Bouncing back from three episodes in Season 5, to five in Season 6, Charlie Brooker’s satirical anthology about the dark aspects of technology and human fallibility takes a dramatic left turn from its own premise.
With exception to two stories — first episode Joan is Awful and episode three Beyond the Sea — Black Mirror chooses to be about anything and everything Brooker wants.
Now, this is not as unexpected a turn of events as one thinks. Black Mirror did indulge in stories that had little commentary on technology in the past, and historically, series in a similar vein — such as The Twilight Zone and Amazing Stories — did sashay into other genres. However, this new season of the show — arriving four years after the last one — reeks of a dearth of ideas in its field of choosing.
Joan is Awful, directed by Ally Pankiw, has a woman (Annie Murphy) discovering that a global streaming service such as Netflix (called Streamberry), has adapted her daily life and secrets into a drama starring actress Salma Hayek. The episodes of that show are impossibly timely, arriving on the platform nearly minutes after they happen in real life.
Black Mirror indulged in stories that had little commentary of technology in the past but its Season 6 reeks of a dearth of ideas
Joan is Awful is the only episode that remains true to the core premise of the show. Irrespective of it being a darkly funny, mind-bending episode penned by Brooker (he has written them all by himself, save the last one) about the superficiality and hollowness of “content” we’re now addicted to consuming, one realises in retrospect that the episode is only there as a cushion to lessen the impact of the next entry.
Loch Henry is another fun, engaging but easily crackable mystery by Brooker, directed by Sam Miller. The premise sees a young documentary-making couple finding a shocking, true-crime story from a sleepy, near-abandoned Scottish town.
Beyond the Sea, directed by John Crowley, stars Arron Paul and Josh Harnett in a human tragedy set in 1969. The two are astronauts who transfer their consciousness to their replicas on Earth on their off-days, while their real-life bodies work a mission in the depths of space. The story only uses science as a plot-device.
Mazey Day, set in the early-mid 2000s, is cinematographer-director Uta Briesewitz and Brooker’s foray into the amoral life of the paparazzi, who hound a young actress after she abruptly disappears from the spotlight. This, by the way, is a horror-drama.
Continuing on the horror-ish path is Demon 79 — set, again, in the past, which, again, has been a recurring theme, as if Brooker and co-writer Bisha K. Ali are done with the present and the future. The plot sees a meek sales assistant (Anjana Vasan) who is prompted to kill three people in three days by a demon (Paapa Essiedu), lest the world turns to ruin (the demon, by the way, takes on the guise of Boney M’s Bobby Farrell). Like all stories in the season, the end of Demon 79 dawdles into ‘meh’ territory.
Watching ‘meh’ isn’t what one expects from a series that started out strong. It seems as if maybe the dark propositions of artificial intelligence and technology did really catch up to the makers of the show.
Black Mirror (Season 6) is rated 18+ and features violence, sex, nudity, language, substance abuse and suicide. That’s a lot of red-flags for concerned parents…but then again, the series was never intended for children. The show streams at the second spot in Netflix’s Top 10 charts in Pakistan
Published in Dawn, ICON, July 2nd, 2023