How much existential dread is contained in each episode? Credit: Composite: Mashable / Images: Netflix
Warning: This story contains spoilers for every Black Mirror episode ever.
Black Mirror is known worldwide as spooky, scary, and bluntly cynical. Who among us doesn’t have a friend who keeps their distance from the show lest they spiral into existential dread? Fresh from the new season on Netflix, we decided to figure out just how despondent this show is and ranked the episode based on that. The only exception is Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, which was not included in this list because viewer decisions affect the ending and therefore the net outcome of the story.
Now, since we like to do things scientifically here at Mashable, we’ve come up with a simple rubric to determine how pessimistic these episodes are.
How depressing is it? (0 = Happy happy sunshine, 5 = bleak af)
Technology will destroy us (0 = it won’t, 5 = it definitely will)
We will destroy ourselves (0 = we won’t, 5 = we definitely will)
Here we go.
27. Hang the DJSeason 4, episode 4
Frank and Amy are set up on a date by “the System,” a highly sophisticated algorithm that’s guaranteed to pair people with their soulmates. The catch is that you know a relationship’s expiration date within moments of meeting the person, but you have to spend the requisite time together regardless. Though they’re only given 12 hours at first, Frank and Amy can’t stop thinking about each other and wondering if the System really works — so they hang it all and run away together.
How depressing is it? 0. It is 99.8 percent happy.
Technology will destroy us: 0. It might…save us?
We will destroy ourselves: 0. Not this time!
26. San JuniperoSeason 3, episode 4
How-cute-are-they Credit: Netflix
Love wins! It wins Emmys, too, with the story of Yorkie and Kelly, who fall in love in a simulated reality that reunites them in different eras while they’re actually in their dying days of old age. When Yorkie asks Kelly to stay with her, to live forever in this virtual reality, Kelly has to think about everything else that was part of her life, including her family — but in the end, it’s them versus the world, and they conquer it.
How depressing is it? 1. Only because Kelly doesn’t get to be with her family. ONE POINT.
Technology will destroy us: 0. It might have some good in it yet.
We will destroy ourselves: 0
25. Striking VipersSeason 5, episode 1
College friends Danny and Karl enter the sensorially real video game “Striking Vipers” intending to beat the shit out of each other’s avatars but instead have crazy, phenomenal sex. This goes on until Danny ends it, but a final night in the game prompts him to tell his wife, and for her to allow “Striking Vipers” once a year on his birthday while she gets a night out as a single woman.
How depressing is it? 1 for the deterioration of Danny’s marriage when he’s so absorbed in the game that he won’t even kiss his wife.
Technology will destroy us: 1. The men do disengage slightly from their real lives, but that’s a cakewalk compared to what this episode could have done, trapping them in the game a la “USS Callister” or worse.
We will destroy ourselves: 0. Our main characters come to a shockingly mature and progressive solution for their unique situation.
24. Rachel, Jack and Ashley TooSeason 5, episode 3
Teen Rachel is gifted a cutesy robot companion meant to echo her favorite pop star. Meanwhile, the real Ashley’s mental health is in jeopardy, to the point where her evil aunt puts her into a coma to take over Ashley’s career. When Rachel and her sister uninhibit Ashley Too’s cognitive capabilities, she tells them the truth, and they save the real Ashley from certain peril.
How depressing is it? 2 for Miley Cyrus’ seriously convincing turn as Ashley, especially when she’s sobbing and pleading for mercy on her medical bed.
Technology will destroy us: 0.5. Seasoned viewers will be rightfully wary of Ashley Too, but Black Mirror doesn’t weaponize her or Ashley’s downloaded consciousness.
We will destroy ourselves: 0. We won’t and we didn’t! But watch out for evil aunts.
23. Demon 79Season 6, episode 5
In 1979 Northern England, Nida (Anjana Vasan) is a lonely shop assistant who finds an unexpected friend in a literal demon (Paapa Essiedu), who takes the form of a disco icon. An accidental blood pact demands that she kill three people in three days, or else the world will end. In a time and place in which she faces rampant racism, Nida faces some tough choices in this surprisingly funny — and romantic! — Black Mirror romp. — Kristy Puchko, Film Editor
How depressing is it? 1. The racism is atrocious, and sure, the world ends. But hey, it’s a movie within the series! It’s not “real.”
Technology will destroy us: 1. True, but more nuclear weapons, less watching TV dancers.
We will destroy ourselves: 1
22. USS CallisterSeason 4, episode 1
How depressing is it? 1. Most of the Callister crew makes it through the wormhole, even if they are divorced from their physical forms in the outside world, but poor Walton is burning for eternity.
