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Black Mirror's 12 Most Disturbing Episodes Ranked

Everything in our world is constantly evolving. That rule applies not just to living species but technology as well. This can be a beautiful thing, but given that we never know what exactly the future has in store for us, it can also be extremely anxiety-inducing. "Black Mirror" exploits this anxiety, as the series presents viewers with upsetting possibilities for the next stages of our society and the technology that might define it. While our modern-day gadgets and inventions are typically advertised to us as tools for bettering our society, "Black Mirror" reminds us that there's often something more sinister at play, and these technologies can just easily be used for evil — even when they start out with the best of intentions.

Forcing audiences through a never-ending revolving door of high-tech dystopias, "Black Mirror" is one of those shows that stays with you long after it ends. Whether they're futuristic dystopian hellscapes or semi-realistic commentaries on our modern world, the episodes never fail to get under the skin. They prey on your worst fears and keep you up at night. Though some episodes of "Black Mirror" hit harder than others, some are twisted enough to make even the most stable-stomached viewers turn away in terror or disgust. With Season 6 of "Black Mirror" still in limbo, it's been a while since we've got our daily dose of dystopian terror, so to tide us over here are 12 of the most disturbing episodes of the series, ranked.

Warning: This article contains spoilers for each episode.

12. Nosedive

Starting off the countdown is the Season 3 premiere "Nosedive," starring Bryce Dallas Howard as Lacie and written by "Parks and Recreation" greats Rashida Jones and Michael Schur. While the episode was written by comedy all-stars, it's far from laughable.

"Nosedive" takes place in a society where people rate every interaction they have with any other person, whether it be a boss, a close friend, or a random stranger they nod hello to on the street. These ratings are constantly updated into a composite score. It's like a Yelp review or credit score, but for your entire personality, and it's visible to everyone. This affects the way others see and treat you, as well as the snap judgments they make before ever meeting or speaking to you, with real-world logistical consequences. These can be little things like getting snubbed by those with higher ratings, but as we see as Lacie's ratings plummet, it can also mean losing access to resources like transportation and housing.

This episode may not be as dystopian or ominous as many of the others in the traditional "Black Mirror" sense, as there are no deaths, torture, or gore. However, it's disturbing in a darker way because it's also not as futuristic or far-fetched as those episodes. In fact, in today's social media-dominated world, it's basically the reality we're already living in, and if you've seen the episode, you know that reality isn't as bright and sunny as it may appear.

11. Arkangel

Directed by Jodie Foster, "Arkangel" is a brilliant commentary on helicopter parenting, premised on a semi-futurist microchip that parents can have implanted in their children, giving them access to a wide range of intrusive functions, from tracking location and vital signs to censoring what their child sees and feels.

While this technology presents itself as a revolutionary way to monitor a child's safety and well-being, it ends up having the reverse effect. For example, a mom censoring her child from seeing blood leads to the child repeatedly stabbing themselves in an attempt to see whatever it is that's being blurred from their vision. The mom also shields the child from a scary dog in the neighborhood. At first, the child walks past the barking blur with hesitance, but as the child grows, we see them walk past without paying the animal any mind, oblivious to the danger right in front of them.

This episode demonstrates — in a bone-chilling way — how the natural parental inclination to shield your child from the evils of the world is not necessarily the most practical one, as they may never develop the skills to handle danger. It's also just an extreme invasion of privacy, as demonstrated when the mom taps into her daughter's vision as a teenager and sees her losing her virginity from the daughter's point of view. Commentary aside, that image alone is more than enough to earn "Arkangel" a spot on this list.

10. Crocodile

Crocodiles are a species that have particularly adept memories (via Heavy). While this might be an evolutionary strong suit for these scaly creatures, it's perhaps not a feature of humans that should be enhanced much further, as demonstrated by this episode's "Black Mirror" tech — the ability to playback your memories.

The episode opens with the character of Mia as she is out with her boyfriend, indulging in some coordination-altering substances. On their drive home, they hit a biker and, in a panicked state, hide the body. A full 15 years later, Mia's now ex-boyfriend decides he wants to come clean. At this point, Mia has built a successful career, as well as a loving family. She has too much to lose, panics again and ends up murdering her ex.

Unfortunately, a car accident occurs right outside Mia's hotel the same night, and an insurance agent pays her a visit with an order to extract her memories as a witness. Mia can't oblige unless she wants to go to prison for murder, so now she's forced to murder the insurance agent and the newborn baby she didn't realize was in the room until the deed had been done. However, Mia leaves one witness — a guinea pig — and the episode ends with police arresting Mia as she attends her child's play. 

The final twist of the knife? The baby was blind, meaning she killed him for nothing, a devastating addition to an already devastating episode.

9. White Bear

"White Bear" opens on a woman, Victoria, who has just woken up with no memory. After exiting the house she finds herself in, she's chased by a man, but no one around her reacts or answers her calls for help. She eventually comes upon two strangers who explain to her that a signal is being broadcast over the radio, turning most people into zombies and leaving anyone unaffected to do whatever they like, including hunting down and murdering people for fun.

