Black Mirror: “Beyond the Sea” Recap and Review

Cliff walks through the door.
Screenshot / Netflix

The following recap and review contains spoilers for Black Mirror, “Beyond the Sea” (written by Charlie Brooker and directed by John Crowley)

“Beyond the Sea” is one of five episodes just released as part of Season 6 of Black Mirror. This was the first episode I chose to watch as the description piqued my interest. I love a good retro-futuristic setting and I thought perhaps I would get some Hello Tomorrow! vibes.

The opening shows David (Josh Hartnett) sitting on his couch across from his children. The daughter seems annoyed that she has to sit there, but as we see, David is drawing their portrait and they need to be still. I knew right off the bat that David would be an unlikeable character. Something about his demeanor and posture just screamed D-Bag. Even his kids seemed not to enjoy his company.

He goes about his day with his wife and kids. While in a movie theater, a couple sitting a few rows back point and giggle, clearly interested in David. The couple stops David and his wife as they exit the theater. They appear starstruck and ask if he’s really “up there” asleep right now. So there was the first clue that the David we see is not what he appears.

David sits on the couch while his wife stand behind him.
Screenshot / Netflix

Simultaneously, we get a glimpse into Cliff (Aaron Paul) and his family as they move through their day. Cliff’s life seems much calmer and frankly pretty boring in comparison to David’s. He chops wood outside while his son watches and later goes inside and tells his wife, Lana (Kate Mara), that their son wants to know when dinner is. She says she can start making it and walks off quietly. Her facial expression looked sad. It made me question their relationship. Was she scared? Was she bored? It was hard to guess at first.

The differences between both men and their families were pretty obvious throughout. David seems to enjoy the attention of the public, whereas Cliff wears a hat to shield his face when having to go out. David has a large more modern home. Cliff has an old farmhouse with minimal decor. Let’s not forget David fingerbanged his wife midway through their slow dance. Cliff on the other hand barely looks at his.

David and Cliff tell their wives they have to go as their wristbands have alarms going off. The men lie in what looks like a dentist’s chair and next thing you know they are waking up on a ship up in space. Turns out the men on Earth are just mechanical replicas of the actual men on the ship. In space, they can link themselves to their replicas while asleep.

They seem to only “return” to the ship for brief periods. They do physicals for about an hour and go over some space jargon before calling it a day and returning to their replicas down below.

David returns to his replica and is in bed with his sleeping wife. He hears a noise and goes downstairs to investigate. That’s when he sees a group of people in his living room. The leader (Rory Culkin) spews some nonsense about how David’s replica is an abomination and so forth. His movements, attitudes, and followers were almost certainly based on Charles Manson and his followers. The whole scene had a Sharon Tate-type feel to it. This part is where David’s love of being a celebrity bites him in the ass. The cult ties David up and makes him watch as they murder his wife and kids. Then to make it worse, they destroy his replica. Perhaps if he had kept more to himself as Cliff does, the cult wouldn’t have known who he was and where he lived.

Back in space he wakes and is understandably distraught. Cliff hears about the murders while on Earth and pops back up into space to check on David. As time goes on David goes into a depression and at one point appears like he may be thinking of suicide. If he dies, it becomes a huge problem. As Cliff explains to his wife, it is a two-man mission, and each man serves a purpose on that ship. David is the computer guy which I assume is a vital part of making sure the ship stays course and nothing malfunctions.

Lana suggests letting David link to Cliff’s replica just so that he can walk in the forest and breathe some fresh air. Cliff reluctantly agrees and David is thrilled. On Earth, David essentially has a breakdown in front of Lana. Feeling bad or maybe just needing another person’s touch, she cradles David and consoles him as he lets it all out.

A close up of Lana
Screenshot / Netflix

At that point, I thought I had it all figured out. I was wrong of course, but I figured since Lana was so lonely and her husband never showed any interest in intimacy, she would be easily seduced by David. David being distraught over the loss of his family would naturally become close to the woman showing him kindness. Then, they would find a way to make sure Cliff couldn’t link back up.


I’m not sure if David fell in love with Lana or if it was purely just a desire to be close to another person, but he eventually becomes infatuated with her. It looked like she may have felt something for him at first, but my thoughts are that because he looked like her husband, it was more of her getting lost in the idea that her “husband” was more attentive. Once David gets handsy, that bubble of hers bursts and she is angry with him for confusing her.

I’m not sure why she didn’t tell Cliff immediately, but her keeping it to herself was part of the reason David was still able to link with Cliff’s replica again. This is when Cliff finds drawings of his wife nude in David’s room.

Maybe it’s because I’m just a viewer observing the whole picture, but I don’t understand how Cliff couldn’t see how unstable David was becoming. Once he confronts David, he makes a point to rub it in David’s face that Lana could never be his. I mean the dude lost his whole family, that alone will make someone lose their shit. Then to aggressively take away the only person who made him feel OK again was just asking for trouble.

Cliff has every right to be angry, but using his own words that it is a two-man ship, he should have realized anything could have happened at that moment. What if David killed him? What if David was so distraught that he killed himself? There had to be a better way to handle it, but then again David might have been unhinged long before his family died. It seemed he was a little narcissistic.

David doesn’t take the confrontation well and begs Cliff to link up again so that he can apologize to Lana. Cliff makes it clear that it is never going to happen. I knew all hell would break loose after that. And so it did.

After tricking Cliff into believing there was a mechanical issue outside of the ship, David uses the time to link up to the replica. He gets back to the ship in time to open the hatch for Cliff. Cliff notices that the stage he uses to link to his replica is missing. David pulls it from his pocket and hands it back. There is a slight smugness on his face and Cliff knows immediately that David did something to his family. After returning to Earth and finding his family murdered, he goes back to the ship. David kicks out a chair for him and they live unhappily ever after, I suppose.

Both men made decisions that would lead to the death of their families. Had David not been so keen to be noticed and admired, then it’s likely his family would still be around. If Cliff had been more attentive to his wife and listened to her concerns early on, then it’s possible she would have kept her distance from David and he wouldn’t have gotten his signals crossed. His obsession may have never happened.

Black Mirror usually doesn’t disappoint me and this episode was no exception. I enjoyed guessing what would happen next and was pleasantly surprised that my hunches were wrong. Aaron Paul did a great job. His demeanor and speech changed when David was using his body, and it definitely matched up to Josh Hartnett’s character.

Speaking of Josh, it was cool to see him in something mainstream again. It was also puzzling to see he hasn’t aged in 20 years. I would have liked to see more of the cult and understand why they did what they did, as well as why Cliff was so distant from his wife. I think it would’ve added to the narrative, but I was satisfied nonetheless. Now it’s on to the next.

Written by Felicia Nickens

Lover of television, film, & the macabre.

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