Technology will destroy us: 1. Possibly, in the hands of a sociopath who puts out a hit on everyone who brings him the wrong coffee.
We will destroy ourselves: 2 points for Richard Daly: one for imprisoning real people in a game, and one for getting what he deserved and ending up trapped in there, too.
21. Be Right BackSeason 2, episode 1
Agent Carter Martha is heartbroken after the death of her partner, General Hux Ash and orders a highly realistic robot to imitate his personality and mannerisms. It never gets him quite right, though, so she decides to get rid of it, and ends up hiding it in the attic out of mercy, with visitation rights for Ash’s daughter.
How depressing is it? 3. It’s the “Monkey’s Paw” of Black Mirror.
Technology will destroy us: 0. More like we’ll destroy it if it doesn’t work the way we want.
We will destroy ourselves: 1.5. Wanting what you can’t have is the most widespread method of self-destruction.
20. NosediveSeason 3, episode 1
Look up, Lacie! Credit: Netflix
In a world in which ratings are everything, the best things in life go to those deemed worthy by their peers through an Uber-esque star system. When Lacie’s misguided attempts to improve her rating end up doing just the opposite, she ends up in a rapid decline of lifestyle and sanity. In the end, she decides to live outside the rules and say “fuck it” to the rating system.
How depressing is it? 1.5. Lacie’s spiral is hard to watch, but we like to think she ended up happy at the end.
Technology will destroy us: 1.5 Not destroy, but govern.
We will destroy ourselves: 2.5. Lacie comes close but emerges victorious, and the rest of society is content to live as things are.
19. White BearSeason 2, episode 2
Victoria wakes up not knowing where she is or how she got there, and winds up on the run from people she believes are hunting her. Everywhere she goes there are people staring, judging, but never helping. It turns out that Victoria and her cohorts killed a young girl, and the simulated hunt is her daily sentence for this crime, witnessed by paying visitors.
How depressing is it? 3. The crime is awful, but the punishment is thought-provoking.
Technology will destroy us: 1. Having her memory wiped causes Victoria intense physical pain, but that’s part of a legally sanctioned punishment.
We will destroy ourselves: 2. The culprits sure did.
18. Mazey DaySeason 6, episode 4
Set in 2006, the heyday of paparazzi mayhem, this episode centers on a reluctant paparazzo (Zazie Beetz) in need of one last big payday. Mazey Day is Hollywood’s new favorite It Girl — until she abruptly drops out of her massive movie franchise and goes into hiding. One snap of her fingers could mean $30k. But what secrets are hidden behind the locked doors of a very exclusive rehab resort? — K.P.
How depressing is it? 3. The 2000s were a truly grim time for celebrity “culture.”
Technology will destroy us: 1. For Black Mirror, the reveal that cameras distance us from the subject feels pretty tame.
We will destroy ourselves: 2. Don’t do mushrooms and drive!
17. Fifteen Million MeritsSeason 1, episode 2
Bing…dare I say it…GET OUT! Credit: Netflix / Channel 4
Bing falls in love with the first girl he hears singing because he lives in what’s basically a prison where people work for “merits.” He gifts 15 million of those to Abi for a talent competition, but when she ends up worse off than before, Bing tries to earn them back and enters himself to overthrow the system.
How depressing is it? 3, because there’s no escaping the system, even when you’re shouting about everything wrong with it.
Technology will destroy us: 1.
We will destroy ourselves: 3, because Bing accepts the TV show offer. But what other choice does he have?
16. Loch HenrySeason 6, episode 2
A young couple decides to turn a small town tragedy into the next true crime doc, sure to thrive on Streamberry (Black Mirror’s version of Netflix.) A tale of a double homicide and a shady local seems all they need. But some old video tapes turn up harrowing new clues, and take their journey down a dark path they couldn’t have predicted. — K.P.
How depressing is it? 2. It’s grim, but on a small scale, considering this series.
Technology will destroy us: 0. Technology is not to blame for this horror.
We will destroy ourselves: 5. People arte awful! Parents included!
15. MetalheadSeason 4, episode 5
A woman flees a robotic dog that tracks her ruthlessly. When she finally destroys it, its last act is to shoot her with multiple additional tracking pellets. She slits her own throat knowing that she can’t outrun more of them.
How depressing is it? 2. She was just trying to do something nice and the terror as she runs for her life is too real.
Technology will destroy us: 5. That is basically the only thing that happens in this episode.
We will destroy ourselves: 1. Only if we go against the machines!
14. CrocodileSeason 4, episode 3
A woman goes on a murder spree to cover the tracks of a car accident she was involved in years ago that killed a man. We learn that there’s technology which scans people’s memories for reliable eyewitness testimonies, but that ends up being secondary to all the MURDER.
