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Black Mirror Seasons Ranked From Worst to Best

Apr 26, 2023Apr 26, 2023

And by "worst" we mean the one that’ll make you sick to your stomach the most

After a four-year hiatus, Charlie Brooker's Emmy-winning sci-fi series "Black Mirror" is finally set to return with its sixth season in June. Character-focused, frequently bleak, and always innovative, the star-studded anthology series sets out to explore technology's impact on humanity (and vice versa). Releasing in the midst of heated debates about the use of AI in art, including its effects on writers and actors, the five-episode "Black Mirror" Season 6 comes at a time when the tension between technological innovation and human expression feels like it has never been higher. And considering "Black Mirror" has never shied away from artificial intelligence in its storytelling, we can't wait to see what it adds to the conversation.

Until then, if you want to pass the time until new episodes drop, now is a great opportunity to either catch up on or revisit previous seasons. However, as is always the case with anthology series — especially those in which every episode is its own self-contained story — not every season of "Black Mirror" is created equal. And while every season has its highs and lows, some are more skewed toward one side of the spectrum than others. Here's our ranking of the first five seasons of "Black Mirror."

6. Season 5

Episodes: "Striking Vipers," "Smithereens," "Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too"

It says something about the quality of the series that even the season at the bottom of the rankings isn't so much bad as merely… fine. Getting back to the shorter-season format of the first couple of seasons, the first of Season 5's three episodes, "Striking Vipers," stars MCU hero Anthony Mackie as a man who begins a digital affair with his friend ("Candyman" star Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) inside a "Street Fighter"-esque virtual reality game. The episode attempts to raise questions about sexuality and gender, online gaming, and romantic fidelity, but feels a little superficial and scattered in its development, making it hard to really invest in its themes.

"Smithereens" is similarly unfocused in its tale of a rideshare driver (Andrew Scott) who abducts an intern at a social media company in an attempt to gain a desperate audience with its CEO (Topher Grace, in a role that is a clear nod to Twitter founder Jack Dorsey). Like "Nosedive" and "Hated in the Nation," "Smithereens" takes on the dangers of social media, but has a hard time articulating its point, and is saved mostly by the strength of Scott's performance.

The final episode of Season 5, "Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too" stars Miley Cyrus in a self-referential role as pop superstar Ashley O and Angourie Rice as the superfan who receives an AI toy called an Ashley Too, which communicates using the voice of Ashley O. But of course, no AI in "Black Mirror" ever comes without serious consequences, and we soon learn that Ashley Too and Ashley O have far more in common than just a voice. "Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too" finds "Black Mirror" playing with two of its favorite themes yet again — artificial intelligence and consciousness transfers — but the casting of Cyrus as a meta-commentary on the cost of fame manages to make the episode feel fresh instead of recycled.

Still, the season overall lacks the twisted imagination and take-no-prisoners gumption of previous seasons, keeping Season 5 at the bottom of a truly competitive (and unnerving) pack.

5. "Bandersnatch"

Released as a standalone movie, the interactive "Bandersnatch" almost manages to be a mini-season all on its own thanks to the choose-your-own-adventure nature of its narrative. The film stars "Dunkirk" star Fionn Whitehead as Stefan, a game programmer creating a choose-your-own-adventure game of his own called — you guessed it —"Bandersnatch." As one might expect given the premise, the film winds up being an extremely meta experience, with Stefan and the viewing audience finding their experiences mimicking the game, which in turn mimics the fictional book it is based on. Viewers are able to dictate Stefan's choices at pivotal moments throughout the film, but of course, since this is "Black Mirror," no paths lead to an unequivocally happy ending. The only question is how high the body count is by the end, and just how miserable Stefan has become.

It's a clever and undeniably "Black Mirror" premise, but sadly, the gimmick winds up doing most of the heavy lifting in "Bandersnatch," with Stefan and the supporting cast never feeling as fully developed as other memorable "Black Mirror" characters such as Kaluuya's Bing from "Fifteen Million Merits" or Atwell's Martha from "Be Right Back," despite having significantly more screen time. The result is an episode that's fun to watch/play through a few times, trying to find all the different endings (supposedly there are five "main" endings, but each has numerous variations), but doesn't linger in your mind like we've learned to expect from the best "Black Mirror" episodes.

4. Season 4

Episodes: "USS Callister," "Arkangel," "Crocodile," "Hang the DJ," "Metalhead," "Black Museum"

It's almost painful to put a season containing one of the most entertaining episodes of the series in the bottom half of this list, but "Black Mirror's" uneven fourth season delivers excellence and mediocrity in almost equal measure. It kicks off with the "Star Trek"-inspired "USS Callister," starring Jesse Plemons as a game developer who has created his own virtual world populated by sentient digital copies of his coworkers. Against all odds, the episode manages to strike an almost perfect tonal balance between "Black Mirror" and "Star Trek," with a resolution that feels both dire and hopeful depending on which way you look at it.

From there, though, the season hits a slight slump with "Arkangel" and "Crocodile." The first takes nanny cams and parental controls to the next level, imagining a world in which parents can implant their children with safety technology that firewalls stressful situations and enables parents to monitor and influence their actions with a click of a button. Then "Crocodile" revisits the idea of memory recall technology (a concept better explored in "The Total History of You") following an insurance investigator who inadvertently finds herself mixed up in a series of murders after viewing the killer's memories as part of a routine investigation. Both concepts are interesting, but the execution is somewhat lackluster compared to other "Black Mirror Episodes."

