In the previous instalments of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, cutting-edge technology of the future disrupts the lives of individuals. An anthology series blurs the lines between technological advancements and the struggle to maintain morality. The series has introduced many memorable episodes such as, “Nosedive,” “The Entire History of You,” “San Junipero,” and “The National Anthem.” The latter of which is an entire episode based on David Cameron and “Pig Gate” rumours. The sixth instalment, however, is a mixed bag that leans more towards the moralities of human nature and horror elements than technology satire.
Beyond the Sea: Grief, Isolation, and Sympathy
One of the strongest episodes of the new season, “Beyond the Sea” is set in an alternative universe in 1969. It follows two astronauts on a dangerous mission, but there’s a twist to it. Cliff (Aaron Paul) and David (Josh Harnett) can transfer their space-bound consciousness into realistic robotic replicas on Earth. They switch between spending time with their families and fulfilling their duties on the spaceship. Both of the men are different. Cliff is emotionally removed from his wife, Lana (Kate Mara) and child, while David cherishes his family. He has a great talent for drawing people from memory — a method he uses to deal with trauma.
As an act of kindness, Cliff decides to lend his replica to David and let him deal with his grief by painting. David and Lana develop a relationship and the fellow astronauts’ kindness and sympathy quickly escalates to a devastating twist.
Unlike the rest of the episodes, “Beyond the Sea” is one of the episodes that deal with synthetic bodies and human emotions: grief. It’s the most Black Mirror-y episode that deals with themes such as isolation, loneliness, and interpersonal conflict in a domestic setting. However, “Beyond the Sea” does what “San Junipero” and “Be Right Back” couldn’t; there’s a life-like body replaced as a stand-in instead of a digital replica. Brooker doesn’t attempt to explain the alternative version and the time; it focuses more on the characters’ ability to feel sympathy. The episode stands out. This is because Cliff and David inflict harm on each other. With a grounded performance by Paul, Hartnett and Mara, this episode is a tragic drama that slowly connects the meaning of loneliness and sympathy with a tragic ending.
Demon 79: The Sins of Others
A great episode that stands out from the rest is “Demon 79.” Set in Northern England in 1979, Nida (Anjana Vasan) is a meek sales assistant at a shoe shop. She is constantly subjected to racist microaggressions from her co-worker. This leads to her boss suggesting that she eat her food in the basement. Nida comes across a demonic talisman and accidentally draws blood on it. When she returns home, she finds out that she has awakened Gaap, (Paapa Essiedu). Gapp forces Nida to commit atrocious crimes by killing three people in three days to prevent Armageddon.
This episode is the most ambitious. As the final episode of the sixth instalment, it transforms the entire meaning behind Black Mirror. This show has proven time and time again, that it explores technology and media satire but “Demon 79” is a deliberate shift from Brooker’s usual stories. While Brooker penned most of the season, this episode is co-written by Ms Marvel’s Bisha K. Ali. The co-writers dive into the anti-immigration policies in Thatcher-like England and explore Nida’s feelings of rage and exhaustion. She has violent fantasies of murdering her co-worker and the local creep accused of strangling his wife. Nida takes the opportunity to take down the people who have wronged her and at the same time, leave her suffocating lifestyle behind.
“Demon 79” is certainly a change from its sci-fi beginnings. It manages to find its own voice. Along with the episode’s horror elements, there is a comedic presence too. Essiedu’s Gaap gives her guidance and a bit of positivity, despite the heinous reasoning behind his awakening. Gaap is a cheerful and talkative demonic presence that balances out Nida’s opposing feelings. It’s one of the most distinct episodes of the season that breaks itself from the anthology series’ rules.
Joan Is Awful: An Insatiable Hunger for Content
In the first episode of the new season of Black Mirror, Brooker explores the consequences of new technology in an era that prioritizes streaming and artificial intelligence. The story follows an unremarkable woman, Joan (Annie Murphy), who nervously fires one of her employees (Ayo Edebiri) and starts a fling with her ex-partner (Rob Delaney). She privately confesses to her therapist that she doesn’t have any sexual feelings with her current partner. Later that night, she and her partner scroll through “Streamberry” — the equivalent of Netflix — only to find out that it is a dramatised version of her day. Joan’s life on-screen is played by Salma Hayek Pinault, who plays a fictionalized version of herself. But the nightmare has only begun, and everyone has watched her life unfold on the streamer.
