Since British anthology series Black Mirror premiered in 2011 it has produced some of the most bleak dystopian speculative fiction. Consider it a Twilight Zone for the 2000s and much more cynical, jaded audience. Creator Charlie Brooker has created some of the most buzzworthy watercooler television over the last decade. Perhaps the worst complaint about Black Mirror is the time that lapses between each season. Anticipation for a new season has grown since a mixed response to the interactive movie Bandersnatch and the disappointed, abbreviated fifth season. Now Season 6 has finally landed on Netflix and Brooker seems to be back in fine form. With a bit of time having passed, we can now take stock of the latest season, ranking each of the five new episodes.
5 – Mazzy Day (Episode 4)
Not surprisingly, the Season 6 episodes of Black Mirror have kind of naturally clumped together into categories of ‘okay’, ‘good’, and ‘great’. Both Mazey Day and Demon 79 – episodes four and five, respectively – seem to have naturally joined each other in the ‘okay’ group. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Mazey Day and its story of an amoral paparazzi and troubled young starlet in the early 2000s. Not surprisingly, Zazie Beetz excels as a celebrity chaser suffering a crisis of conscience. And the early bits featuring a celebrity trapped in a mess of their own making could be relevant to so many past and present cases. Nonetheless, Mazey Day never does anything with these narrative element. Instead, the episode chooses a supernatural swerve that feels out of place in the series. One can’t help but feel like there was important commentary left on the table.
4 – Demon 79 (Episode 5)
Demon 79 suffers from the same major problem as Mazey Day. As compared to the stronger episodes, there’s no real point to the story of a meek shoe salesperson who must commit three murders to prevent the apocalypse. Early scenes showing Nida Huq (played by Anjana Vasan) confronting microaggressions and outright xenophobia hint at a much more biting social commentary. Yet Demon 79, which perfectly evokes 70s horror aesthetics, steers its story into a supernatural direction that lets a much better story down. Still there’s not denying that this is a fun episode highlighted by Paapa Essiedu embodying Boney M.
3 – Beyond the Sea (Episode 3)
Now we’re on to the strong episodes where the difference in rankings will be a matter of personal preference. At the Number 3, Beyond the Sea is a classic episode benefitting (or suffering) from more subtle storytelling. Set in a fictional past, American astronauts in an orbiting space station can still visit and spend time with their families on Earth by inhabiting mechanical replicas of themselves. When tragedy strikes on of the astronauts and his family, his colleague allows him to occupy his own replica with tragic consequences.
But it’s the more implicit horror ending the episode that should leave audiences feeling numb.
Like classic Black Mirror episodes, Beyond the Sea explores the consequences of technology – and the possibilities it allows – when it challenges nature. There’s the literal horror that unfolds when a Charles Manson-esque death cult emerges early in the episode. But it’s the more implicit horror ending the episode that should leave audiences feeling numb. Try wrapping your head around the meaning of Beyond the Sea in that final scene with Josh Hartnett and Aaron Paul sitting across from one another after everything that’s happened. Throw in a strong performance from Kate Mara and Beyond the Sea stands out as a stellar Black Mirror episode.
2 – Joan is Awful (Episode 1)
Joan is Awful – the first episode of Season 6 – represents everything that’s great about Black Mirror. Though the tone is much lighter than some of the other episodes, the story of a middle manager at a tech company whose life is inexplicably being re-told in near real-time on Streamberry (posing for Netflix) is a clever and subtly unsettling episode. For starters, Joan is Awful touches on several current, polarizing issues. Generative Artificial Intelligence, the licensing of public images, the evils of corporate greed – this is an episode grappling with real-time issues. Yet the story unfolds in an almost light, carefree manner. That is, the tone contradicts the underlying messages – you’re chuckling while simultaneously being terrified. Annie Murphy is a treasure and Salma Hayek looks like she’s having an absolute blast playing a version of herself.
1 – Loch Henry (Episode 2)
Personal rankings of Loch Henry, the second Season 6 episode, will likely depend on your interest in true crime media. Regardless of where you stand on Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story or Confessions of a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, Loch Henry strikes a big nerve. Similar to the best Black Mirror episodes, Loch Henry works well on two levels. Its story of a film studies couple who drop one documentary subject in favor of a local legend is an increasingly chilling horror story. Its third act twist leads to a relentlessly tense finale followed by a soul-crushing epilogue. But it’s the episode’s commentary on the inherently exploitative nature of true crime narratives that elevate Loch Henry to its top spot.