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Black Mirror’s new season is cracked-up horror on the sofa

Black Mirror’s new season is cracked-up horror on the sofa

When it comes to disturbing stories, Black Mirror does it better than most. It prides itself on the not-so-distant future of our society in the hands of technology. While past seasons have focused wholly on lives invaded, manipulated, and transformed by tech, this new season deals with the corruptibility of humankind. Black Mirror’s new season is cracked-up horror on the sofa, the most un-Black Mirror season yet, but still disturbing.

It is more than just near-future dystopias. From the streaming industry, true crime, to an escapist fantasy from our political present through befriending a devil, these episodes made its four-year break worthwhile. It has reached some kind of bizarre convergence point with our past and present. It is not merely holding the looking glass up to the damage wrought by technology, but to the self-inflicted wounds of society as well. 

Black Mirror: Season 6 Official Trailer

Joan is Awful

The first episode, “Joan Is Awful,” sets us up for this unexpected tonal shift. It spins a yarn about a woman who discovered that a global streaming platform has launched a show about her. Joan, a middle manager at a Spotify-esque tech company, struggling with the feeling that she’s “not the main character in my own life story,” has now a trashy new TV drama adaptation of her life, warts and all. Thus begins her slow descent into chaos.

She consults with a lawyer on how to end it, but unfortunately, she permitted Streamberry to mine her data through her subscription. (Who among us hasn’t checked a box without reading the fine print?) Now the company is free to use her digital footprint to generate scripts and create a licensed version of her image.

This is the most classic episode of Black Mirror. It reminds the viewers that the show started life with a story about the prime minister getting amorous with a pig on live television. Irreverent, scatological, and nightmarishly claustrophobic, “Joan is Awful” is an excellent installment in Black Mirror’s catalog of Orwellian farces. Still, the flaws of its meandering middle come good in its wildly meta end. And its themes surrounding the ethics of privacy and media consumption are picked up deftly in the very next episode.

Loch Henry

While “Joan Is Awful” explores what happens when a person’s life is broadcast almost instantaneously without explicit permission, “Loch Henry,” examines the perils of exploiting one’s trauma by choice to feed the content machine. (Yes, the fictitious Streamberry service also makes a cameo here.)

The premise is simple enough: a film school student, Davis head to his sleepy Scottish hometown with his girlfriend, Pia to shoot an environmental documentary. However, a local bartender piqued Pia’s interest in the series of gruesome murders that roiled the now-abandoned town years ago. Enchanted by its market potential, Pia persuades Davis to replace their initial project to a murder documentary instead.

There is a vague, underlying commentary on the commercialization of tragedy. This a critique that feels contemporary, but has little to root in the traditions of great Black Mirror episodes.  It’s a twist wrapped up in a mystery that is guaranteed to fill you with a delicious sense of impending doom.

Beyond the Sea

Impending doom evolves into horrified awe in “Beyond The Sea,” which steers us away from the light and back into the darkness. Set in an alternative 1969, it sees two astronauts, Cliff and David, on a perilous high-tech mission. The plot depended on a technology that allows them to beam their consciousness back to earth. While their physical bodies are asleep in space, their replicas are roaming the earth with their families.

David is shattered by an unimaginable tragedy. Cliff finds a way to help his near-catatonic colleague by any means possible. This episode showed that instead of advancing humans, technology has the potential to unlock the darkest corners of a human’s mind, resulting in a loss of family, a loss of self, and a future spent lost staring into the abyss.At its core, “Beyond the Sea” has the key to a great Black Mirror chapter: slow-burning dread and myriad ways for things to go wrong. It tackles big sci-fi issues, the sort addressed in films like Moon and Sunshine, with superb confidence.

Mazey Day

The penultimate episode has nothing to do with technology at all, actually. Set in the aughts, it sees Clara Rugaard step into the shoes of Mazey Day, a deeply troubled starlet who finds herself hounded by paparazzi at every turn.

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Paparazzi Bo (Zazie Beetz), just wants to snap that $30,000 photo of Mazey so she can pay her goddamn rent and get her obnoxious flatmate off her case for the first time in forever. As she doggedly pursues Mazey across the country, Bo soon realizes that there’s more to the celebrity’s downward spiral than meets the eye. The kind of more that will have you howling at your TV before the credits roll. 

In every season of Black Mirror, there’s an episode that feels a real bugger’s muddle. “White Bear”, say, from season 2, or season 5’s “Smithereens”. “Mazey Day” fulfils that role in the latest tranche of episodes, proving that Brooker is as capable of inanity as profundity. The episode dissolves into a melange of sub-horror fantasy tropes, and the representation of paparazzi culture. Slender and scattershot, it is also a rare episode of Black Mirror that feels actively backwards looking.

Demon 79

“Demon 79” is the very definition of saving the best for last. Again, it sends us rocketing back in time, to 1979— its focus isn’t on the evils of technology. Instead, it gives us Nida (Anjana Vasan), a lonely sales assistant who accidentally summons a discowear-clad demon on her lunch break.

Serving twisted It’s A Wonderful Life vibes, it soon transpires that Paapa Essiedu’s Gaap has to earn his demonic wings, and that he will only do so if he convinces Nida to carry out three human sacrifices. If she doesn’t get a-murdering soon, it’s end of the world time.

At 75 minutes long, “Demon 79” flirts with the same scope as “Beyond the Sea”. Tonally, it is not dissimilar to Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s The Cabin in the Woods, braiding violence, comedy and apocalyptic ennui into a slick plait Like “Mazey Day”. It’s not a prediction for our technological future, but an escapist fantasy from our political present.

This season boasts the cinematic sheen and used more impressive world building, and room to explore the depth of human emotion. It’s still the sort of TV that demands you to put away your phone and pay attention, quite frankly. It’s thought provoking and disturbing from the start.

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