How depressing is it? 2.5. Our antihero grows numb to murder, as do we, and we’re left feeling more frustrated with her and her questionable motives than emotionally impacted by the episode.
Technology will destroy us: 1. If it knows too much, it has the potential.
We will destroy ourselves: 5. This episode is about murder and paranoia, with technology as a distant afterthought.
13. SmithereensSeason 5, episode 2
Ride-share driver Christopher extorts mighty tech giant Smithereen, blaming the company as much as himself for his fiancée’s death due to his own impulse to check an app while driving. Once he releases his leverage — an intern named Jaden — Jaden tries to reason with Christopher, who wants to kill himself. The episode ends with a tussle for the gun and a definite casualty, but we never find out who.
How depressing is it? 3. Andrew Scott’s performance is enough to elicit tears for Christopher, and the thought that an innocent Black kid died in this mess is too awful to withstand.
Technology will destroy us 3. It ruined Christopher’s life, and he may have inadvertently ended another.
We will destroy ourselves 3. We will if we extort people! And also if tech C.E.O.s freely activate “God Mode.”
12. The Entire History of YouSeason 1, episode 3
Credit: Netflix / Channel 4
Liam has the seemingly perfect life when he starts to suspect his girlfriend is cheating on him. He won’t let go of the notion, and “grains” implanted in both their minds give him the ability to rewind her memories and find the proof. Their relationship falls apart. Alone, Liam finds himself replaying memories of the good times until he can’t stand it any longer and cuts out his grain.
How depressing is it? 3. You ruined everything(opens in a new tab), Liam!
Technology will destroy us: 2. Once again, the tech here will only unravel people if they let it.
We will destroy ourselves: 4. With the right technology, we’re highly capable.
11. ArkangelSeason 4, episode 2
A mother tests a new technology called Arkangel – a small chip that lets her see what her young daughter is seeing and enable censorship if she deems it inappropriate. That itself is intriguing, but when the mother keeps using it once her daughter grows older, there’s a clear ethical conundrum. The helicopter mom threatens the boy her daughter had sex with, and when her daughter finds out, she beats her bloody with the Arkangel tablet.
How depressing is it? 3.5 for attempted matricide.
Technology will destroy us: 2. If we misuse it.
We will destroy ourselves: 4. If we act like idiots.
10. Men Against FireSeason 3, episode 5
A team of military operatives hunt “roaches” — humans who have been infected or corrupted and must be put down. After an encounter that yields an escaped roach, Stripe starts seeing humans instead of roaches and thinks it’s a malfunction with his neural chip. Alas, the organization he works for is tampering with everyone’s senses, sending them to assassinate innocent humans and perceive roaches where there are none. Worse yet, Stripe learns that he consented to the procedure which would wipe his memory and let him be part of this. Now in the know and threatened, he makes the same choice again.
How depressing is it? 3.5. Fool me twice and all that.
Technology will destroy us: 2.5. Stop letting people into your brains, guys.
We will destroy ourselves: 3.5.
9. Black MuseumSeason 4, episode 6
Nish pulls up to a “Black Museum” seemingly in the middle of nowhere, which contains the worst cautionary tales about technology and the human psyche. There’s the instrument used by a doctor who became addicted to pain; the stuffed monkey now containing an abandoned mother’s consciousness; and the preserved form of a man convicted of a crime he didn’t commit – Nish’s father, tortured perpetually by museum visitors. His conviction led to her mother’s death and sent Nish out here to get revenge – which she does.
How depressing is it? 3.5, but with a satisfying ending.
Technology will destroy us: 4. It brings only pain and destruction in every vignette.
We will destroy ourselves: 2. The museum curator is responsible for almost all of the misery caused, and you could argue that he brings about his own end. It’s also a particularly rough episode that destroys a family because of racial violence(opens in a new tab), and that the show doesn’t think we can overcome this vile societal demon speaks for itself.
8. The National AnthemSeason 1, episode 1
Credit: Netflix / Channel 4
The British prime minister receives a threat from someone who’s holding a princess hostage: The only way to release her unharmed is for the prime minister to have sex with a pig on live television. Big government doesn’t give in to threats lightly, but as the deadline draws near and the princess’ life remains in danger, the Prime Minister caves and commits the act in front of an international audience. The princess was released before he actually did it, and his marriage is never the same.
How depressing is it? 4, mainly because this episode occurs with existing technology; it’s the mirror part of Black Mirror.
Technology will destroy us: 2. Twitter is the enemy.
We will destroy ourselves: 4, perhaps out of fear of technology.
