BLACK MIRROR (2023)
Aired On: Netflix
Release Date: 06/16/23
Drama. Mystery. SciFi.
"An anthology series exploring a twisted, high-tech multiverse where humanity's greatest innovations and darkest instincts collide."
Black Mirror returns to Netflix with 5 new episodes with an expansive range of tone and subject matter. I was underwhelmed by the previous season’s offerings and while I credit "Bandersnatch" for its innovative interactive storytelling, I still found myself longing for the earlier Black Mirror era. To give context to my personal taste in Black Mirror, a few of my favorite episodes are "Black Christmas", "USS Callister", "Hang the DJ" and "Black Museum". A constant in the Black Mirror Universe is how new technology can have grim effects on the people who use and interact with it. I’ll break down the 5 new episodes in brief answers to the cliché therapist query ‘How did that make you feel?’
JOAN IS AWFUL
An intriguing concept of one person’s life becoming everyone else’s entertainment. This story serves as a not-so-subtle warning of how AI, an ever-growing demand for new content, and scarceness of human creativity can be a dangerous combination. I found this episode amusing but its self-parody became excessively meta with its gratuitous cameos and world within a world within another world storytelling. This is probably the most objectively comedic of black mirror episodes, but the comedy doesn’t always land.
A young couple heads to a Scottish village where the man grew up to film a simple documentary about a protector of rare eggs and visit his mother at his childhood home. The small town once bustling with tourists, is now quiet and eerily vacant. The grim history of the town and its infamous hometown serial killer has made the town notorious. The man’s girlfriend and filmmaking partner wants to take the town’s controversial, dark past and use it as the new subject of their documentary. I did not predict where this one ended up, but it was a pleasant surprise (the twist itself was not so pleasant). This episode has the classic, dark ironic twist that Black Mirror has become renowned for. Well acted and executed episode all around.
This one has a cool, unique feel akin to a grindhouse film at times. The story follows an unremarkable department store shoe sales assistant Nida (Anjana Vasan). She is accidentally thrust into a mission to save humanity with the aid and encouragement of a snarky demon, but she must kill 3 people in order to stop the apocalypse.
This episode did a wonderful job of balancing comedy and drama. Nida is relatable and I found myself rooting for her and invested in her well being. Nida’s amateur demon confidante Gaap (Paapa Essiedu) is pretty damn likable too, especially for being a novice demon who’s still ‘learning the ropes’ of demonry.
This episode felt disconnected from the rest of the Black Mirror Universe and lacked any significant meaning. It clocks in at 42 minutes, which is noticeably shorter than the other episodes which sometimes are closer to film length at 1:15-1:20. I will credit this episode for not stretching out longer than needed for its simple premise, but it was by far the weakest of this season.
An abusive and invasive group of paparazzi will do anything to get a lucrative photo of a young starlet who has mysteriously vanished. They quickly find out minding their own business and respecting an individual’s right to privacy would have been a better choice than getting viciously mauled by a supernatural beast.
You walk away with the morale that heartless people that use other people for their personal gain deserve what’s coming to them.
BEYOND THE SEA
This entry into the Black Mirror universe was many things: Ruthless, dark, twisted, cringy and thought provoking. Not for the faint hearted, this episode take a look at the affects of horrific personal grief and its catastrophic effect on the human mind and soul.
Two astronauts are on a multi-year mission together in space, but are able to ‘link’ to a replica of themselves created for them while still on earth. This allows them to serve their duty as astronauts, while remotely living their personal lives back on earth. One of the astronauts (Josh Hartnett) suffers a horrific loss and is forced into a state of solitude on their spaceship, when his connection to life on earth is irreparably severed. This prompts his shipmate (Aaron Paul) to generously allow him to borrow his ‘link’ to earth as a means to reclaim his sanity and recapture a sense of normalcy.
Aaron Paul, Josh Hartnett and Kata Mara all deliver memorable and heartfelt performances. My eyes were glued to the screen as the plot played out, not knowing where it this grim story would conclude. A sick, sinking feeling in my stomach is not something I actively pursue when looking for something to watch, but I must praise the undeniable talent of the writing and acting and coalescing so effectively together to incite such an ‘uncomfy’ feeling in my heart.
If you’re looking to be haunted by an episode of television, look no further than "Beyond the Sea".
Overall, if you can disregard the high bar set by previous Black Mirror, this season can be enjoyed at face value. Other than a few tongue-in-cheek references to other stories within the Black Mirror universe, the episodes can all be enjoyed a la carte without committing to the entire season or series which is a welcome benefit.