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Movies & TV

15th Jun 2023

Ranking the new Black Mirror episodes from worst to best

Rory Cashin

Black Mirror

Five new episodes of Black Mirror have been added to Netflix this week.

Season six of Black Mirror has landed on Netflix today, bringing the first collection of new episodes for the series since June 2019. While the anthology show usually gives us a group of unconnected stories with a sci-fi twinge, the new season breaks away from that formula by featuring some episodes with zero sci-fi elements whatsoever.

Netflix have actually issued a specific set of spoiler-free requests for each episode, so instead of going too deep into the plot for any of them, we’re going to rank the five new episodes from worst to best. Starting with…

5. DEMON 79

Who is involved? Director: Toby Haynes (Andor, Sherlock). Cast: Anjana Vasan, Paapa Essiedu.

Set in the UK in (you guessed it) 1979, we’re introduced to Nida (Vasan), a quiet, lonely sales assistant in an upmarket fashion store, who is put upon by her co-workers, her boss, her customers… pretty much everyone. One day, she crosses paths with Gaap (Essiedu), who informs her that if she doesn’t commit some truly terrible crimes, it will bring about a much bigger disaster.

Yes, it is basically the same plot as M. Night Shyamalan’s recent thriller Knock At The Cabin, but given a retro-ish remix. There are some interesting background parallels between the story’s setting and today’s biggest concerns – the rise of the far right, fear of Russia-induced apocalypse – but the main story is just waaaaayyyy too slight and flimsy. It isn’t funny enough or scary enough, and while it is far from the worst Black Mirror episode ever – Season 4’s Black Museum probably still holds that title – it may well go down as the show’s most forgettable.

4. BEYOND THE SEA

Who is involved? Director: John Crowley (Intermission, Brooklyn). Cast: Aaron Paul, Josh Hartnett, Kate Mara, Rory Culkin.

Sometimes, we get Black Mirror episodes that have a very interesting set-up, but can’t quite stick the landing. In the case of Beyond The Sea, it feels like the episode is setting up three or four different episodes, and the ending has a very tough time tying them all together.

In an alternative version of 1969, two astronauts (Paul and Hartnett) on a mysterious mission in space are still able to spend time on Earth and with their families back home thanks to robotic surrogates that they can connect their brains too even from millions of miles away. When things take the inevitable Black Mirror’y twist, there were so many potentially awesome avenues to take this particular story. Despite uniformly great performances, it is a shame that Charlie Brooker landed on the least interesting avenue.

3. MAZEY DAY

Who is involved? Director: Uta Briesewitz (Stranger Things, Orange is the New Black). Cast: Zazie Beetz, Clara Rugaard, Danny Ramirez.

Set at the height of the paparazzi problem in Hollywood, one young starlet (Rugaard) has gone into a self-imposed isolation following a hit-and-run incident. With a $30,000 price tag on a single snap of her up for grabs, some photographers (Beetz, Ramirez) go to extraordinary lengths to get the pic of the actress.

Much like Demon 79, there is no specific sci-fi angle to this story, and it takes a while for the penny to drop to figure out exactly what kind of story Mazey Day is trying to tell. There is a complete lack of subtlety on display here – paparazzi’s are treated like assassins, but with cameras instead of sniper rifles – but once the episode’s true colours are revealed, it does become pretty good.

2. LOCH HENRY

Who is involved? Director: Sam Miller (Daredevil, Luther). Cast: Samuel Blenkin, Myha’la Herrold, Daniel Portman, John Hannah, Monica Dolan.

There are two episodes in the new collection that are basically taking aim at Netflix itself, which is fairly ballsy. In this world, Netflix is known as Streamberry, but it has the same TUDUM! opening music and graphics design, and in Loch Henry, it delves into the aftermath of those tell-all crime documentaries that we all consume en masse. Yes, the salacious details are engrossing and riveting, but how often do we forget that this was actually people’s lives we’re now watching in hour-long digestible blocks?

Blenkin and Herrold are great as two young documentary makers who unearth a horrendous, decades-old murder mystery in their own small home town – there are initially some shades of the Sophie Toscan du Plantier documentaries to be found here – before things start to twist and tangle into something much, much worse. For them. But much more entertaining for us.

1. JOAN IS AWFUL

Who is involved? Director: Ally Pankiw (The Great, Feel Good). Cast: Annie Murphy, Salma Hayek, Michael Cera, Himesh Patel, Rob Delaney, Ben Barnes.

Another attack via the streaming service you’re using to watch the episode, Joan Is Awful asks “How would you feel if Netflix made a series out of your life?” Sure, initially, it might sound kind of cool, but really… would you want all of your friends, families, lovers, enemies, co-workers, strangers you ignore on the street… all of them knowing your inner most thoughts, your sexual fantasies, your private DMs to or about them…? No. No you wouldn’t.

That is what happens when Joan (Murphy) comes home one day to find Salma Hayek is playing a version of her in a brand new Streamberry show… and the nightmare has only just begun for her. A darkly funny existential nightmare, Joan Is Awful ranks among Nosedive and USS Callister as some of the most nightmarishly fun episodes of Black Mirror to date.

All of season six of Black Mirror, as well as the five previous seasons and the interactive movie Bandersnatch, are available to stream on Netflix right now.

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