best episodes, meanwhile, make us rethink everything — especially the ways in which our own cracked screens have changed our lives.
— Liz Shannon Miller
Senior Entertainment Editor
28. “Men Against Fire” (Season 3, Episode 5)
It’s not the darkness of the central twist which led to “Men Against Fire” getting ranked here at the bottom; the issue comes in the storytelling, which combines all of Black Mirror’s worst qualities (lack of subtlety, reliance on cliches, defaulting to the most cynical ending possible) with nothing redeeming in balance. Malachi Kirby delivers a commanding lead performance, and you’ll also spot The Handmaid’s Tale’s Madeline Brewer, House of Cards’s Michael Kelly, and Sarah freakin’ Snook from Succession in the cast. However, while the central message is important, the clunky writing and obvious twist undercut all that potential goodwill. — L.S. Miller
27. “Arkangel” (Season 4, Episode 2)
Director Jodie Foster (for real!) gets a great performance out of Rosemary DeWitt, as the acclaimed stage actress plays a single mother who can’t resist taking advantage of sophisticated new nanny-cam technology that lets her monitor her daughter to an extreme degree. Unfortunately, it’s exactly the kind of episode Black Mirror critics often reduce the show down to: a polemic on a fictional technology being evil. In this case, the criticism is accurate. — L.S. Miller
26. “The National Anthem” (Season 1, Episode 1)
If there’s one thing nearly all Black Mirror fans tell new viewers, it’s “skip the first episode.” Sure, having a plot that’s shocking or even gross isn’t all that uncommon for the series, but the show’s debut is a prime (and rare) example of the creators going a little too dark without having sufficiently poignant messaging to justify it. It’s like throwing out the wings and just downing a bottle of the most dangerous hot sauce you can get your hands on — you’ll definitely have a reaction, but you can’t really call it a meal. — Jonah Krueger