“Black Mirror Season 6: A Refreshingly Optimistic Return”

Black Mirror Season 6

The latest installment of “Black Mirror,” Season 6, kicks off with a scenario that will resonate deeply with its viewers: a couple sitting on their couch, pondering their evening streaming choice. As expected from “Black Mirror,” their decision carries mind-bending consequences, but in this later phase of the show, it also serves as a self-reflective commentary on the medium itself.
In the episode titled “Joan Is Awful,” a woman named Joan (Annie Murphy) becomes engrossed in a series that eerily mirrors her own life, with Salma Hayek Pinault portraying her character, and every interaction amplifying her worst attributes. Interestingly, this phenomenon extends beyond Joan as everyone becomes captivated by the fictional-but-almost-real streaming service called “Streamberry,” boasting Netflix’s aesthetics, vast reach, and industry dominance.
It’s not surprising that streaming technology has become an integral part of “Black Mirror’s” narrative, considering its presence on Netflix since 2016 (after initially airing on the U.K.’s Channel 4). The show has leveraged Netflix’s capabilities, such as the interactive film “Bandersnatch” in 2018. Furthermore, the nature of Netflix’s culture allows for extended breaks between seasons, with the four-year hiatus being the longest the series has ever experienced. Coincidentally or not, the 2019 outing, characterized by three lackluster episodes that felt like stretched-out jokes, turned out to be the weakest season. The break seems to have benefited the show greatly.
The implications of global distribution and algorithm-driven content recommendations, capable of sparking discussions and creating overnight sensations, align perfectly with “Black Mirror’s” exploration of how technology has transformed human interactions. However, this season also delves into other themes beyond technology’s direct impact.
In episodes like “Beyond the Sea,” which unfolds as a chamber drama, two astronauts grapple with the consequences of their mission’s notoriety, enabled by their ability to transfer their consciousness back to Earth temporarily. Similarly, “Loch Henry” and “Mazey Day” tackle the dangers of human curiosity and pursuit of fame, using relatively low-tech tools like VHS tapes and telephoto lenses. These episodes highlight our inherent inability to resist seeking knowledge and fame, even when ignorance and anonymity may have been more comfortable.
This shift away from focusing solely on technology and exploring broader human experiences resonates strongly, particularly when “Black Mirror” has often portrayed its protagonists as passive victims. As the season progresses, the show gains momentum by delving into topics that are less exclusively “Black Mirror-esque,” resulting in varied episode quality. From the weakest entry, “Mazey Day,” to the strongest contender, “Beyond the Sea,” thanks to stellar performances by Aaron Paul, Josh Hartnett, and especially Kate Mara, the series offers emotional depth with delicate restraint.
One episode that stands out as a deliberate departure is “Demon 79,” introduced as “a ‘Red Mirror’ film.” Positioned as the final installment in the season, it embraces the horror genre as a shopgirl (Anjana Vasan) battles a hellish presence (personified by Paapa Essiedu) to prevent the apocalypse. Beyond the pulp thriller plot, “Demon 79” navigates weighty subjects like prejudice, personal accountability, and the ethical dilemmas of taking a life. The episode successfully blends pulp storytelling with thought-provoking themes, carried by the captivating performances of Essiedu and Vasan.
Returning to “Joan Is Awful,” we discover that Streamberry deliberately emphasizes Joan’s negative qualities because viewers are addicted to self-flagellation. While this notion may be disheartening, the engagement factor of negativity cannot be denied. Despite “Black Mirror” being one of Netflix’s shows that feels least driven by algorithms, maintaining a recognizable human touch in its storytelling, moments of relentless bleakness occasionally feel forced. While episodes like “Beyond the Sea” excel in their pitch-dark cynicism, the season’s standout might change on any given day. For now, “Loch Henry” deserves special mention as a personal favorite.

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However, “Demon 79” serves as a prime example of an intriguing shift within the show—an unexpected glimmer of hope. In Charlie Brooker’s universe, characters are often passive victims or malicious instigators, with little in between. However, this season offers glimpses of curiosity, amusement, and novelty that add layers of humanity to the machine. Brooker’s exploration of new artistic territories and his characters’ evolution, even when they are deeply flawed, invigorates the show and allows us to see their underlying humanity more clearly.

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