*WARNING: contains spoilers for season 1-5 of Netflix's Black Mirror*
What’s the best order to watch Black Mirror? Most will argue it doesn’t matter. And for a good reason: the five seasons Charlie Brooker’s dystopian sci-fi show is, of course, an anthology, no episode designed to directly follow on from the last.
And sure, each instalment tackles the theme of technology run riot, but no two feature the same main characters or settings. Thematically speaking, there’s plenty of variety too, with the five seasons of the Netflix (and formerly Channel 4) series serving up feature-length detective dramas (Hated in the Nation), optimistic love stories (San Junipero) and even pig-based political thrillers (The National Anthem).
However, despite the diversity, all episodes exist in the same universe. At least that’s judging by the masses of Black Mirror Easter eggs sprinkled throughout the show, references that weave a spider’s web of connections between the eclectic instalments.
And that got us thinking: is it possible to untangle this web into a coherent Black Mirror timeline? Answer: absolutely. It’s not pretty – and it relies on a fair bit of reasonable guesswork – but it is possible to watch the Netflix series in chronological order.
How to watch Black Mirror in chronological order
Bandersnatch (interactive special, released 2018)
One of the few Black Mirror episodes to give a definitive date, it’s clear Netflix’s choose-your-own-adventure is primarily set in July 1984.
San Junipero (Season 3, Episode 4)
Controversial, perhaps, but we’re putting it second. Although seemingly set in 1987 and 2002, viewers learn that the episode’s characters are alive in a version of our future and living through the past with help from some VR. However, as most of the episode takes place decades ago (be it artificially), it still goes first in the timeline.
The National Anthem (Season 1, Episode 1)
Cut forward now to a version of the modern-day (at least, the modern-day when the episode was released in 2011). Although it’s unclear exactly when the events of the episode take place, other instalments refer to Prime Minister Michael Callow (Rory Kinnear) after he has sex with a pig. A sentence that only makes sense in the very strange world of Black Mirror.
Smithereens (Season 5, Episode 2)
Not only does this Andrew Scott episode seem to be set in the modern-day à la The National Anthem, but a headline visible in the episode points to the launch of the 'cookie' – a technology central to Be Right Back (soon on the list).
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It’s also clear Michael Callow, the prime minister in The National Anthem, is still head of the UK in Smithereens (and apparently dealing with Brexit-style EU negotiations).
Fifteen Million Merits (Season 1, Episode 2)
We know. This makes little sense given the vastly sophisticated technological landscape presented in the episode. However, in The Waldo Moment – spoiler: it’s the next episode on this list – a poster of game show Fifteen Million Merits, featuring the face of central character Abi (Jessica Brown Findlay), is visible.
The Waldo Moment (Season 2, Episode 3)
We know this takes place a year after the events of The National Anthem. That’s because in the final ‘one year later’ scene in Black Mirror's debut episode, a news ticker refers to the ‘Tillsdale fire inquiry’, something that appears in an identical news alert in The Waldo Moment.
Be Right Back (Season 2, Episode 1)
A news ticker in the episode states “Geraint Fitch cleared of wrongdoing following paparazzi scuffle”. That’s exactly the same headline seen on TV during the National Anthem’s 'one year later' closing moments.
Shut Up and Dance (Season 3, Episode 3)
There’s nothing definitive that reveals the date here, but the technology used within the episode indicates it’s set close to the modern-day. However, a Waldo moment sticker appearing on a laptop owned by Kenny (Alex Lawther) indicates the story takes place after the events of The Waldo Moment.
White Bear (Season 2, Episode 2)
In Shut Up and Dance, viewers can catch a news article titled ‘Victoria Skillane trial latest'. This indicates that episode is set before White Bear, which follows a convicted Skillane after trial.
Playtest (Season 3, Episode 2)
The next episode in the list, Hated in the Nation features the news ticker announcement “Shau Saito announces immersive new gaming system”. That’s the secret system that was first trialled in Playtest before being made public.
Hated in the Nation (Season 3, Episode 6)
Likely to take place after White Bear: as well as mentions of Prime minister Michael Callow, several tweets in the episode wish death on to Victoria Skillane. As reasoned above, it's also probable this episode is set after Playtest.
Crocodile (Season 4, Episode 3)
Again, there’s no definitive year given. But the technology in the snowy episode – including the memory-reading machine – appears very rudimental. All other tech indicates the episode is set close to the present day.
Nosedive (Season 3, Episode 1)
Yes, despite the futuristic cars, looks like this Bryce Dallas Howard adventure happens close to Hated in the Nation. A news ticker in that episode announces “Reputelligent shares nosedive” – that’s a reference to this season three opener.
Men Against Fire (Season 3, Episode 5)
Although it appears like the soldiers in the episode are fighting some futuristic war, the augmented reality technology prominent in the story is seen more in more advanced forms in later episodes.
ArkAngel (Season 4, Episode 2)
The episode’s widely used parental filters are very similar to the eye tech used in Men Against Fire and The Entire History of You. And since it’s available to parents, not just the military, we can guess ArkAngel is set after Men Against Fire.
The Entire History of You (Season 1, Episode 3)
There’s no date in sight during this season one episode, but it's clear the eye implant technology has become incredibly popular and is used by most – but not all – people.
White Christmas (Season 2, Episode 4)
Now, we know for sure this instalment takes place after The Waldo Moment (a gamer carried the tag I_AM_WALDO in the episode). But we can also guess that White Christmas takes place after ArkAngel, Men Against Fire and The Entire History of You as it appears everyone now wears high-tech lens technology, not only soldiers and kids of protective parents.
Hang the DJ (Season 4, Episode 4)
Nothing to indicate this episode follows on from White Christmas – however the dating app central to the episode is seen in the episode USS Callister.
USS Callister (Season 4, Episode 1)
We can guess this episode is set a fair bit after the events of Playtest. Although the virtual reality video game tech featured is fairly similar, it’s clear such systems are widely available in the world of USS Callister. Logical leap: Callister is set after Playtest.
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Striking Vipers (Season 5, Episode 1)
While we can’t be sure when Vipers takes place, the story clearly is set close to the events of USS Callister with similar VR gaming devices seen in both episodes.
Black Museum (Season 4, Episode 6)
A gold mine of Easter Eggs, the episode references almost all episodes above. Intriguingly, it features the DNA scanner used by Robert Daly (Jesse Plemons) in USS Callister. This indicates Black Museum is set several years after USS Callister.
Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too (Season 5, Episode 3)
We can say with a fair bit of certainly the story helmed by Miley Cyrus takes place after Black Museum: a news ticker in the episode states: “Museum Owner’s Body Found in Smoking Ruins”. This refers to the ill-fated Rolo Haynes (Douglas Hodge), curator of the Black Museum.
Metalhead (Season 4, Episode 5)
In Black Museum, a news ticker states “autonomous military dog robot unveiled”. These look like the same terrifying robo-killers in Metalhead, apparently set in a post-apocalyptic world – one that’s at the end of the timeline. Which, let’s face it, sounds very Black Mirror.
Black Mirror is available now to watch on Netflix. You can also find something else to watch with our list of the best Netflix series streaming right now, or our best Netflix movies list or check out what else is on with our TV Guide.