The 15 Best Black Mirror Episodes, Including Season 6

Annie Murphy In Black Mirror
(Image credit: Netflix)

WARNING: The following article explores the twists and turns seen in many episodes of Black Mirror. So, unless you have experienced all 27 of the series’ many bizarre, yet  mostly believable, stories, do what many of the characters in this show should have done and proceed with caution as you scroll ahead.

Rarely has another great anthology TV series (particularly under the sci-fi category) been able to hold a candle to the thought-provoking power and imagination of the best episodes of the original Twilight Zone quite like Black Mirror. Yet, it often feels wrong to categorize the Netflix exclusive – originally created for UK television in 2011 by Charlie Brooker – as sci-fi. It offers a deeply unsettling reflection of how human nature tends to clash with technological progress by, usually, being set in a plausible future that seems not too far away, yet way too close for comfort.

After six seasons, a Christmas special, and an interactive movie called Bandersnatch under its belt, the series has become one of the most popular original Netflix TV shows (and thank God, because it just could save our lives). With a different story to tell in each of its 27 episodes so far, nearly everyone with a Netflix subscription has a favorite. The following is a list of our personal favorite Black Mirror episodes, ranked by how ambitious, insightful, and even rarely uplifting they prove to be – starting with a few honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions

Alex Lawther on Black Mirror

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“Shut Up And Dance” (Season 3, Episode 3)

Not every Black Mirror episode has required a dystopian setting to make a foreboding statement, because sometimes the present is scary enough. Take, for example, Season 3’s “Shut Up and Dance,” in which an elusive hacking group forces two men (Alex Lawther, a.k.a. Karis Nemik, one of the best Andor characters, and Game of Thrones cast member Jerome Flynn) to commit a crime or their darkest secrets will be revealed. It is the ending reveal of this heart-pounding race against time that serves as a great example of the series’ multi-layered brilliance.

Malachi Kirby on Black Mirror

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"Men Against Fire" (Season 3, Episode 5)

We literally see much of "Men Against Fire" through the eyes of "Stripe" Koinange (Malachi Kirby), a soldier implanted with a device he believes helps track down mutants called “roaches,” until an interference with the tech reveals he has been brainwashed into hunting people just like him. Themes of xenophobia and the pressures of conforming to hate make this one of the most powerful episodes of Black Mirror’s already strong Season 3.

Andrew Scott on Black Mirror

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“Smithereens” (Season 5, Episode 2)

One of Black Mirror’s specialties is exposing the damaging effects of social media, but rarely has an episode attacked the topic as directly as “Smithereens,” in which a rideshare driver (Andrew Scott) takes an internet employee (Damson Idris) hostage. When his motivation is revealed, this Season 5 episode – also featuring a great Topher Grace performance – will tug at your heartstrings and possibly make you angrier about the Internet’s addictive qualities than you already might be.

Black Mirror on Netflix

(Image credit: Netflix)

“Joan Is Awful” (Season 6, Episode 1)

The Season 6 opener – starring Schitt’s Creek cast member Annie Murphy as a woman who discovers her life is the basis of a hit new streaming series – is easily the season’s funniest episode, but might also be its scariest. It is based on the concept of fully AI-generated entertainment, which is a very real possibility that the WGA and SAG-AFTRA unions went on strike to against.

Paapa Essiedu in Black Mirror Demon 79

(Image credit: Netflix)

“Demon 79” (Season 6, Episode 5)

Season 6 also tried at its hand at supernatural, non-tech-based storytelling (complete with its own “Red Mirror” label) with an episode called “Demon 79.” The title refers to its time setting and its plot, involving a lonely retail worker (Anjana Vasan) who must commit an unspeakable task after accidentally awakening an otherworldly entity (Paapa Essiedu). It’s a standout episode, not just for its more straight horror approach, but for its darkly charming performances and boasting the look and feel of 1970s cinema.

Pom Klementieff on Black Mirror

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15. "Striking Vipers" (Season 5, Episode 1)

“Striking Vipers” stars Anthony Mackie and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as straight gamer buddies in a virtual reality affair as male and female avatars. It is a story that confronts ideas on gender and sexual fluidity by way of role-playing thrills, mid-life crises, and relationship compromises, but also empathy and examining your own hypocrisy, which Black Mirror tends to do well. 

The two comic book movie stars (Mackie is the MCU’s current Captain America and Abdul-Mateen II has played an Aquaman villain and Watchmen’s Dr. Manhattan on HBO) boldly took on these roles, considering the fan feedback they probably knew they'd get. That polar bear joke alone will probably haunt Abdul-Mateen II forever. However, Nicole Beharie steals the whole thing as Mackie’s strong-willed, but open-minded wife.

