Sommerleigh Pollonais, Horror Head Writer
Most horror fans also enjoy sci-fi (although I’m not sure if the reverse applies) and while both genres can and do stand on their own, they can also blend together and deliver stellar results, which the success of anthology televisions series like The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone can attest to.
The latest iteration of this genre crossover comes to us in the form of Black Mirror, providing commentary on the dangers faced when flawed beings such as we are decide to muck about with technology we may not fully understand.
After a lacklustre Season Five (or Series Five because BM was British born after all) due in part to the pandemic, the show returned to Netflix with its latest batch of episodes. And while they may divisive to those who prefer the series to stick to its tried-and-true formula, I found the change to be (mostly) a good thing. And what better way to show how much I enjoyed these by ranking them from my least to most favourite? So, with a mild Spoiler Alert, here is my ranking of all five episodes of Black Mirror Season 6:
#5 Mazey Day
With a story plot that feels like the B-side to Loch Henry, Mazey Day follows Bo (Zazie Beetz of Deadpool and Joker) a paparazzo whose work exposing an actor’s infidelity leads to his suicide. Feeling guilty Bo decides to hang up her lens. But when she’s offered $30,000 for pictures of missing-in-action actress Mazey Day, she teams up with another paparazzi photographer to break into an alleged rehab facility and get the prized picture, only to discover Day has a problem no amount of rehab will cure.
Meh. On one hand Mazey Day delivers on a few stellar scenes that emphasise how terrible human beings can be to one another, especially when money is at stake, not to mention how toxic celebrity fandom can get. I can’t say more without spoiling the big reveal but that one scene with the paparazzi snapping away while Mazey is chained up will strike home for anyone who seen online videos of people pulling out their phones to capture some tragic moment instead of, you know, actually helping the person in danger. It’s a whole different type of stomach-churning horror and the final scene only drives this nail deeper.
On the other hand, 2014’s Nightcrawler already did this (albeit without the supernatural elements) much better, and I couldn’t help but feel letdown by the average outing. Black Mirror has set the bar high with its earlier seasons so if you’re gonna swing at the ball, you better have a home run under your belt.
#4 Loch Henry
Mark Twain said, “Two people can keep a secret if one of them is dead”, but what if the one that’s still alive has forgotten (or foolishly chosen) not to get rid of some truly damning evidence of their crimes?
In Loch Henry young couple Davis (Samuel Blenkin) and Pia (Myha’la Herrold) visit Davis’s mother in the town of Loch Henry where he grew up. His mother Janet is polite, but a bit put off by Pia’s “big city ways.” She tells her son and his girlfriend how much she misses her departed police officer husband (and Davis’ father), having only videotapes of their favourite cop show Bergerac to bring back fond memories of him.
Davis and Pia are budding documentarians who after talking with one of Davis’s old mates about a serial killer discovered in their quiet town, decide to change the topic of their upcoming documentary from eggs (Eggs? Really?!) to investigating the killer’s crimes and motive and to say more would be to give away the ending.
That said, Loch Henry might just be the most predictable of any Black Mirror episode I’ve ever seen. It’s almost as if someone was holding up a sign in certain scenes that said CLUE FOUND HERE.
It’s not a bad episode though and it was nice to see Monica Dolan return to the show as titular Mum Janet (she’s also played the police captain in Series 5 Episode, Smithereens, and although she had a lot less to do here, her unnerving politeness kept me on edge right up to the big reveal).
It’s just a shame Loch Henry doesn’t have much to say beyond a tepid critique of those who profit off of “true crime” shows and documentaries. It’s fine but I don’t see anyone counting this as one of their BM favorites.
#3 Demon 79
This one took me back to the retro days of horror when movies like Basket Case, Magic and yes, even Psycho explored what can happen to ordinary people pushed to their breaking point.
Demon 79 isn’t what one would normally expect from Black Mirror and that’s probably because it was originally written for “Red Mirror”, a possible future companion show to the sci-fi series that show creators are hoping will come to fruition.
Shot in the cinematic style of 70’s horror, Demon 79 follows Nida (Anjana Vasan) a meek Indo-British woman working at a clothing store who’s forced to swallow the passive and not-so-passive racist behaviour of her coworker, boss and basically everyone she meets including a politician running for office in her local town. Forced to eat her lunch in the basement of the store one day, Nida discovers a small talisman and unknowingly frees a demon named Gaap (Paapa Essiedu) who informs her she must kill three people in three days to prevent the world from ending, apocalypse-style!