“Joan Is Awful” depicts the consequences of not reading the terms-and-conditions pages. But at the heart of the story’s themes, it explores the streaming giant’s immoral steps to create content on the unremarkable and miserable life of their subscribers.
With the merger of WarnerMedia and Discovery: Warner Bros. Discovery Inc., big corporations controlling the media and manipulating the public in Prime Video’s’ The Boys, and with the writer’s strike in Hollywood, this episode hits too close to home. “Streamberry” takes its subscriber’s likeness and creates a fictionalized version to create endless content. There’s no production crew — only a quantum computer to follow ordinary real-life people. Layers of the digital nightmare that prioritize algorithms and SEO-friendly content that reduces humanity for the sake of television.
Loch Henry: How Far Will You Go For Entertainment?
In “Loch Henry,” Davis (Samuel Blenkin) and his partner Pia (Myha’la Herrold) travel to his remote town in Scotland, Loch Henry, to work on a nature documentary. They discover that the town had a string of murders that killed Davis’ father, Kenny, and widowed his wife, Janet (Monica Dolan). At first, Davis is hesitant to go back to the past and talk about the tragedy that struck his family, but Janet encourages them to do it. They meet a production crew and pitch the idea to them. Their only advice: Pia and Davis must focus on a personal angle to connect with the audience. As the documentary partners interview people and shoot around the town, they discover some unearthed secrets close to home.
This episode is a commentary on documentary filmmakers and streaming giants — such as Netflix — who exploit and sensationalizes true-crime documentaries. It leaves out any humanity from the process and focuses on stardom and award season. But at what cost? When these murders happened in the 80s, tourists were queasy to visit. It led businesses to shut down. The town is beautiful but Pia notices that there is barely anyone around. She wants to honour the victims and bring justice to them by bringing these stories to people’s attention. But there is only one reason: Fame! Awards! Ratings!
Like the other episodes “Demon 75” and “Mazey Day,” which explore the carnivorous nature of media, paparazzi, and celebrity culture, it uses technology like VHS tapes and digital cameras. “Loch Henry” questions the ethical nature of documentaries and how far they are willing to go for entertainment. Black Mirror is not new to questioning the morality of humans, even when the monster is hiding in plain sight.
Mazey Day: Until the Flash Goes Off
Set in 2006 in Los Angeles, Bo (Zazie Beetz) is a paparazzi who takes candid pictures of celebrities. Due to the exploitative nature of her work, Bo retires from the profession. But when a troubled star, Mazey Day (Clara Rugaard), goes missing, she offers to snap pictures of her. But the truth of her disappearance is much darker. One night in the Czech Republic, Mazey, drunk out of her mind, goes on a drive and runs over and kills a civilian. She ditches the film set and stays out of the spotlight to avoid the paparazzi. But Bo goes on a quest to find the star and claim the prize for herself, and she ends up in an unexpected, bloody situation.
“Mazey Day” is set during a time when paparazzi and media scrutinise and stalk celebrities for their exploitation. The episode focuses on Bo’s internal struggle with the career of her choice, despite the hungry nature of media and paparazzi work. Her job is a safe way to earn money, but it’s not pleasant because it captures celebrities in the most inhumane moments of their lives.
While “Loch Henry” and “Demon 79” dive into horror, “Mazey Day” transforms Black Mirror’s dystopian future setting by introducing fantasy elements. This episode is different and yet, the weakest. Even when the episode attempts to explore celebrity culture and exploitative engagement, there’s nothing revolutionary about it. Mazey Day’s “sickness” is a twist that no one saw coming, and the cost of chasing fame couldn’t possibly be what changes the game.
Is This A Successful Experimentation?
Black Mirror knows how to get under the audience’s skin. It experiments with sci-fi elements and technological and media satire by setting these stories in the dystopian future and the past. What sets the sixth season apart is that not only does it focus on the cynical worldview of humanity and technology, it dives into darker themes and genres.
However, unlike the previous instalments, some of the episodes stand out — but not for the reason anyone would think. It transforms Black Mirror’s storytelling with different elements that haven’t been explored before in the anthology series. Whether it’s futuristic, dystopian or horror elements, Brooker’s stories are becoming more real than they should. There are certainly some misses but “Beyond the Sea” and “Demon 79” stands out amongst the rest for their clever themes. With a wild and bold approach to storytelling, Black Mirror approaches the new season with exciting stories that will hopefully lead more towards other elements, themes, and genres — with the occasional machines that control the future.