After a journey to the radio station to destroy this signal, the episode takes a sharp turn and reveals that this is all a staged setup. Walls around the station expose a hidden audience who have been watching her ever since she woke up. It turns out she's a prisoner who helped her boyfriend kidnap and murder a young child, and this harrowing ordeal is her daily punishment. The episode ends with her memory being wiped and prepped to start the whole shebang all over again.

What's so disturbing about this episode is that it's hard to know whether or not to feel bad for Victoria. She did a terrible, unforgivable thing deserving of strict punishment, but if her memory is wiped and she doesn't remember it, is she really the same person anymore? Even if she is, it's hard not to ask if this is a suitable punishment. Beyond that, are we complicit in her torture by watching the episode?

8. Playtest

In "Playtest," a man named Cooper runs out of money while traveling. He decides to partake in a trial with SaitoGemu, a company that will pay him to try their new immersive horror experience. While he is told that nothing in the game can actually hurt him and he can say the safe word to be extracted at any moment, it quickly becomes an inescapable nightmare. Connor is chased by monsters and stabbed with knives that, contradictory to the info he was given, cause actual pain. It's not just classic scary movie monsters, though, but personal demons too, as he begins to lose his memories, mimicking his father's devastating battle with Alzheimer's.

Connor is eventually removed from the game, and SaitoGemu apologizes for the traumatic mishap. He goes home, but it's clear something's still not right upon seeing his mother. Even though he's in the room with her, she keeps saying she needs to call Cooper, apparently not recognizing him. It's then revealed that Cooper never left the game, as the episode cuts to him still in the demo room, dead in his seat as his phone rings. The game operator explains to their boss that Cooper was instructed to turn his phone off, and the call must have interfered with the demo. They note for their files that his official cause of death was a phone call from his mother. Most unsettling of all, his last word was "Mom" — whimpered in his final moments.

7. Men Against Fire

"Men Against Fire" is premised on the notion that everything is not always as it seems. The episode follows a military soldier named Koinange, aka Stripe, as he and his team go on missions to hunt down and exterminate roaches, humans who have been turned into pale, sharp-teethed mutants due to biological warfare.

As a reward for killing roaches, soldiers sometimes have sexual experiences, visions, and dreams fed to them through a "Men in Black" type flash technology that transmits these visuals to an optical transmitter in their head. However, throughout the episode, Stripe experiences glitches in his vision that distort not only these fantasies but also his day-to-day visuals of external reality. It's eventually revealed that these fantasies are not the true function of the transmitter. They're just a cover-up for their actual purpose — to make humans appear to be grotesque monsters to the soldiers so they don't feel as bad about killing them.

While the soldiers believe they are heroes saving the day against terror-inflicting humanoid monsters, they are actually carrying out a relentless genocide against those the military believes to be inferior. The episode is a dystopian nightmare of eugenics, militarism, and PTSD, critiquing our current political climate as well as sending a stern warning of a future not too far off.

6. USS Callister

This episode follows the story of Robert Daly, the CTO of a company that makes Infinity, a harmless game that allows players to operate a starship, go on missions and vanquish space enemies. However, rather than play the game with artificial intelligence, Daly has stolen the DNA of his least favorite coworkers to create copies of their consciousness and place them inside the game as crew members on his ship, the USS Callister. Under his complete control, he can force them to do whatever he wants. While this typically consists of playing out cheesy "Star Trek" style storylines that end with them praising Daly as a hero, an existence that doesn't appear too tragic. However, it's actually a nightmare.

These are essentially real people who have woken up inside a game, ripped from their lives and forced to play characters with no escape or personal freedom. If they refuse to play along, Daly submits them to unthinkable punishments. These include removing their faces or continuously suffocating them before turning them into grotesque alien monsters and creating copies of their kids just so that he can make them watch as he shoots them out into the cold void of space. 

While they defeat Daly in one of the most pause-worthy moments of "Black Mirror," the episode is nauseating to watch, a revolving door of the most sadistic punishments the "Black Mirror" writers could conjure, making it more than just disturbing to any viewer with the slightest shred of empathy.

5. White Christmas

This "Black Mirror" Christmas special follows two men, Matthew and Joe, as they spend the holiday together in a remote winter cabin. In hopes of getting the guarded Joe to open up, Matthew decides to share some unflattering details of his life and some of the terrible things he's responsible for, from human rights violations to the deaths of multiple people.

This strategy works, and Joe proceeds to share his own dark past. He once had a girlfriend who got pregnant, but she had an abortion despite his wishes — or so he thought. Joe finds out that she actually kept the baby, and it becomes his annual mission to follow her out to her dad's winter cabin every Christmas to see his child grow year by year. Since she had visually blocked him from seeing her or her family members, he could only see the outline of his child, but that was enough for him.