7. White ChristmasSeason 2, episode 4
Meet Matt, who illegally ran a dating coach-esque service for lonely young men and the voyeurs who want to watch them in action – a service he terminated after a client was murdered. Also, meet his roommate, Potter, who stalked his ex after she had their baby even though she blocked him, and then killed her father when he found out it might not be his baby and let said baby (now a child) wander into a blizzard.
How depressing is it? 4. Potter had everything for one shining moment, and then it all fell to shit.
Technology will destroy us: 1. It certainly messes with Greta, whose consciousness (“cookie”) gets put into a smart home.
We will destroy ourselves: 5.
6. Beyond the SeaSeason 6, episode 3
Aaron Paul and Josh Hartnett play a pair of astronauts on a 6-year mission. But they’re not cut off from their families, thanks to their Earth replicas, robots that look just like them, and which they can plug into when they sleep. It’s a pretty cool work-life balance. Well, until disaster strikes and they end up sharing one replica, sparking forbidden passion and dangerous jealousy. — K.P.
How depressing is it? 5. The first act involves a Manson-like cult and the murdering of children. It doesn’t get less bleak from there.
Technology will destroy us: 0. The replicas are not the problem here.
We will destroy ourselves: 5. We are. We are the problem here.
5. PlaytestSeason 3, episode 2
Is gaming…bad? Credit: Netflix
An American stranded in the UK tests out a virtual reality game for the extra money. There’s a definite haunted house vibe, and a game-within-the-game, none of which matters in the end because the technology is so powerful that it basically short-circuits his brain and kills him within seconds.
How depressing is it? 3. We spend the whole episode with our guy as he suffers, and it’s all for nothing.
Technology will destroy us: 5. A man died!
We will destroy ourselves: 3. Why do we like technology again?
4. Hated in the NationSeason 3, episode 6
Buzz buzz, baby. Credit: Netflix
A few seemingly unrelated deaths are found leading back to a hateful hashtag. Whomever the nation hates on Twitter ends up dead after a hijacked robot bee flies into the brain and destroys the body. Detectives on the case are horrified and try to protect the next victim, but they realize they need to shut down the insects altogether. Instead, the bees’ pilot — who seeks no monetary compensation, just chaos— sends them after everyone who ever used the hashtag to target another person. It’s a bloodbath.
How depressing is it? 3.5. A lot of people die!
Technology will destroy us: 4. Specifically, robot bees.
We will destroy ourselves: 4. Killer robot bees operated by people. It takes high levels of sadism and planning to execute something like that.
3. Shut Up and DanceSeason 3, episode 3
Several individuals find themselves on the receiving end of catastrophic blackmail unless they follow instructions from an anonymous source. Their puppet master commands them to steal cars, rob banks, even kill each other — just to see how far people will go to protect their reputation. In the end, their reputations are ruined anyway, and they have to live with what they did to save face.
How depressing is it? 4, with all the points coming in at the end.
Technology will destroy us: 3. Let’s all go off the grid!
We will destroy ourselves: 5
2. Joan Is Awful Season 6, episode 1
One of the zaniest episodes of Black Mirror not only dips into issues of the 2023 WGA writer’s strike, but also boasts Annie Murphy and Salma Hayek Pinault in a totally outrageous and hilarious comedy. Charlie Brooker parodies Netflix’s penchant for prestige TV dramas with Streamberry’s new show, “Joan Is Awful.” It’s a real jolt to the real Joan, who watches her life’s lowest moments recreated every night on a global streaming platform. To fight back, she’ll have to take things to an extreme place. And we cheered all the way. — K.P.
How depressing is it? 4. The real-life ties are harrowing, but our heroine gets a pretty happy ending! Technology will destroy us: 5. Nightmare fuel on many levels, including the dangerous emergence of AI and the dissolution of our rights to privacy.
We will destroy ourselves: 3. Poor life choices include CHECK THAT USER AGREEMENT!
1. The Waldo MomentSeason 2, episode 3
Credit: Netflix / Channel 4
Perhaps the most pessimistic if only because it became reality, “The Waldo Moment” occurs in a world in which a literal cartoon is elected to public office because the public liked his frankness and misguidedly thought it would bring about positive change.
How depressing is it? 5
Technology will destroy us: 3.5
We will destroy ourselves: 5
Black Mirror Season 6 is now streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
UPDATE: Jun. 15, 2023, 4:45 p.m. EDT This article has been updated to include the latest season of “Black Mirror.”
Proma Khosla is a Senior Entertainment Reporter writing about all things TV, from ranking Bridgerton crushes to composer interviews and leading Mashable’s stateside coverage of Bollywood and South Asian representation. You might also catch her hosting video explainers or on Mashable’s TikTok and Reels, or tweeting silly thoughts from @promawhatup(opens in a new tab).