Georgina Campbell and Joe Cole on Black Mirror

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14. "Hang The DJ" (Season 4, Episode 4)

When the series targeted the red-hot trend of online dating in this Season 4 episode from director Timothy Van Patten, it did more than just take aim at apps like Tindr. It deconstructed modern romance as a whole, and all the suffocating frustrations and even conformist prejudices that come with it.

However, unlike many other episodes, “Hang the DJ” ends happily, but begins by skillfully dropping us into an unfamiliar world that forces us to figure out the rules as we go, partly mimicking Amy (Georgina Campbell) and Frank’s (Joe Cole) experience navigating the mysterious dating “System.” The ending really sells it, uncovering the big picture of the world we’ve been following while revealing a beautiful love story.

Maxine Peake on Black Mirror

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13. “Metalhead” (Season 4, Episode 5)

You may come to Black Mirror for nuanced social commentary, but should not be discouraged from sticking around for more straightforward genre fare. Exhibit A: this intense thriller starring Maxine Peake as a woman struggling to outrun one of the many four-legged robots that have desolated the world. 

I genuinely believe that director David Slade’s “Metalhead” is one of Season 4’s more unfairly overlooked entries as I was dazzled by its unique grayscale aesthetic and moved by themes of preserving humanity amid global chaos. Yet, I was especially terrified by its villainous “dogs,” which bear a startling resemblance to a robot being developed in real life.

Aaron Paul in the teaser for Black Mirror.

(Image credit: Netflix)

12. “Beyond The Sea” (Season 6, Episode 3)

Season 6 experimented with a lot of cool ideas and a few of the most interesting could be found in “Beyond the Sea.” Instead of another dystopian future, this episode takes place in an alternate 1969, during which two astronauts (Aaron Paul and Josh Hartnett) stationed in an outer space satellite are able to continue living with their families by linking into mechanical replicas on Earth.

However, this oddly utopian concept quickly takes a Black Mirror-style turn that, despite flashes of a potentially optimistic outlook, slowly descends into unspeakable tragedy. The performances by Paul, Hartnett, and Kate Mara make every moment of this inventive, heart-wrenching, feature-length tale from director John Crowley a thoroughly absorbing masterpiece and, arguably, Season 6’s best. 

Swarm from Black Mirror: Hated in the Nation

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11. "Hated In The Nation" (Season 3, Episode 6)

One of the series’ earliest feature-length endeavors does take place in the present day and bears a more accurate reflection of society. Of course, this being Black Mirror, I do not mean that in a good way and my fear that the horrifying events depicted in this police procedural that mixes The X-Files with Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds could one day happen has not gone away since 2016.

Director James Hawes’ “Hated in the Nation” is about as timely as it gets, seeing people held accountable for their behavior, while also adding a bright-eyed, angry mob of social media warriors to its list of villains. While its nightmarish vision of a world in which a hashtag can literally end a person’s life actually predates when “cancel culture” went mainstream, the episode also predicted the growth of a real-world technology developed to take the place of bees if and when they go extinct, according to Den of Geek.

Andrea Riseborough on Black Mirror

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10. “Crocodile” (Season 4, Episode 3)

Season 4 – arguably the best Black Mirror season so far – notably has its fair share of happy endings. “Crocodile” (from John Hillcoat, Australian director of Lawless and The Road) is one of the exceptions. In fact, I distinctly remember how the episode left me distraught, disillusioned, and desperate to take a pause from my binge, but earned my utmost respect in the process.

In a role preceding her futuristic assassin character in Possessor – which also saw a lot of bloodshed by the end – Academy Award nominee Andrea Riseborough is a tour de force as a successful businesswoman with a family who goes to devastating means to preserve her reputation and suppress her guilt when sins of the past catch up with her. Complicating things is an insurance agent (Kiran Sonia Sawar) investigating a traffic accident she happened to witness, leaving her no choice but to participate in a thought examination procedure that only adds to her bloody trail. Admirers of the show’s shockingly dark perspective on human nature may find “Crocodile” satisfyingly bold, if they can withstand the trauma.

Wyatt Russell on Black Mirror

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9. “Playtest” (Season 3, Episode 2)

Trauma is also a major theme in the second episode of the fan-favorite third season, helmed by 10 Cloverfied Lane and Prey director Dan Trachtenberg and led by Wyatt Russell, whose father, Kurt, knows a few things about horror movies, having starred in some of John Carpenter’s best. A horror movie is essentially what “Playtest” – about a cash-strapped American tourist getting more than he bargained for as a VR game guinea pig – aims to be. Yet, in typical Black Mirror fashion, it succeeds in being more.

The bulk of the episode is set in the creepiest Victorian manor you could ever imagine, where Russell’s character encounters virtual reality obstacles so realistic and increasingly familiar that he loses grip on what is virtual and what is reality. The concept is plausible on its own, but the indelibly frightening images make it an even scarier experience. However, at its strongest, “Playtest” is an absorbing cautionary tale warning how quickly even the most needed escape can grow into something dangerously inescapable.

