Review by Cole Groth
It’s been over four years since the fifth season of the sci-fi phenomenon Black Mirror had its fifth season. Writer and series creator Charlie Brooker took plenty of time off to release the latest season of the acclaimed series after deeming things to be too dark after the COVID-19 pandemic and general disarray in the world. Netflix’s sixth season brings some of the most wild episodes yet, but a generally unfamiliar feeling and an uneven style keeps this from being one of the best seasons. Due to the anthological style of the series, each episode will be reviewed individually.
Joan is Awful - 4/5
"Joan is Awful" is awesome. The sixth season of Black Mirror kicks off with a bang. This episode, starring Annie Murphy as the titular Joan, touches on generative content, digital likenesses, and the streaming world. This feels like a topic particularly suited for the series, because it's a plausible nightmare of technology that's also wildly entertaining. The story follows a bland and weak woman, Joan, as her world is turned upside down after her turbulent life is into a TV show on a large streaming service starring Salma Hayek.
There are plenty of moments that hit on the recent debate around AI art (which isn't art at all) and the future of content creation. Charlie Booker's script puts a lot of humor into it but makes sure to focus on the threat that content faces as corporations soullessly churn out garbage. Annie Murphy and Salma Hayek are a phenomenal pairing, with a few celebrity cameos being very welcome surprises. My biggest issue with this is that it just isn't long enough. Sometimes, Booker's script should've gone deeper into the problems he's trying to get at, and more moments to explore the concept would've been wanted. At the end of it all, this stands out as one of the show's best episodes and starts the season with a ton of promise.
Loch Henry - 3/5
"Loch Henry" is far from a standard Black Mirror episode. The premise for this one follows a young couple in a quiet Scottish town beginning work on a simple documentary, only to find that the town harbors a sinister secret. Unlike other episodes of this series, there's almost no focus on a technological dystopia we could soon face, with the only true satire or social commentary being found toward the very end.
In an impossibly tense 54 minutes, Sam Miller directs phenomenal performances from Samuel Blenkin and Myha'la Herrold. The two are a perfectly cast boyfriend-girlfriend pairing that bring tons of life to their characters. It's also shot and edited brilliantly. This episode is terrifying as hell, but Brooker's script is noticeably predictable. While the twists and turns that follow are still pretty great, the ending fizzles out before making a slight recovery. Viewers will undoubtedly find themselves divided on the conclusion to this episode, but a well-earned feeling of dread keeps it from being a large disappointment.
Beyond the Sea - 1/5
"Beyond the Sea" is both the longest and weakest episode of Black Mirror's sixth season. The premise follows two astronauts, played by Josh Hartnett and Aaron Paul, who are able to access replicas of themselves on Earth while on their mission in space. After an event leaves one of the astronauts devastated, the two feel their tensions rise over the course of several weeks.
This episode stinks because of how obvious it is. There are plenty of routes that could've been explored with events that take place at the beginning, but Brooker's script is quite frankly garbage. Netflix will not let me discuss any of the details of this episode, but needless to say, the conflict is lame. Viewers of the show might find something endearing about how terrible this episode will make you feel, but the lack of any social commentary is sorely missed in this installment.
Mazey Day - 3.5/5
Like "Loch Henry," "Mazey Day" takes a step away from the traditional sci-fi focus of the show for a dramatic tonal shift which'll keep eager fans of Black Mirror on their toes. In the second episode, Zazie Beetz leads as a disillusioned paparazzi who goes on a wild trip for a large payday.
The fourth installment in this season is one of the wildest episodes yet. It's best to go blind and spend forty minutes guessing which twists and turns this episode will take next. Great performances, a strong sense of style, and excellent pacing make this consistently enjoyable. Brooker's script could've been a lot more effective, though. It doesn't feel like it has much commentary and does feel largely disconnected from Black Mirror's overall theme, making this potentially a fan favorite or a maligned entry in the series.
Demon 79 - 3/5
"Demon 79" closes out Black Mirror's return with a demon, murder, and a whole lot of terrible people. This finale follows a timid woman (Anjana Vasan) and a demon (Paapa Essiedu) as she is told to commit certain violent acts to prevent imminent disaster. Like previous episodes this season, there's little focus on technology, with this episode featuring no technology whatsoever.
While the journey Brooker takes us on is certainly fun, it can't help but feel largely disconnected from the show as a whole. While this is a theme with the entirety of series 6, this episode in particular will alienate many viewers, like "Mazey Day" did. However, for those a fan of other anthology series, this is an ambitious turn that has a lot of fun moments. The ending isn't great, but it's at least an interesting one to end the season with a bang.
Overall, Black Mirror’s sixth season features enough twists and turns to bring in both new viewers and to keep veterans of the series entertained. There are plenty of elements that have never been explored by Brooker before, and many of them work very well. Hopefully, this represents a bright start for the future of this series. While it’s a bumpy ride, it’s undeniably a fun time and shows some of the best of Netflix’s lead anthological series.
Black Mirror is now streaming on Netflix. All five episodes reviewed.