Black Mirror creator and writer Charlie Brooker has some big ambitions for the anthology show’s sixth season, but the attempt to shift from suspenseful science-fiction to horror and bleak drama is largely disappointing. The single standout episode among the five is the one that wasn’t entirely written by Brooker, demonstrating that if he wants Black Mirror to branch out from the dystopian stories he’s best known for, he should keep seeking partners to help realize the vision.
A full three of this season’s episodes are set in some version of the past, one is in the present, and only the premiere, Joan Is Awful, feels like a traditional Black Mirror episode in that it focuses on exploring the potentially dangerous impacts of new technology. Brooker does well in the comfortable terrain as he takes aim at Netflix itself – dubbed Streamberry in the show – and its addiction to true crime stories that don’t require the consent of the real people portrayed.
Black Mirror Season 6 Images
The episode follows Joan (Annie Murphy), who feels like a supporting character in her own life until she sees herself played by Salma Hayek Pinault in a new streaming show that somehow has access to her most private moments. It’s a blistering critique of an entertainment industry that profits from the exploitation of people’s stories and images, and a warning about the use of AI to generate personalized stories. But it’s also hilarious, from the subtle ways that Joan’s story is exaggerated to the ludicrous lengths she goes through to try to retake control of her life. Michael Cera also makes a wonderful cameo to deliver some heavily meta exposition.
Loch Henry unfolds too slowly towards an obvious twist and then keeps going.
Loch Henry continues Brooker’s attack on true crime, this time by following a couple who set out to film a documentary about a serial killer who was active in a small Scottish town. The work from Luther and I Will Destroy You director Sam Miller feels a bit like stumbling into a David Fincher story 20 years later when the central players are all dead or broken, the town itself is basically a ghost, and what secrets are still there would be better left buried. While that setting has potential, the episode unfolds too slowly towards an obvious twist and then keeps going, just so Brooker can really drive home his point about who actually benefits from this kind of entertainment.
Paparazzi get Brooker’s ire in Mazey Day, which feels pointless but is at least only 40 minutes long. Set in 2006, it follows Bo (Zazie Beetz of Atlanta), a photographer who questions the obvious negative impact her work has on the celebrities she follows but can’t resist a big payday offered to snap pictures of the missing starlett Mazey Day (Clara Rugaard). The episode tries to pull off a big tonal shift akin to From Dusk Till Dawn, but then undoes the inherent silliness of its plot twist by trying to make its final moments emotionally stirring. The best thing about Mazey Day are the hilariously remorseless competitors who dog Bo and seem particularly at home in the story they find themselves in.
Beyond the Sea utterly squanders the talents of Aaron Paul, Josh Hartnett, and Kate Mara.
The biggest disappointment of the season is its longest episode, Beyond the Sea, which utterly squanders the talents of Aaron Paul, Josh Hartnett, and Kate Mara. Set in an alternate version of 1969 where the first astronauts are linked to robot replicas of themselves to allow them to keep in touch with loved ones, the episode had the potential to be an exploration of isolation and identity. Instead, it’s just a tired story with underdeveloped characters and no interest in anything except male pain and desire (and a textbook example of the “women in refrigerators” cliche). If you want to watch an astronaut drama set in an alternate history that also addresses the challenge of dealing with tragedy remotely, you’d be much better off watching AppleTV+’s excellent For All Mankind.
Best Black Mirror Episodes
I would have written off this season as a near-total failure if not for Demon 79, which Booker co-wrote with Ms. Marvel head writer Bisha K. Ali. It’s introduced as “A Red Mirror Film” presented by Black Mirror as a way to make it clear the show is going for something very different, and it fully lives up to that expectation. It draws a connection to the series’ other offshoot, Bandersnatch, by sharing a symbolic Easter egg and a protagonist who may or may not be descending into total insanity.
Ali brings her talent for humor to a bizarre episode following a quiet shoe seller (Anjana Vasan) navigating microaggressions and outright anti-immigrant hostility in 1979 Northern England who is given a shocking outlet for her violent fantasies. Paapa Essiedu shines as her disco-fabulous homicidal guide and tormentor, turning the episode into a particularly dark version of Good Omens mixed with It’s a Wonderful Life. Demon 79 keeps delivering a mix of hilarious and emotional surprises up until the final moments.
Season 6 of Black Mirror has more misses than hits, but at least there are two winners among the five episodes. Demon 79 shows that Charlie Brooker’s experimentation outside of the traditional Black Mirror box can pay off, while Joan Is Awful delivers some funny meta-humor that mixes well with the show’s classic dark spin on science fiction. Luckily, you don’t miss anything by watching these two as standalone short films and skipping the rest, which either overstay their welcome, lack narrative weight, or fail to live up to the potential of their premise.