Generally, ranking Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror episodes is no easy task. There are some obvious duds that fans unanimously dislike; then there are the divisive ones (like ‘Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too’), and the worst of the lot—the absolutely forgettable ones.
However, ranking the season six episodes from worst to best would be doubly difficult because the expectations were higher than what was delivered. The nicest of the lot does not quite fit into the Black Mirror oeuvre. The characters seem unidimensional (with very few noted exceptions) and are floating around in half-baked stories lacking the same beat or vibrancy we expect of Black Mirror.
This post will contain spoilers, so turn away before proceeding further if you haven’t binged the latest Black Mirror episodes yet.
Below, we rank the episodes of Black Mirror season six from worst to best.
Ranking every episode of Black Mirror season six:
5. ‘Mazey Day’ – Uta Briesewitz
The unimaginative attempt at exploring the ghoulish nature of paparazzi culture feels juvenile. Zazie Beetz plays Bo, a pap who grows a conscience after outing a celebrity for less than a thousand bucks. But her moral dilemma only lasts so long after her last prey meets a tragic end.
She’s back in the field as soon as she finds out she can sell out another celeb, obviously going through a personal crisis, for $30k—she gets $10k more if she can catch the titular Mazey Day strung out on drugs. The incident brought to mind Cara Delevingne’s photos and video released earlier this year, where she was clearly jittery and on something.
Like proverbial vultures, Bo and her friend descend upon the rehab centre Day checks into. Their party of two is gatecrashed by two of Bo’s worst colleagues, who are cartoonishly nasty. The irony appears to be lost on the makers that Bo is no better simply because she had an ethical dilemma for two seconds. She is out there doing the same thing that her awful peers are.
But forget all that. The real whammy about this episode is that it teeters close to being a rehash of Twilight and Riverdale. It pretends to be a tad more prestigious because it is a Black Mirror episode.
The episode features the Muse song ‘Supermassive Black Hole’, featured in Twilight, which was released in 2008 (roughly the same timeline this episode is set in). In the scene Day, high on shrooms, inexplicably crashes into a werewolf. Attributing any significant subtext to these elements may be an overinterpretation because whatever it may have been, it does not translate to the screen. This twist ending does not do what the makers thought it would.
4. ‘Beyond the Sea’ – John Crowley
The problem with this one is that it relies purely on an arbitrary shock ending, rendering it a mere popcorn sci-fi. We have the claustrophobia of two humans confined in space juxtaposed with their counterparts, Replicas, and their families stuck down here on Earth. There was the potential to play around with so much of it. But instead, we get cults and love triangles.
Aaron Paul, Josh Hartnett, and Kate Mara are all enjoyable to watch, and still, this episode comes off as disappointingly dull. Whatever was left standing crumbled with an ending that makes little sense. We don’t get to explore Hartnett’s space hero David as a person before the show puts him through some of the worst horrors. His descent to diabolical is as abrupt and rushed as Daenerys’ in the final episodes of the dreadful eighth season of Game of Thrones.
Apart from the shoddily developed characters, the episode also suffers because of a lack of depth. We don’t know the nature of the mission Cliff and David are on or why and how a six-year-long manned space mission was possible in the 1960s. Yes, we get that this is an alternate past, but there could have been some more backstory.
It is also never explained if they have any contact with whoever sent them up there. Cliff and David are often recognised by people making it obvious that they were not on some covert mission. So when David’s family is attacked on the ground, you might wonder why there were no security measures or safety protocols in place for emergencies like this. One can cook up all kinds of theories, but at the end of the day, it is evident that logic has been sacrificed at the altar of poor writing choices here.
3. ‘Loch Henry’ – Sam Miller
This one fits in with the ‘Shut Up and Dance’ and ‘The Waldo Moment’ episodes. It is atmospheric, has good performances, and quite a few visually engaging montages, but it still does not quite live up to ‘The National Anthem’ standard. It is still slightly more coherent than the others.
Monica Dolan is a standout as the deranged and unnervingly muted Janet, who says mildly racist things and defends cops in front of a black person because she was married to one.
There isn’t much sci-tech horror here, but Samuel Blenkin’s Davis being felicitated by the world for making a documentary about a personal tragedy is grotesque enough to fit the Black Mirror bill but barely so. This episode is saved by the direction, editing, and acting. The story itself, again, refuses to delve any deeper.
2. ‘Joan is Awful’ – Ally Pankiw
This episode had the potential to be the standout Black Mirror episode of season six with that cast and premise, but it barely manages to scratch the surface of all the different things it tries to tackle. Some parts of the episode are funny and unhinged, but right when you think you’ve found the spark, it fizzles out.
Annie Murphy is charismatic, but you expect more fire when she is put in the same scene as Salma Hayek. The two riff off each other nicely, but they have threadbare lines, with a few punchlines here and there, to play around with.
Yes, the episode gets meta with the Netflix parody site Streamberry and fictive levels that echoes of being stuck in a matrix. The trick to self-referential, self-deprecating humour is to be so brutal that your worst critics are forced to laugh in appreciation and resonance.
Streamberry is run by an AI called Quamputer that uses deepfakes of celebrities and oddly unconstitutional terms & conditions rules to make shows based on their own subscribers. Sounds like a nightmare! But ‘Joan is Awful’ hesitates to go any deeper than that. It violates the cardinal rules that must be followed when telling demented stories: a) you go all in, b) you show, don’t tell.
Murphy and Hayek are very watchable together; they have natural chemistry. Ben Barnes and Michael Cera have tiny cameo appearances, like sexy lampshades. The casting of Lolly Adefope and Wunmi Mosaku is spot on. But even Cate Blanchett’s appearance and namedropping George Clooney is not enough to make this more than a one-watch story.
1. ‘Demon 79’ – Toby Haynes
The episode with the best world-building features delightful performances by Anjana Vasan and Paapa Essiedu. A demon-in-training, Gaap, appears to a young Indian sales assistant, Nida, after an accidental blood anointing of an ancient rune. Together they have to find and sacrifice three humans over three days to prevent a nuclear apocalypse and Gaap’s banishment to nothingness.
It is astonishingly cosy and oddly heartwarming to watch a brown girl and a black disco demon set off to slay and save the day. I would not mind a spin-off with Gaap and Nida on more adventures across the cosmos, but this episode fits better in the world of the quirky Neil Gaiman and the wonderful late Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens better than the Black Mirror world. The similarities with Good Omens do not end with the presence of demons and the end of days. The Northern English setting and musical melodies from the 1970s are other contributing factors.
The episode seems distinctly different in flavour because Brooker meant it to be so. ‘Demon 79’ is presented as a “Red Mirror” episode.
Speaking about how ‘Demon 79’ is almost like a companion piece to Black Mirror, Brooker mentioned in a media interaction session, “Demon 79 opens with a ‘Red Mirror presents’ title sequence, marking it out as ‘different-from-yet-adjacent-to’ Black Mirror. This is because, typically, Black Mirror has focused on tech dystopias or media satire, whereas this story has a stronger supernatural element, harking back to 1970s horror. The episode is almost unclassifiable.”
‘Demon 79’ actually manages to land its supernatural flight of fancy, unlike ‘Mazey Day’. But having more than one fantasy episode indicates Brooker has plans of expanding in this territory. Maybe Red Mirror could be its own thing.