Daniel Kaluuya on Black Mirror

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8. “Fifteen Million Merits” (Season 1, Episode 2)

Years before playing a prisoner to racial discrimination in Get Out, Academy Award winner Daniel Kaluuya played a prisoner to media-influenced standards of image, talent, and social status. Either scenario sounds awfully similar to real life and the Season 1 classic, “Fifteen Million Merits,” is brimming with ideas that are all too realistic, but presented in strikingly inventive, allegorical means.

Like other average citizens in his strange society, Kaluuya’s “Bing” spends each day riding an exercise bike, playing video games, and consuming mindless entertainment to earn enough credits to appear on an America’s Got Talent-esque show that he really has no interest in, unlike the beautiful aspiring singer, Abi (Jessica Brown Findlay). When Bing helps her get a spot on the talent show, it backfires, inspiring a plan to rebel against this oppressive system. The outcome is far from the happy ending one would hope for, but in a haunting twist, it appears to be a success by the societal norms of, not only his world, but ours, too.

Letitia Wright on Black Mirror

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7. “Black Museum” (Season 4, Episode 6)

There is actually a fun callback to “Fifteen Million Merits” in the sixth episode of Season 4, which essentially pays homage to the entire series up to that point. In fact, director Colm McCarthy’s “Black Museum” feels like it could have been a fitting end to Black Mirror, but not just for its well-balanced incorporation of previously explored themes and concepts. The expected technophobic appeal of those elements is brilliantly subverted into something unexpectedly cathartic.

Future Black Panther star Letitia Wright plays a young woman making a stop at the titular tourist destination run by a former medical equipment salesman (Douglas Hodge), who entertains her with the bizarre, sometimes funny, and ever tragic stories behind three of his most fascinating artifacts. Essentially a great anthology horror film within an anthology series, this feature-length installment gives you three stories in one, each more compellingly clever and provocatively grim than the last. Yet, it is the inspiring conclusion of “Black Museum’s” wraparound narrative that truly makes it a classic deserving of repeat viewings.

Bryce Dallas Howard in her episode of Black Mirror.

(Image credit: Netflix)

6. "Nosedive" (Season 3, Episode 1)

"Nosedive" shows that you don't need dramatic twists to have a great episode of Black Mirror. This one goes in the exact direction you'd expect it to, especially considering the title. I'd say this is the most mainstream/accessible episode, with candy-colored visuals – a stark contrast to most of the series – and direct parallels to our modern society. 

Sure, some of the ideas have already been explored on other platforms and in one of the best episodes of Community, too. “We are slaves to social media” is not a ground-breaking concept, but what makes "Nosedive" special is, in large part, the amazing Bryce Dallas Howard – who had a traumatic experience with the show before starring in it – as desperate-to-please Lacie Pound. She's more of an anti-hero at the start, but each bad decision sends her – and her score – spiraling, upping the tension for viewers and pushing us to root for Lacie. But, root for her to do what? Get to the wedding and up her rating, or get free of this socioeconomic loop?

Like "Men Against Fire," "Nosedive" shows how much easier life is when we conform to social expectations. In this case, it gets you better jobs and housing, a faster line at the airport, and the ability to rent a car, among other things. Is that really too different from our current knee-bends to have "verified" blue check marks and be Instagram "influencers"? Unlike "Men Against Fire," this episode has what I'd consider a more happy ending, with Lacie dropping her nervous fake laugh and spewing angry insults with abandon. She's free.

The cast of U.S.S. Callister on Black Mirror

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5. "USS Callister" (Season 4, Episode 1)

If I had to pick a pure favorite episode of Black Mirror, it might be this one. I never want to exit this fucking game. It's no surprise that "USS Callister" won four Emmy Awards and had a chance of getting a spin-off, with Jesse Plemons giving perhaps his best performance to date as Captain Robert Daly. Cristin Milioti's Nanette Cole ends up the true hero of the episode, which includes a massive twist early in the story and then adds layer upon layer of horror. At first, Daly seems like the underdog hero, this nice guy who is bullied at work. But, this not-so-nice guy strikes back against every slight, real or imagined, in ways that go beyond just "toxic masculinity" tropes to true sadistic cruelty.