The season rebounds a bit in its back half, with "Hang the DJ" taking a creative and surprisingly romantic look at the soul-sucking world of dating apps, but then falters again with the black-and-white "Metalhead," in which a woman (Maxine Peake) navigates a post-apocalyptic landscape ruled by ruthlessly violent robotic "dogs" (which are eerily reminiscent of the real-life robots created by Boston Dynamics).

The final episode of the season, "Black Museum," finds Letitia Wright ("Black Panther") visiting a museum of human suffering brought about by technology that enables the user to transfer consciousness from a human brain to a receptacle of their choosing. It's a decent episode, but like "Crocodile," it takes a concept that was better explored in an earlier "Black Mirror" episode (in this case, "White Christmas"). The combination of retread ground and subpar execution leaves the overall viewing experience of Season 4 feeling a bit unsatisfying, with the creatively delightful "USS Callister" both elevating it and leaving us disappointed that the rest of the season couldn't live up to the precedent set by its first episode.

3. Season 1

Episodes: "The National Anthem," "Fifteen Million Merits," "The Entire History of You"

It's hard to know where to rank the three-episode premiere season of "Black Mirror," especially since it kicks off with one of its most anomalous episodes in "The National Anthem." The upsetting episode features a British prime minister (Rory Kinnear) being blackmailed into performing a nationally televised act of bestiality. It's a bizarre choice of episode to kick off the series, especially when the two that follow are so much more in line with the 15-minutes-in-the-future sociotechnical commentary that "Black Mirror" would come to be known for.

In the futuristic "Fifteen Million Merits," a pre-"Get Out" Daniel Kaluuya plays a man living in a society built entirely around viewing paid ads, in which extended participation can earn citizens "merits" which can be used to make purchases and skip the ads. It's a clever reimagining of the monetization system already used by many mobile games and apps, and a gutting commentary on capitalism and commoditization. Then in "The Entire History of You," Toby Kebbell ("Servant") and Jodie Whittaker ("Doctor Who") play a married couple whose relationship is gradually torn apart by technology that allows them to rewind and replay their memories. Both episodes perfectly balance their imagined technology with the intimate struggles and concerns of their characters, making both scenarios feel disturbingly real. However, with only three episodes, and the first one being so jarringly different from the rest of the series, the season as a whole never quite reaches the heights of the following two.

2. Season 3

Episodes: "Nosedive," "Playtest," "Shut Up and Dance," "San Junipero," "Men Against Fire," "Hated in the Nation"

Probably the most consistent "Black Mirror" season overall, Season 3's episodes range from good to great, with its standout episode being the uncharacteristically optimistic "San Junipero." The (mostly) '80's-set episode follows a pair of women (Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis) who meet and fall in love in an idyllic beachside town, only to soon have their relationship challenged by real life. Still, despite the difficulties faced by the protagonists of "San Junipero," its overall upbeat tone and lack of dire predictions feels like an anomaly in the series, so much that if you ask any "Black Mirror" fan what they thought of "the happy episode," they will know exactly which episode you're referring to.

Of the rest of the episodes, two (the satirical "Nosedive" and the political thriller "Hated in the Nation") explore the dangers and consequences of social media, one ("Shut Up and Dance") is a cautionary tale of spyware and exploitation, and two (the haunted-house-adjacent "Playtest" and the military shooter "Men Against Fire") explore technology's ability to interfere with human perception. Without exception, every episode is focused on its themes and effective in its commentary, although they vary in their entertainment value ("Shut Up and Dance" is less a fun excursion and more an excruciating gauntlet). Taken as a whole, Season 3 is probably the most characteristic sampling of "Black Mirror" at its bold, creative, genre-bending, unsettling best.

1. Season 2

Episodes: "Be Right Back," "White Bear," "The Waldo Moment," "White Christmas" (special)

The second season of "Black Mirror" was when the show really hit its stride, delivering three knockout episodes (if you include the Jon Hamm-helmed Christmas special) that are still some of the series' most defining episodes. "Be Right Back" and "White Christmas" both tackle the question of sentient AI, but from very different angles. The first, starring the MCU's Hayley Atwell and "Ex-Machina" star Domhnall Gleeson, is a touching exploration of using AI to cope with the loss of a loved one, while the second, featuring Jon Hamm, Rafe Spall, Oona Chaplin, and Natalia Tena, puts a chilling spin on digital assistants—think Alexa or Siri if they were forced into eternal servitude against their will.

Then with "White Bear," we are treated to a mysterious thrill ride of an episode that gradually spirals into a horrifying commentary on punishment and revenge that's as effective as it is disturbing. It's only with "The Waldo Moment" that the season slips, focusing on a computer-animated bear named Waldo who goes from starring in a satirical television show to running for public office. Unlike the rest of the season, "The Waldo Moment" handles its themes of political corruption and public spectacle sloppily, resulting in an episode that feels muddled and clumsy. Still, it's the one dark mark on an otherwise stellar season which built on all of the groundwork laid by Season 1 and demonstrated the series' potential to tell darkly reflective and introspective stories that left viewers questioning everything they thought they understood about technology… and themselves.

6. Season 5 5. "Bandersnatch" 4. Season 4 3. Season 1 2. Season 3 1. Season 2