Black Mirror is Back!
It’s been four long years since season five, and new episodes of the sci-fi anthology series premiered on Netflix last week. I binged the whole series in one day, and I was reminded why people have been saying, “Wow, that’s like an episode of Black Mirror!” for the past decade. These cautionary tales about what happens when technology stops working (or starts working overtime) are my go-to stories for clinging to humanity amidst the expanding chaos of our present time. Our world can be a scary place, and Black Mirror is not going to let you forget it!
But it’s not going to totally wear you down, either. Known for its bleak, often cynical narratives and dark themes, the show has occasionally offered viewers a chance for hope and levity with popular episodes like “Hang the DJ” and “San Junipero.” For all of its overwhelming pathos, Black Mirror doesn’t shy away from romance and comedy, conceits that Charlie Brooker uses to his advantage in updating the tone of his stories. As a result, this new batch nicely balances mind-boggling metaphysical elements with humanity grounded in tragedy, loss, humor, and love.
Season 6 Brings Us Back in Time
Up until now, Black Mirror has largely taken place in the present day or near future. Season 6 subverts this standard to varying levels of success. Only series opener “Joan is Awful” happens in the present, whereas “Beyond the Sea,” “Demon 79”, and “Mazey Day” go back to the 1960s, 70s, and 00s, respectively. While many critics have frowned upon this departure, I think it is a brilliant thematic maneuver that simultaneously expands the Black Mirror universe and keeps the show feeling fresh.
The longest episode of the bunch, 60s-era “Beyond the Sea” stars Aaron Paul and Josh Hartnett as two astronauts deployed in outer space. They are able to visit their families by transferring their consciousness into a body double back on Earth. When a devastating event shatters the life of one of the men, the other offers to help him out by sharing access to his double. In proper Black Mirror fashion, good intentions are often met with a sneer from the tech gods, and this is no exception. What we have here is a failure to communicate, and if you don’t do that . . . well, it’s very possible that you don’t even know the person with whom you’re flying around in space.
“Joan is Awful” Unleashes on Netflix
As Joan, Annie Murphy shines in the role of a middle manager with a dull fiance who is bored with her life and desensitized to her job. She winds up the victim of Main Character Syndrome when streaming company Streamberry creates a show about her life, revealing her secrets to the entire world. Murphy presents Joan with a brilliant combination of physical comedy and existential confusion. As the Streamberry version of Joan, Salma Hayek Pinault is hysterical and in rare, bombastic form. As they team up, the two discover that Streamberry’s ambitions for the future of content go much further than they could ever imagine.
Black Mirror’s continued interest in corporations as social engineers factors heavily into “Joan is Awful,” which jabs at Netflix’s streaming and content dominance. Brooker is not subtle here, which I like! In fact, the Streamberry app has essentially the same user interface design and sound effects as Netflix. In terms of execution, I tend to agree with what others have said–the satire is a little deflated by the fact that Black Mirror gets a nice budget from the streaming giant. Regardless, this is one of the best episodes of Season 6!
True Crime and “Loch Henry”
Streamberry appears again in “Loch Henry” as the hand that feeds documentarians Pia (Myha’la Herrold) and Davis (Samuel Blenkin). The filmmaking couple travels to Davis’ hometown in Scotland to make a film about a guy who guards eggs. During their stay, they end up discovering a violent history kept secret by the town and decide to redirect the focus of their film. While the episode makes some pretty obvious points about crafting reality and exploiting tragedy, nothing feels fresh here except for the excellent acting from Herrold and Blenkin. However, the relative calm that persists in the first act belies the horror that unfolds by the episode’s end, which makes “Loch Henry” a nice segue into the episodes that follow.
Brooker Cranks Up the Horror in “Mazey Day” and “Demon 79”
Many sci-fi/horror elements in past seasons of Black Mirror relate directly to the tech being featured, but these two episodes go all in on classic horror tropes. I won’t spoil anything here, but Charlie Brooker promised to lean more into horror, and he definitely delivered. The absurdities inherent in each of these episodes allow “Mazey Day” and “Demon 79” to once again push the boundaries of what Black Mirror can be.
“Mazey” tells the story of Bo (Zazie Beetz), a paparazzo who needs money and overcomes her feelings of guilt to cash in on the troubled times of actress Mazey Day (Clara Rugaard). Bo and her fellow paparazzi pals pursue Mazey like a pack of wolves in order to score a massive paycheck that would change their lives. Well, their lives will be changed, but not in the ways they expect!
This is also true of “Demon 79”, another tale of a woman who feels isolated from society. Anjana Vasan plays Needa, a shoe clerk who is ordered to commit murder, or there will be dire consequences for her and the entire planet! It’s wild, fun, and definitely my favorite episode of the season. In both “Mazey Day” and “Demon 79”, supernatural horrors offer a chance for liberation. But there’s always a heavy price to pay for that in the Black Mirror universe.
Go Watch It Now!
Brooker himself acknowledged that he took a break from the show because life was becoming too much like a Black Mirror episode. I’m glad he did. The reset is uneven, but it filled me with excitement for the future of a franchise that is important to so many fans. If the first five seasons of Black Mirror document the process of technology eroding and testing the limits of our humanity, then this new season helps us find a way to reconnect with it. I say, go watch it now!
You can view the trailer below and enjoy Black Mirror: Season 6 now on Netflix.