It’s been four years since the last season of Netflix’s Black Mirror. While that may not seem like a terribly long time, the world has undergone quite a lot since then, including a global pandemic, deepening political divides, and, oh, the rise of AI that previous seasons warned us about. The deep fakes are already here, and digital likeness and the power of AI will only increase. Maybe this is why Black Mirror Season 6 looks more to the present and past than towards the future.
Series writer/creator Charlie Brooker crafted five new episodes that feel different than what came before. Unlike older episodes, most of Season 6 isn’t concerned with the not-too-distant future. The technological dangers and existential threats are already here. What else can Black Mirror warn us about at this point? While the latest season isn’t perfect, it has more positives than net negatives. It’s also one of the most horror-heavy seasons yet.
***Some spoilers are included in this article.
Black Mirror Season 6’s Weakest Episodes
Black Mirror Season 6 only has two episodes that I would consider weak, and really, they’re not all that bad. They just pale a bit compared to the stronger and more interesting episodes. S6: Episode 2: Loch Henry really leans into the horror. Samuel Blenkin plays Davis, a young filmmaker who returns to his relatively desolated Scottish town. Accompanying him is his girlfriend Pia (Myha’la Herrold). Everything about the town, from its gloomy gray skies to its empty dive bars, feel like the perfect setting for a horror movie. This is definitely the most atmospheric episode.
Pia and local bartender Stuart (Daniel Portman) convince Davis to film a documentary about a series of grisly murders that occurred in the town. Davis has a personal connection because his dad was shot on the scene during the arrest of the killer, Iain Adair (Tom Crowhurst). However, the more Davis uncovers, the bigger the toll it takes on him. While this episode has plenty to say about the true crime genre and milking tragedy for eyeballs, its twist didn’t quite work for me, and in fact, comes across as rather absurd.
While Loch Henry had enough elements I enjoyed, I couldn’t quite say the same about S6: Episode 4: Mazey Day. This is the episode that brings werewolves, yes werewolves, into the Black Mirror universe and has the biggest twist this season, but it’s so bonkers, and not in a good way. It also has no likeable characters. I had hopes that the lead, Bo (Zazie Beetz), a young member of the paparazzi out for a candid shot of celeb Mazey Day (Clara Rugarr), would redeem herself, but that never quite happens.
Black Mirror Season 6’s Best Episodes
There are two truly standout episodes in Black Mirror Season 6, and they also have the longest runtimes. Beyond the Sea, directed by John Crowley, and Demon 79, directed by Toby Haynes, really go the distance in terms of their concepts.
Beyond the Sea is set in 1969 and stars Josh Hartnett as David Ross and Aaron Paul as Cliff Stanfield, two astronauts who send their consciousness into replicas of themselves to live with their families while they’re in space. Very early into the episode, David’s replica is brutally killed by a group of thugs, led by Rory Culkin’s Kappa. Oh, and the cult-like group also murders David’s family. It’s a bloody home invasion sequence that’s one of the goriest moments in Black Mirror’s history.
After the tragedy, Cliff allows David to send his consciousness into his replica, so he at least has something to do while stuck out in space. However, David’s consciousness, in Cliff’s body, falls in love with Cliff’s wife, Lana (Kate Mara). This episode is definitely the most layered, eventually dealing with the heavy theme of toxic masculinity. Lana, and women in general, are nothing more than something for men to possess, and this especially comes out in the second half of the episode, when Cliff explodes after he realizes David loves his wife. The ending and its ambiguity may upset some viewers, but it makes a powerful statement.
The real highlight of this episode is Paul. He turns in a stellar performance, essentially playing two characters in one body. This is no easy task, but Paul gives what may be the season’s best performance.
Demon 79, meanwhile, is a cool throwback that very much feels like a 1970s horror movie with its yellow and brown tones and grainy aesthetic. It’s also the most humorous, while hitting some contemporary political and social notes, especially anti-immigrant rhetoric, specifically the way Indian protagonist, Needa (Anjana Vasan), feels like an outcast because of the way British society treats her. She comes across a haunted object, in the way of a domino found in the basement of her place of employment, a shoe store. She conjures a demon and then must kill three people to prevent Armagedón. The demon, Gaap, played by Paapa Essiedu, is utterly hilarious. As bleak as Black Mirror can be, it sometimes has lighter episodes, and dare I say it, sweet endings. Demon 79 is one such episode.
That said, Season 6’s final episode isn’t quite all laughs. There’s an anti-immigrant politician, Michael Smart (David Shields), who is downright terrifying. You can’t blame Needa for wanting to kill him, especially once Gaap shows her the authoritarian leader he’ll turn into. The local election is just the first step. This also raises an interesting question: would you take out an authoritarian to prevent an awful future if you had the chance? Demon 79 is one of those nearly perfect episodes that magically balances humor with more serious issues and a bit of horror, mayhem, and murder.
Other Highlights from Black Mirror Season 6
If there’s one thread that runs through the season, it’s the idea of content just for content’s sake. In that regard, Brooker isn’t afraid to bite the hand that feeds. He takes several jabs at Netflix. There’s a streaming service that reoccurs in several episodes, Streamberry, that’s Brooker’s way of criticizing Netflix and its glut of content and focus on numbers above all else.
Further, Black Mirror has long been known for its celeb cameos and even launching careers. This season is stuffed with great performances, a few of which I already mentioned. However, Season 6’s first episode, Joan Is Awful, is truly stocked with notable names and memorable roles, especially that of Annie Murphy as Joan and Salma Hayek Pinault as herself and also a digital version of “Joan.” Michael Cera even has a brief bit. This first episode gets a little too meta for my liking, but the outlandish and even campy performances are great.
Overall, Black Mirror Season 6 has the perfect number of episodes, several recognizable names, and two remarkable episodes, Beyond the Sea and Demon 79. In fact, those two episodes rank up there with some of the series’ very best. Season 6 also feels like a new era for the series, one that doesn’t look so much to the future but instead deals with the past and the very real horrors we’re facing here and now.