Black Mirror season 6 review: Charlie Brooker takes a risk and it definitely pays off
Black Mirror still has the mind-bending tech, but Brooker proves that leaning into crime and horror is just as terrifying.
Warning: this article contains minor spoilers for Black Mirror season 6.
After four long years, Black Mirror is back – five new episodes and five more opportunities to be completely terrified and entertained in equal measure.
Once again, fans of the Netflix series have to leave their reservations at the door and strap in for the wild ride that these five episodes take you on because, trust me, they really do.
The series has long been commended for its near psychic abilities at being able to foreshadow the future, hold up a mirror to our bleak realities and highlight the dangers (and some joys) of advanced technology. But this time round, the rule book is being thrown out the window by series creator Charlie Brooker.
Instead of solely relying on the 'traditional' Black Mirror tropes, Brooker is weaving in the chilling worlds of crime and horror, as well as going back to the past rather than solely relying on the timeframe of the ambiguous present or future. The result? Episodes that make this era of Black Mirror feel like the reset that Brooker has confessed to his series needing.
Without the lure of high-tech, glossy new systems and inventions that will make you gawk and wince in equal measure, this series could have very well fallen flat. While those things are present in some of the episodes, there are also some that have no sadistic technological advancement present.
Instead, Brooker does what he does best in these episodes and leans into the things that make Black Mirror excellent in the first place – asking the viewer what the worst possible thing imaginable could be. And then, more often than not, flipping that idea on its head for an even worse outcome.
Each of these episodes is so vastly different in subject matter, theme, tone and setting that they take you on a journey where you really have no idea what could be coming next.
Previous standout episodes like San Junipero, Shut Up and Dance and White Bear are all so perfect because they lead the viewer down a certain path just to flip the script partway through. Season 6 feels like it's home to more than a couple of those types of memorable episodes.
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Most interestingly, the season opens with Joan Is Awful, an episode which is sure to strike up polarising reactions because for the first time, Black Mirror is taking the overtly comedic route rather than honing in on the bleak.
Sure, the episode is slightly depressing when you take a step back to think about your own streaming habits and the voyeurism of it all. But the meta way it's explored via fictional (but not-so fictional) streaming service, Streamberry, is quite hilarious.
We'd expect nothing less from an episode led by Schitt's Creek's Annie Murphy, but Salma Hayek Pinault is just as funny in this too – especially in one Bridesmaids-esque scene involving burgers, a church and a cheerleading costume.
The star-studded episode will encourage you, in typical Black Mirror fashion, to vigorously scour any kinds of terms and conditions you've too quickly agreed to, but also think about the way that many women – no matter what they do – are cause for public scrutiny and ridicule.
Loch Henry feels like a one-off Scottish crime drama that would happily find a home on any terrestrial channel, but it's framed around the boom of true crime documentaries that streamers like Netflix are known for.
When an age-old case is being explored by young Davis (Samuel Blenkin), Pia (Myha'la Herrold) and Davis's terribly hilarious friend Stuart (Daniel Portman), they find out more than they bargained for. The episode examines our morbid curiosity in dark subject matter, but also asks at what cost the most successful true crime productions come.
Stripping itself back to the technology we all know and remember – like VHS tapes and recorders – Loch Henry delights in the chilling and will almost certainly leave you reeling afterwards. While the rollercoaster nature of this episode is part of its charm, its only downfall is perhaps how quickly things unfold in the final moments of the generally slow-burning episode.
The Josh Hartnett and Aaron Paul-led Beyond the Sea is just as terrifying. Speaking for myself, I'm over seeing the pandemic played out on TV but here, the feelings of isolation and nigh-on desperation are feelings that most viewers will be able to recognise after the past few years.
Aside from the fancy tech, this episode tackles some of the meatiest human emotions of the season, making for a compelling and frightening watch that underlines how not everything is as clear-cut as good versus evil.
It's after episode 3 that this season really does take more of an archetypal horror turn, with Mazey Day examining the '00s relationship with paparazzi and pop culture. Zazie Beetz excels at bringing the human element that carries this episode along, even though she makes a questionable living from, essentially, being invasive.
The twist in this episode is a treat, but it does certainly require the viewer to reframe their thinking of this story and its genre in a major way.
Finally, under the new label of Red Mirror, Brooker develops a story firmly set in the past and in the horror world with Demon 79. While the psychological undertones of it feel very much like the series we all know and love, it almost sits as a companion piece to Black Mirror.
Once more, this episode, like Joan Is Awful, will likely drum up mixed reactions because it can often feel like it's not part of the series fans have adored for years. But what's the fun in creating an acclaimed dystopian series if not to bend the rules a little?
While season 6 has been billed as "the most unpredictable, unclassifiable and unexpected yet" by Netflix, you won't know which way these episodes are going to turn until you watch them for yourself. Once again, Brooker and new executive producer Jessica Rhoades have created stories with depth, human emotion, philosophy and psychology at their core.
There aren't only talking points aplenty here, but also a necessary stripping down of the series. It shows that Black Mirror continues to be excellent, chilling and thought-provoking because of the writing behind it, not just the futuristic inventions it's employed throughout previous seasons.
It also shows that taking a risk once in a while pays off – and season 6 is simply a testament of that fact.
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