It expertly mixes genres, from the obvious Star Trek sci-fi homage to straight-up horror at the torture Daly casually inflicts on his co-workers in a simulated reality. There's a lot of depth to this story, but it's even more entertaining than thought-provoking. As much as I love it, I would argue that there are a few episodes that strike a more emotional chord, or delve even deeper into the human psyche.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis on Black Mirror

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4. "San Junipero" (Season 3, Episode 4)

"San Junipero" has been showered in praise, which can sometimes result in backlash. As a species, we crave balance, which can often lead to pushing down something that has been raised high. But this episode deserves all of its praise – for the masterful storytelling, the visuals, the performances, and the shocking twist. Black Mirror once again drops us into a world we don't recognize and refuses to hold our hands or explain. We have to watch to piece things together, though it seems to take place in the '80s, but then another week, the same location is in the '00s. Where the heck are we?

The nostalgia-heavy "eras" are just backdrops for one of the most touching, but also bizarre, romances on a Netflix show that turns out to be between two dying women finding each other in a simulated reality. The backstories of Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) and Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) are heartbreaking, and the ending is bittersweet in its beauty. Will Kelly choose to spend eternity in San Junipero with Yorkie or pass over to follow her late husband and daughter? This is a feel-good story about people dying and living forever in the '80s, which could easily sound like hell. Instead, the episode makes heaven a place on Earth.

Lenora Chrichlow on Black Mirror

(Image credit: Netflix)

3. "White Bear" (Season 2, Episode 2)

I don't know if any other Black Mirror episode has left me as riveted and sickened as this one. This series is no stranger to disturbing content – "Crocodile," "Black Museum," "Shut Up and Dance" – but "White Bear" turns voyeurs and bystanders into the true villains. The smiles on their faces as they watch... I still get chills. 

"White Bear" was the first and is still the best example of the show dropping viewers (along with the protagonist) into a confusing situation, and forcing us to figure it out at the same pace. That immediately puts our sympathies with the woman played by Lenora Crichlow, later revealed to be named Victoria Skillane. We follow the unnamed woman as she runs for her life, racing to escape the masked strangers trying to kill her. All the while, eager bystanders follow with cameras to tape her every move.

It's sick. But the story expertly shifts sympathies back and forth, revealing Victoria to have been complicit in the torture and murder of a child, filming her boyfriend in the act. That's why this is happening to her. Vigilante justice? Black Mirror doesn't let it be that simple, revealing the reality show carnival atmosphere and bloodthirsty angry mob as the true villains. Families join in the fun of watching this woman be tortured for torturing others. The pack mentality of piling on – and loving it – has been explored a few times, but never better than in "White Bear."

Toby Kebbell on Black Mirror

(Image credit: Netflix)

2. "The Entire History of You" (Season 1, Episode 3)

I doubt this show would have become the cultural phenomenon it is without "The Entire History Of You." The third episode of Season 1 came out in 2011 and really put it on the map as a bold, brilliant, insightful Twilight Zone for the digital age. How many times have we all wished we could play something back, to relive a memory, re-examine a moment, or prove we were right about how something played out and score a point? Liam (Toby Kebbell) does all of that to disastrous effect in the world of "The Entire History Of You."

In this near-future, a "grain" can be implanted behind your ear to record everything you say and do. Neurotic Liam ends up playing back and analyzing everything – big and small details from his job to his relationship with his wife, Ffion (Jodie Whittaker). He can't move forward without playing something back, ultimately leading him to lose everything he had in the present and long for the past. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

Jon Hamm on Black Mirror

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1. "White Christmas" (2014 Special)

This is the quintessential Black Mirror episode. "White Christmas" premiered in December 2014 as a special between Seasons 2 and 3. To me, it's the episode that most perfectly crystalizes what Charlie Brooker has been trying to say across the series. Like a snow globe within a snow globe, "White Christmas" tells multiple stories within the same episode, giving us our first look at some of the ideas that would later recur across the series.

For instance, we see the "cookie" digital clone, the blocking that mutes people from seeing or hearing each other, and the realization that we've been watching scenes play out in a simulated reality. We even get a rendition of the Black Mirror staple song "Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)." This episode also drops us into an unfamiliar world we have to figure out piece by piece, and masterfully shifts our allegiances and sympathies all within the same scene. (Oona Chaplin plays both a villain and a victim within the same cloned character.)

There are twists on top of twists, layers upon layers of meaning, and enough meat on the story’s bones to chew over for decades. Every time I see "White Christmas," I take away something new. It was such an influence on Season 4's "Black Museum," I can't help but see that 2017 story as a complementary companion episode rather than its own separate entity.

The greatest thing about this series is how it encourages viewers to examine their own behavior and think more critically. So, I'm certainly not expecting everyone to agree with these picks. Stream Black Mirror on Netflix to catch up on everything so far and choose your own favorite episode.

Gina Carbone

Gina grew up in Massachusetts and California in her own version of The Parent Trap. She went to three different middle schools, four high schools, and three universities -- including half a year in Perth, Western Australia. She currently lives in a small town in Maine, the kind Stephen King regularly sets terrible things in, so this may be the last you hear from her.