Black Mirror is back after a hiatus, written as usual by Charlie Brooker. The anthology show, revelling in its twists, predominately grew in popularity for its intellectual dissection of society’s reliance on technology or for its reflection of our own world.
Black Mirror‘s sixth season, containing five episodes, features an interntaionally stellar cast including Salma Hayek Pinault, Aaron Paul, Kate Mara, Myha’la Herrold, Annie Murphy, Rob Delaney and Paapa Essiedu.
With each episode acting as its own film, the episodes range in length from 40 minutes to feature length. Rather than dissect and critique each individually, we have ranked the five episodes to ensure you to miss the duds like 2017’s Crocodile and Metalhead.
Black Mirror: Demon 79
The best really was kept to last with Demon 79. Directed by Toby Haynes, Demon 79 stands out above the others. Firstly for not being a traditional Black Mirror episode. The opening credits deem it a ‘Red Mirror’ film, and the deviated association from technology is apparent, with it being a closer comparison to Inside No. 9 or Good Omens.
The episode itself stands as a fascinating dissection of the racial tensions in the UK in the 70s, with BAFTA-nominated Anjana Vasan (We Are Lady Parts) playing a reserved, perturbed Nida, who’s growing tired of microaggressions and rising racial prejudices. However, upon accidentally enacting an ancient talisman and summoning a demon named Gaap (Paapa Essiedu), Nida must make three sacrifices at least once a day before May Day to prevent eternal brimstone and hellfire.
Essiedu, dressed as Boney M’s lead singer, excels in his comedic delivery of the script, with the episode feeling reminiscent of the earlier episodes under Channel 4′s ownership. Admittedly absent from its technology-heavy premise, the Red Mirror film is the best episode of the season. If its success means more episodes released in parallel to Black Mirror‘s premise, there could be an appetite for it.
Black Mirror: Joan is Awful
With the strongest episodes sandwiching the playlist, Joan is Awful is the first episode available to viewers on Netflix. It presents itself as a demonstrative retaliation from Charlie Brooker from audiences who had turned their back on the series, assuming it had lost its charm, with the episode serving as a self-aware reminder that Brooker is still in top form.
Joan (Annie Murphy), after a tiring day of work, realises when winding down one evening, searching for something to watch on Streamberry, that her life has been serialised with her life dramatised by Salma Hayek.
To make matters worse, Joan, before knowing her life is going to be televised, shares a kiss rekindling with ex-partner Mac (Rob Delaney), cheating on her fiancée Krish (Avi Nash), which unfurls in dramatized fashion with a TV Mac (Ben Barnes) and TV Krish (Himesh Patel).
As the episode progresses, the idea of ownership, manipulation, and the law of art grows clearer, wrapped in an interesting allegory for the rise of artificial intelligence-produced content alongside the current fascination for self-aware storytelling, including a comical cameo from Michael Cera.
Black Mirror: Beyond the Sea
Beyond the Sea is the episode most likely to be the audience’s popular vote for the best episode of the series. Two astronauts return to Earth via android replicants allowing them to spend time with family whilst maintaining their mission in orbit.
Except when David (Josh Hartnett) loses their family from a home invasion caused by purist hippies, with his replicant destroyed in the process, Cliff (Aaron Paul) discusses with his wife Lana (Kate Mara) about the possibility of sharing his replicant with Dave.
The episode’s strength lies entirely at Aaron Paul’s feet, which is why it will garner any attention it does. On Earth, Aaron Paul, within mere minutes, jumps from David’s charisma to Cliff’s stiff risk-averse personality. To understand not only his character of Cliff to such a high degree but also Hartnett’s delivery of David is exceptional.
My issue, however, lies in its storytelling. Where an episode will set up its pay-off in Act 1, the return of the hippy rebellion group never returns, as though they were featured in the script’s first draft. After tuning and shaping it, the writers couldn’t think of any other alternative to deliver David with such heartache and loss.
To award it some praise, though, the production design set build of the spaceship is stunningly crafted, and even Hartnett’s unspoken ending was powerfully done. It’s a shame, though, that due to the nature of Black Mirror, I can’t divulge specificities to avoid spoilers.
Black Mirror: Loch Henry
Unfortunately, Black Mirror has a turbulent history with episodes set in Scotland; see above regarding the comment about Crocodile for proof, and Loch Henry hasn’t entirely removed its curse.
When Davis (Samuel Blenkin) returns home with his girlfriend, Pia (Myha’la Herrold), to make a documentary about an egg protector in Rùm with old friend Stuart (Daniel Portman), they instead uncover a history of sexual torture wrapped up in the story of a serial killer.
As they dig deeper into the account, forgotten by the press due to the death of Princess Diana, the effects of the story and how it affected the generation above them, including Davis’ mother, Janet (Monica Dolan), and Stuart’s father, Richard (John Hannah) become more apparent.
Loch Henry is a fine enough story. It’s self-contained between minimal characters, with experienced actors Monica Dolan and John Hannah stealing the show with their presence. Unlike those before it on this list, it doesn’t say anything aside from its story. If this were to act as a palette cleanser, placed either as episode 3 or 4 in the series, I suspect it would have perhaps worked better. But, following straight after Joan is Awful was a tall order.
Black Mirror: Mazey Day
This is not just the worst episode of the series but the worst episode of the show’s history. Mazey Day should be the definition for anyone wanting to learn how stories are told and why to avoid using deus ex machinas or plot devices that appear out of nowhere with zero explanation.
Mazey Day, in the context of its story, is our titular actress (Clara Rugaard), who, after one night whilst inebriated, causes a hit and run, eventually going AWOL from a film set, forcing a thirty thousand dollar bounty to be put on her head amongst the paparazzi who will publish the truth behind her absence.
One paparazzi in particular, Bo (Zazie Beetz), had given up the job previously, deeming it immoral, but after hearing of the high reward stalks, Mazey Day’s whereabouts.
Its twist, however, was incredibly lazy and felt like a cop-out to a story that the writers themselves weren’t invested in. So long as future episodes of Black, or Red Mirror, aren’t as bad as Mazey Day, things won’t be as bleak as the show predicts.
All episodes of Black Mirror including the latest five from season six are available to stream exclusively on Netflix.
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