Around five years after the breakup, his ex dies, and the block expires. Joe finally gets to see his child. However, when he visits the next Christmas, it's clear from her racial makeup that the child isn't his. He snaps, murdering the child's grandfather with a snowglobe he brought as a present and leaving the child to die out in the cold. This episode is all too disturbing, tainting what's supposed to be a warm, cheery holiday with a relentless bombarding of twisted tales.

4. Black Museum

This episode follows the story of a young woman being given a criminological artifact museum tour by proprietor Rolo Haynes, who narrates as the episode cuts to three mini-stories centered around these notorious items of "Black Mirror" history.

The first story involves a doctor who uses a pair of sensory hair nets that transmit his patient's feelings to his own body, allowing him to better diagnose them. However, he soon becomes hooked on the pain, purposely inflicting pain on other people and slowly chipping away at his body, pulling out teeth and cutting off digits. The next story centers on a woman who, upon falling into a coma, has her consciousness transferred into a teddy bear so that she can still be with her husband and child. However, her loved ones soon toss her aside, leaving her forgotten and forever trapped inside a fluffy prison. The last story involves a man who is sent to death row for murder and — in order to provide for his family — sells the rights to his consciousness. A digital version of him is placed inside the museum and is continuously electrocuted by visitors anxious to eager exact justice on him for his crimes.

Haynes is a reliable narrator, as he was the one who pioneered these terrible technologies. While the episode ends with Haynes, the true villain of the episode, being poisoned by the young woman, it's full of gory and heart-wrenching images likely to be unavoidably cemented in viewers' minds.

3. Hated in the Nation

The finale episode of Season 3, as well as the longest of the series, "Hated in the Nation" is a 90-minute marathon of dread. While it's twice as long as the standard "Black Mirror" episode, and one could also argue that it's twice as dark.

The story follows Detective Karin Parke as she investigates the murder of two problematic individuals under public scrutiny, a journalist who had made insensitive comments regarding a disabled activist's suicide and a rapper who verbally attacked one of his younger fans. These slayings soon become a social media game whereby internet users can vote on who they want to be taken out next by using the hashtag #DeathTo. While this starts as a mass of players exacting justice on a handful of public figures, the twist comes later when it's revealed that the players are the real targets, and everyone who used the hashtag, a whopping 387,036 people, is also killed.

This episode is a scathing condemnation of cancel culture and an ominous reminder that hate is a disease. The players think everything is part of a game, but these are real lives they're dealing with, and if the worst thing everyone ever did was exposed on a global platform, we would all be at each other's throats. So, the next time you're thinking about being a hater, you might want to reconsider. "Black Mirror" reminds us that you never know when it might be your turn on the chopping block!

2. Shut Up and Dance

"Shut Up and Dance" follows the story of Kenny, a young man being blackmailed by a hacker who has footage of him engaging in self-stimulation. The hacker threatens to send this footage to everyone in Kenny's contact list if he does not agree to a series of increasingly upsetting demands, from robbing a bank to murdering another human being, all of which Kenny obliges.

The episode tugs on your heartstrings as you fear for and even support Kenny as he commits these terrible acts. It's hard not to! He's a sweet, shy, socially anxious young man who helps people, like the little kids who come into his works. Besides, wouldn't you do some morally questionable things to stop a video like that of yourself from getting out? We might not all go to such extreme lengths to prevent it, but who knows?

Well, it turns out this video is not the only thing that the hacker has over Kenny, as it's revealed that Kenny is a pedophile, and it's evidence of these crimes that he's actually being blackmailed with. Despite completing all the hacker's demands, this incriminating information is shared anyways, and now Kenny's going to jail not just for sex crimes but also murder. Even though Kenny eventually faces the consequences of his actions, this episode is one of the most nauseating of the series because it tricks you into rooting for a literal pedophile for the better majority of the episode. Not cool, "Black Mirror."

1. The National Anthem

Both first on this list and first in the series, "The National Anthem" was many viewers' shocking introduction to the show, leaving them hooked on the sick, twisted dystopias of the "Black Mirror" universe. This episode follows the story of Prime Minister Michael Callow as he is forced to commit an unthinkable and absolutely nauseating act.

A blackmailer has kidnapped Princess Susannah and to prevent her murder Callow must have sex with a pig on national television by 4 p.m. that afternoon. Callows exhausts every last resort in his arsenal to extract the young woman before the deadline approaches, all to no avail. Unable to live with the would-be guilt, Callows goes through with it, and onlookers all over the nation watch in horror as he imposes himself on the helpless animal. The shocking twist in this episode is that by 4 p.m., the princess was already safe, freed by her kidnapper, who proceeded to hang himself as the broadcast aired. Callows never needed to go through with it. The most prominent man in the nation was duped into committing one of the most disgusting acts thinkable, and to do so in front of the entire country.

As if this episode needed to be any more upsetting, unlike most in the series, it's not futuristic in the slightest. There's no revolutionary technology that needs to be invented for this to happen. It's the most realistic episode of "Black Mirror," and therefore, the most disturbing.