Every Black Mirror Season 6 Episode, Ranked

The new season of the anthology show is streaming on Netflix
Every Black Mirror Season 6 Episode, Ranked

Directors: Ally Pankiw, Sam Miller, John Crowley, Uta Briesewitz, Toby Haynes

Writers: Charlie Brooker, Bisha K. Ali

Cast: Annie Murphy, Salma Hayek, Michael Cera, Himesh Patel, Aaron Paul, Josh Hartnett, Kate Mara, Myha'la Herrold, Samuel Blenkin, Zazie Beetz, Danny Ramirez, Anjana Vasan, Paapa Essiedu

Technology is bad, but people are worse. That’s been the throughline of Charlie Brooker’s anthology series Black Mirror ever since it first aired more than a decade ago. Episodes with a genuine spark of optimism are rare, as are happy endings. Now returning after a four-year gap, the Netflix series is as downbeat as ever, despite brief flashes of levity. Where Black Mirror once felt prescient, an omen of things to come, now its nightmarish visions are rooted in a real, tangible present – deepfake content, our true-crime obsession, violations of privacy normalised by the proliferation of technology. The show is no longer attempting to predict the future. Instead, it’s reflecting more contemporary horrors.

Certain themes recur across season 6 – implicit and explicit references to the Netflix model, the level of intrusion and invasiveness the life of a celebrity entails, racism, people who aren’t always who they appear to be. Some of its episodes, attempting crossovers with other genres, raise questions about what a Black Mirror episode even is, or what the show has come to constitute. Its best segments, however, drive home an uncomfortable truth: It’s futile to worry about technology in the distant future; the monsters are already in our house. Here are all five episodes of Black Mirror season 6ranked from worst to best:

Mazey Day

At 42 minutes, Mazey Day is the shortest of this season’s episodes and yet evokes the most impatience. When photos taken by paparazzo Bo (Zazie Beetz) out an actor as gay, leading to his suicide, she has a sudden moment of clarity about the predatory nature of her profession and quits. The obviousness of the realisation is paired with an unimaginative visual language – she’s pictured literally walking away from her job. A big payday lures Bo back, but she discovers that the assignment – chasing down a young actress (Clara Rugaard) – is far from what she thought it would be. The ill-paced episode culminates in a reversal of the predator-prey equation between paparazzo and star, an idea that sounds good in theory and yet jars as a twist. With no allusions to technology and a supernatural bent instead, Mazey Day is one of two episodes that lack that distinct Black Mirror feel, seeming disparate from the rest of the anthology.

Joan Is Awful

Tech CEO Joan (Annie Murphy) finds that her life has been adapted into the streaming show Joan Is Awful, which embellishes and magnifies every element of her personality, her flaws and her confessed secrets. It’s an intriguing reading of data harvesting and targeted programming, in which our devices function as a kind of warped mirror reflecting our own ingrained neuroses back at us. And the episode capitalises on the current discourse around the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in art, exposing its ultimate hollowness. This satire about corporate machinery chewing up and spitting out people in the form of content becomes toothless, however, when you realise it’s streaming on Netflix, known for platforming and feeding into public obsession with exploitative true-crime shows. There’s a fun punchline about learning to read the fine print and the episode gives Salma Hayek a chance to star in a meta reading of her own onscreen persona (“Does my anus not have rights?” is a standout line). However, the episode is too preoccupied with being clever to actually be compelling.

Demon 79

It’s hard to imagine a comedic approach to the trolley problem, in which people are asked to imagine if they would kill one person if it meant saving many, but Demon 79 makes a good go of it. The episode follows soft-spoken department store employee Nida (Anjana Vasan) who must either kill three people in three days with the help of the demon Gaap (Paapa Essiedu) or bring about the end of the world. The initial stretches of the episode follow a repetitive cycle of Nida at the brunt of racist microagressions, slipping into violent daydreams about catty colleagues and creepy customers, but being too timid to act on them. It only picks up considerably once Gaap enters the picture and the killings begin. Nida’s crisis of conscience plays well against Gaap’s breezy insouciance and the episode mines dark humour out of her reluctant murder attempts. It’s fairly predictable, as Black Mirror episodes go, but the Seventies’ needle-drops and carefree sprit keep it buoyant.

Beyond The Sea

One of this season’s longest episodes is also one that forces viewers to sit with the stifling weight of loneliness. Cliff (Aaron Paul) and David (Josh Hartnett) are astronauts in orbit who can transfer their consciousness to synthetic ‘replicas’ of themselves back at home. When a cult slaughters David’s family and destroys his replica, Cliff’s wife suggests that he let his grieving colleague use his for a while. Will David grow too attached to his time in Cliff’s home, in his life, to give it up? Will Cliff’s wife fall for the man who looks like her husband but is far kinder and more attentive to her needs? It’s a predictable set of outcomes with a grim resolution, and the episode’s most intriguing thread – that of a fringe group seeking to maintain the natural order and exert control over the composition of the family unit – isn’t explored enough. Even so, Beyond The Sea’s strength lies in how it paints loneliness as inescapable – from the marital ennui of one’s home to the vast reaches of outer space.

Loch Henry

Young couple Davis (Samuel Blenkin) and Pia (Myha’la Herrold) travel to Davis’s remote hometown in the hopes of shooting their first documentary. When Pia hears of a serial killer who abducted, tortured and murdered eight tourists over the years, she sees an irresistible sales pitch, while he only sees the tragedy that killed his father and destroyed their small town’s economy. Once they embark on the project, however, what they uncover is much more horrific than either had imagined. Loch Henry takes aim at the commodification of tragedy, the casual cruelty with which lives are turned into fodder for the content machine. It also reckons with the awful cost of truth, and the toll it takes on those who pursue it. The best episode of Black Mirror season 6 lets technology take a backseat – an analog device is what enables the twist – as it focuses on the bare-bones, most crucial ingredient to a great episode: A simple story, told well. 

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