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Black Mirror can be a tough show to watch. The show has told some incredible stories since its first season back in 2011, and it’s the only show where I’ll go several weeks in between each episode despite thoroughly enjoying it. It’s just a lot to take in. I was thinking of doing a worst-to-best ranking of each episode before the fourth season drops on December 29, but I ran into some problems. Every episode is great (except “Playtest”), so it would take forever to nail down the order of which ones are the very best. Instead, I’m going to order them according to how much anxiety the episodes made me feel, and hopefully this will allow me to save people who haven’t yet watched the show from mistakenly watching “Shut Up and Dance” and spending the rest of the afternoon cowering under a blanket. Some spoilers will follow, and we’re going in order of least to most anxiety.
Alternate Title: “Take a Breather”
This episode is exactly what the doctor ordered after “Shut Up and Dance” had me hyperventilating into a brown paper bag. “San Junipero” is an exciting love story that doesn’t carry the same sense of impending doom and despair that can be found in most other episodes, and its more lighthearted subject matter makes it just fine to watch on a Sunday evening without keeping you up all night. Oh, and it’s fantastic.
Anxiety Level: Waking up and thinking you overslept for work, but then realizing you still have three hours to sleep.
“Fifteen Million Merits”
Alternate Title: “America’s Got Sadness”
Most of the dread I felt from this episode came not from the characters and their tragic story, but instead from the world they inhabit. They’re bombarded by unskippable ads all day and night and can’t even step outside for fresh air? I get that our world is no different, but at least it’s that way by choice.
Anxiety Level: Driving into an intersection only to have the person in front of you slow down and trap you inside.
Alternate Title: “An Idiot Abroad”
This is one of the few episodes in the series to feature jump scares, but that’s the least of my problems with it. I personally found the protagonist to be insufferable and simply couldn’t feel too bad for him despite his horrific circumstances. Still, I felt a good amount of dread welling up by the time the credits rolled.
Anxiety Level: Realizing you have an unpaid parking ticket from three months ago.
“The Waldo Moment”
Alternate Title: “Electing a Meme”
This is the episode that’s aged the most out of the entire series. While it does pose unique questions about how to appease a nation of apathetic voters in the 21st century, it was upstaged by real events that took place three years later. There is still some anxiety to be found, however; the protagonist’s desperate interactions with a female politician are as cringeworthy as it gets.
Anxiety Level: Having your credit card declined while in the company of acquaintances or work superiors.
“The National Anthem”
Alternate Title: “Porky’s”
This is the one that started it all. This episode did a great job at making me feel like I was the one that would have to have intercourse with a barnyard animal, and I’ll never forget the very first anxiety I felt at the hands of Black Mirror. “The National Anthem” was most peoples’ introduction to the show’s twisted universe, and it’s a doozy.
Anxiety Level: Accidentally double-tapping someone’s Instagram photo from Spring Break 2014.
“Men Against Fire”
Alternate Title: “Ethnic Cleanliness is Next To Godliness”
“Men Against Fire” would be much higher on the list, but I saw its twist coming from a mile away. I thought I was in the clear to have a relaxing evening after watching the episode, but then the final scene had me convinced that life is meaningless and we’re all just random clusters of atoms hurtling through the universe. Fuck.
Anxiety Level: Realizing how long it’ll take to pay off your student loan debt.
Alternate Title: “Justice Served Fresh Every Night”
This episode envisions a scary future wherein serious offenders are paraded around and mocked for their transgressions after they’re hunted down in a dangerous obstacle course. While definitely not one of most intense episodes on the list, the Purge-like atmosphere of the first half had me pausing to check outside my apartment for possible murderers.
Anxiety Level: Realizing you forgot to renew your driver’s license three months after it expired.
“Be Right Back”
Alternate Title: “Honey I Fucked A Robot”
It’s hard to explain how I felt after watching this episode. Just so…wrong. I personally know people that have let the death of a loved one consume them, and the thought of more technology that can support those kinds of obsessions is frightening to say the least.
Anxiety Level: Finding out that someone has been abusing your debit card in Hawaii.
“Hated in the Nation”
Alternate Title: “Humans Are Dying at an Alarming Rate”
For me, the scariest part of this episode wasn’t the onslaught of robot killer bees pouring through every nook and cranny to get to their target. Instead, it was the idea that a hashtag on Twitter could decide who would be killed on any given day. Twitter already stresses me out enough without there being any life or death consequences to come along with it.
Anxiety Level: The moment when a bee lands on you and you know it’s too late to avoid the sting.
Alternate Title: “Bleeding Followers”
Seeing the protagonist slowly, painfully lose the favor of her social media following was devastating to me. The episode envisions that each person has a rating from zero to five stars that changes based on their social interactions, and I know I’d be in big trouble in any such thing were implemented in real life. The events of this episode are actually quite plausible, and they keep me up at night.
Anxiety Level: Finding out that your Twitter got hacked and is now retweeting alt-right accounts.
Alternate Title: “Sad Men”
This episode was as stressful to watch as any, but I spent much more time than usual thinking about the ending. Jon Hamm’s character is forever blocked from interacting with anyone, and he’s doomed to a very solitary life. I would last about a week if that were to happen to me, but that’s not what got me the most. The idea of being able to physically block anyone from ever interacting with you is a scary proposition. If you run across someone that’s blocking you, you probably won’t know who it is. Who is this person? Why did they block me? The fucking nerve! I can’t imagine it.
Anxiety Level: Accidentally outing your gay cousin to your entire family at Christmas dinner.
“The Entire History of You”
Alternate Title: “I Just Think It’s Funny How…”
Oof, this really fucked with me. An invention that allows one to replay any memory at any time would be one of society’s last inventions. As a person who already has enough trouble with overthinking every situation I find myself in, I know full well that my memories would consume me if I could access them whenever I wanted. Ever been on a date in which you made an off-color joke that bombed or tripped on a gutter while walking to your car? Have fun replaying them while you curse your own stupidity.
Anxiety Level: Accidentally calling your significant other by someone else’s name during sex.
“Shut Up and Dance”
Alternate Title: “Shut Up and Cry”
Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god. Fuck this episode. It’s a wonder that I didn’t have to take the entire next week off of work after watching it. There’s just no ideal time to watch “Shut Up and Dance.” Watch it on a good day, and that good day is ruined. Watch it on a bad day, and you will only know despair. It’s great television, but it’s tough to swallow.
Anxiety Level: Accidentally CC’ing your boss in an email thread in which you refer to him as “Captain Assclown.”.