Black Mirror, the groundbreaking series known for its dark, cynical and thought-provoking exploration of technology’s impact on society, returned with its highly anticipated sixth season on Netflix on June 15. The fresh instalment is a sudden swerve on the show’s theme of an unsettling dystopia, with its episodes in the modern and pre-modern context instead of the distant future. From the ethical implications of ‘cookie privacy’ to meticulous examinations of paparazzi invasions, each episode feels like a warning as well as a prediction. Starring big names like Aaron Paul, Salma Hayek, Annie Murphy and Zazie Beetz, Black Mirror has once again charged itself with fresh thrill and enigma.
If the future is a chronicle of horrors foretold, then the present is a war song in preparation for the devastation. This is the message that Season 6 of Black Mirror has tried to put forth. It is not super-developed Artificial Intelligence (AI) or an obsession with social media rankings that people fear; it is the current scenario of the world that forms the basis of the new chapters. Combining elements of supernaturalism, sci-fi and technology, Black Mirror has adopted the styles of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Peter Weir’s The Truman Show. The new episodes, written and created by Charlie Brooker, are steeped in anxiety-inducing, mind-warping psychological horror.
Stolen identities and true crime
Encompassing five episodes in total, Season 6 continues to delve into the dark recesses of the human mind and the ever-growing moral quandaries arising from the advancement of technology. It asks the question: How long can people save themselves from the prying eyes of scary and breakthrough software?
This lays the groundwork for the opening episode titled ‘Joan is Awful’, featuring Annie Murphy, the Schitt’s Creek star, and Salma Hayek, who starred as the eponymous protagonist in the 2002 movie Frida. The result is an instant Orwellian classic, which is unapologetic in anticipating the worst implications of our present moment.
The episode ‘Joan is Awful’ is about an ordinary woman named Joan, who is taken aback at the release of a show based on her life by a renowned streaming platform that features the famous Hollywood actress Salma Hayek. Joan is indeed awful, but does she deserve to have the intimate details of her life out in the open for everyone to see? Ultimately, the world in this Black Mirror episode becomes a quantum matrix of identities stolen and reproduced by a streaming company that develops into a living nightmare for all subscribers.
Black Mirror takes a different pathway in its second episode ‘Loch Henry’, which unfolds as a Scottish crime documentary exploring town murders and family secrets. The story follows two aspiring filmmakers, Davis (Samuel Blenkin) and Pia (Myha’la Herrold), who arrive at the former’s hometown of Loch Henry to shoot a nature documentary. However, when they dig up the case of a psychotic serial killer who lived in the town years ago, they drop their previous idea and start filming a true crime documentary based on the murders in the sleepy Scottish town. After a series of gruesome revelations, deaths and gore, we realise that the message behind this episode is hauntingly serious. We see Davis’s film winning a BAFTA award, but at what cost? The episode sheds light on how virtual depictions of true crime can impact the exploited families and interest those who are not the victims.
The vindictive, bloodthirsty and insecure mindset of humanity
The third episode ‘Beyond the Sea’ has the longest running time and questions the morals of humanity in its advancement towards an environmental collapse catalysed by technology. Set in a 1960s retro timeline, it deviates from the show’s usual futuristic presentation and asks: Can significant progress in technology be justified at the cost of destroying the natural balance of the earth?
From the visual similarities to 2001: A Space Odyssey to Ray Bradbury’s short story collection, The Illustrated Man, the episode is reminiscent of many popular culture references that depict the very foundation of Black Mirror. The plot revolves around two astronauts, Cliff (Aaron Paul) and David (Josh Hartnett) on a mission in space, leaving behind their lifelike robotic “replicas” on earth with their families. However, things go awry when they have to confront an unimaginable tragedy. The very idea of a dual existence, one in space and the other on earth, becomes uncanny. In light of the pandemic, the episode’s lingering themes of isolation, distance, loneliness and severed connection feel uncomfortably relatable. Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul is particularly memorable, displaying the vindictive, bloodthirsty and insecure mindset of humanity, which disrupts the natural order of things only to find desperation and despondency.
‘Mazey Day’, the fourth episode of the season, starring Zazie Beetz, highlights the dark side of the paparazzi. A Hollywood star named Mazey Day (Clara Rugaard) finds herself psychologically troubled after a hit-and-run case, hovering prominently on the radar of invasive paparazzi who mercilessly claw their way into her life. After Mazey goes missing, the media agencies declare a hefty prize for whoever is able to get the first picture of her, leading to paparazzi like Bo (Beetz) going out on the hunt.
Thus begins a cat-and-mouse chase between the paparazzis and the troubled starlet who is too vulnerable to hide herself. The way the episode ends is spine-chilling, as both Bo and Mazey try to save themselves. An intriguing feature of this episode is the soundtrack, whose trippy nature provides access to Mazey’s mental state.
All-too familiar human flaws in strange, even absurd, settings
Despite its immense range and variety, Black Mirror has its missteps. The closing chapter, ‘Demon 79’, is robbed of the true essence of the show. It follows the story of a British-Indian woman working in sales, who is asked by a demon to carry out three human sacrifices to save the planet from a nuclear war. Although the turbulent political times of the 1970s is depicted adequately, the story falters in its execution.
Nida (Anjana Vasan) only wants to target those who are morally questionable. This is where the episode feels overdone and repetitive, as it proceeds with an air of predictability from the get-go. Nida is a social outcast in her own town and the apocalypse at the end can be a metaphor for the destruction caused by power-hungry politicians who are intolerant of social change. Whether or not the episode has undertones of a Biblical apocalypse, the idea that hell is a state of mind is made clear, almost to the point of costing the finale its edge.
Black Mirror has always stood out for daring to ask profound questions. This season is no different, with each episode unearthing all-too familiar human flaws in strange, even absurd, settings. Season 6 of Black Mirror makes for a gripping watch, with an experience that is more raw and unnerving than ever before.