Depending on your viewing, you might miss the darkly comedic tones of this one. Nida’s interactions with Gaap play out like a twisted version of It’s a Wonderful Life where an angel shows the protagonist their future. In this case it’s Gaap dressed like a 70’s singer/dancer who encourages poor Nida to kill the people around her by giving her insight into who they are and what horrors they inflict on others presently or in the future.
Of course, this is a Black Mirror episode and so the twist here might be Nida is mentally unstable. They show moments of her explaining her mom being carted away because she was “mad” and with the pressures in her life, a history of mental illness in her family and a quick Google search into the symptoms of schizophrenia, the episode does leave you wondering how much of what you’re seeing is real.
I think Black Mirror fans will come down divisively on Demon 79, but just because it doesn’t play to the standard “mirror rules” doesn’t mean it isn’t a solid episode. Asking a question as loaded as “What’s more insane? A woman who thinks she’s talking to a demon, or a world that willingly divides itself based on someone’s ethnicity?” If that’s not a Black Mirror kind of question, I don’t know what is.
#2 Joan Is Awful
Joan (Annie Murphy) is just like us. She goes about her average day trying to be a good person even when faced with having to fire employees or figuring out if she’s happy in her relationship with her current fiancé as her ex-boyfriend eagerly waits in the wings. Everything seems normal until Joan does what most of us do at the end of a workday, she sits down to stream the latest hot show only they discover that Netflix — sorry that would be Streamberry — has a new show out called “Joan is Awful” where none other than Salma Hayek stars as Joan and proceeds to play out her entire day on screen. What follows is a satirical journey down the rabbit hole of streaming services, policy agreements and the ridiculousness of reality television, Black Mirror-style.
There was once a time I could keep up with the latest shows and movies I was interested in, all while having time for my actual life. That time was about ten years ago before streaming services took over and insane levels of content was bombarded at me. Joan Is Awful takes aim at the quality versus quantity of it all as well as the invasions to our privacies we’ve nonchalantly given up in the names of using our smart devices.
South Park fans will remember that one episode where poor Kyle discovers he unknowingly signed up to become part of a Human Centi-pad when he signed his iPhone agreement without ever having read it. I tried reading one of these agreements once and I only made it halfway through before giving up and just hitting “Accept”. Here’s hoping no one comes to claim my soul in five years.
Beyond the Sea may have done a better job of nailing the Black Mirror atmosphere and maybe I’m just tired of the nihilism permeating media everywhere but as of right now Joan Is Awful was the episode that made me hopeful for this season’s outings, (which overall was a really good one) and if I’m being honest, it was probably the one I’ll remember first whenever anyone mentions season six of Black Mirror.
#1 Beyond the Sea
Beyond the Sea starts off by exploring the day-to-day lives of two very different men. In an alternate-history version of earth set in 1969, astronauts Cliff and David are both married with kids. Cliff (Aaron Paul) and his wife Lana (Kate Mara) live on a secluded farm with their son, going about the farm chores but their relationship seems more platonic than romantic. David (Josh Hartnett) on the other hand lives in a large luxurious house in California and enjoys going out on the town with his family, romantic moments with his missus and soaking up the fame of being a space explorer.
So, how can these men be in two places at once as they are actually on a six-year deep space mission? Well, both have replica bodies and the ability to sync their minds with them from their location. Things are perfect until one fateful night when a Manson-like cult attack David’s home, kill his family and destroy his replica, which leads to Cliff offering to share his. What could go wrong?
Beyond the Sea is perfectly paced and nowhere near as predictable as one might think. With a solid sense of dread permeating all the way through and an ending that leaves you to wonder what could be next for these two men who have years of only space, time and each other to keep them company, this episode touched on so many different themes (ego, identity, isolation, human nature) that it’s sure to be one of those Black Mirror episodes that people will dissect over and over again.
A perfect amalgamation of horror and sci-fi, it’s stories such as this one that made me a Black Mirror fan in the first place.
So, that’s my ranking. Which episode was your favourite? And you can check out more Netflix Sci Fi and Horror anthology content below:
Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever, and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.
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