In hindsight, it was probably inevitable that reality would catch up Black mirror. Not in a literal sense (we still don’t have cookies or cereal, and thank goodness for that), but in a spiritual sense. When the series launched in 2011, it stood out for its deep skepticism in the age of tech optimism. Now current headlines about AI replacing human workers or entire democracies being turned upside down by social media algorithms feel like the stuff of Black mirror storylines, much like the Trump era surpassed Veep and Peak TV brought some of it 30 rock’s most cynical jokes to life.
Add to that the general feeling that creator Charlie Brooker might be tired of the whole drill going by season five’s uninspired entries, and it’s no wonder the latest batch feels less prescient than ever. But Black mirror has one last trick up its sleeve: in season six, it detaches itself from its core principle to emerge as a less predictable version of itself.
It comes down to
An uneven season ushers in an intriguing new era for the series.
broadcast date: Thursday, June 15 (Netflix)
Form: Zazie Beetz, Samuel Blenkin, Monica Dolan, Paapa Essiedu, Josh Hartnett, Salma Hayek Pinault, Myha’la Herrold, Kate Mara, Annie Murphy, Aaron Paul, Daniel Portman, Clara Rugaard, Anjana Vasan
Creator: Charlie Brooker
As in previous years, each of the five new episodes on Netflix (40-80 minutes each) functions as a self-contained story, only loosely connected through sporadic Easter eggs. Overall, however, it is striking how much less emphasis is placed on extrapolating from TikTok or ChatGPT, and how much more on our already realized past and present. Namely, three of the stories are set in earlier decades, while a fourth unfolds in the present but focuses primarily on past events.
The one exception to this backward-looking perspective is the premiere “Joan Is Awful,” which takes a pucky, Charlie Kaufman-lite approach to the present moment. By that I mean the exact moment you’re sitting watching “Joan Is Awful” on Netflix: the heroine, Joan (Annie Murphy), is an ordinary woman who opens Netflix (sorry, “Streamberry”) one night only to discover that the The service’s latest release is a Salma Hayek Pinault drama based on the most intimate details of the day she just had. Embargoes prohibit me from saying too much about how her predicament plays out, but suffice it to say it’s classic Black mirror — a darkly funny brainteaser that weaves together modern anxieties about surveillance, the void of “content,” and what exactly we’re signing into those pages of terms and conditions we never read.
This set’s only other true sci-fi outing is “Beyond the Sea,” set in a stylish alternate version of 1969 where astronauts can transfer their consciousnesses between their spacebound real bodies and their realistic Earth-based robot replicas. Black mirror has always focused on the intersection between human nature and scientific progress, and the brightest chapters have focused on the intricate ways in which each flows into the other. But “Beyond the Sea” wastes its juicy central concept and Aaron Paul’s finely calibrated lead performance on a relatively mundane personal conflict, offering disappointingly little insight into how these wondrous mechanical forms can change the way people think about themselves or interact with each other . (However, the conclusion offers a shocking shock.)
In any case, the most pressing concern this time is what our frivolous entertainment is costing us. Unfortunately, only “Joan Is Awful” proves a successful performance of the theme. “Mazey Day,” about a paparazzo (Zazie Beetz) chasing a troubled starlet (Clara Rugaard) in 2006, should, in theory, fit the current trend of entertainment that reckons with the most toxic excesses of celebrity culture. But despite a particularly spicy twist, it covers little ground that hasn’t already been picked up by the likes of Pam and Tommy or portraying Britney Spears. Similarly, “Loch Henry,” a plodding horror piece about a trio of young filmmakers (Myha’la Herrold, Daniel Portman, and Samuel Blenkin) making a documentary about a series of gruesome 1990s murders, feels at least three years too late to swearing commentary on the sick excitement of true crime.
However, both herald a new chapter Black mirror. It’s one that isn’t rooted in any particular fear of what the Mark Zuckerbergs or Elon Musks might come up with next (indeed, “Mazey Day” and “Loch Henry” mostly revolve around the VHS tapes and digital cameras of days gone by) , but in a more general feeling of unease. In that context, “Demon 79” is ideally placed as a finale, as it is the final stage of Black mirror‘s transformation from an anthology about technology to an anthology about anything Brooker (who wrote most of the season alone, but “Demon 79” with Ms. Marvel’s Bisha K. Ali) wants it to pass.
It tells the story of Nida (Anjana Vasan), a shy saleswoman who is forced by a disarmingly friendly disco-glam demon (Paapa Essiedu) to commit heinous crimes to prevent an apocalypse. The plot has nothing to do with it Black mirror‘s sci-fi beginnings, or his usual worries about the future; it’s a downright supernatural horror plot unfolding amid the xenophobia of Thatcher-era Britain. Even the labeling is different; this is announced as a “Red Mirror” episode in the credits, presumably to mark the change in genre.
In short, it’s a radical change of pace from Black mirror as we have come to know it. It’s also the freshest this series has felt since at least 2017. Director Toby Haynes gives the episode a gritty 1970s style that transitions into a scratchy video-dirty look as Nida’s fantasies spiral into meaty violence, while the racy chemistry of Vasan and Essiedu pays off. dark laughs. And while it offers no serious solution to the real problem – Nida’s marginalization as a woman of color – it convincingly clicks into her feelings of exhaustion and anger.
For Nida, catharsis eventually comes in the form of a chance to break down the suffocating life she was banished to, in hopes of finding something better. In season six, the show she stars on follows a similar arc. Fans of the show’s tech dystopia mindsets may be disappointed to see the series throw them off altogether, and the shift in focus still delivers as many misses as it does hits. But breaking with those old constraints, Black mirror prepares for a freer, wilder, more intriguing future.