Why Black Mirror Season 6 Is So Toothless: A Theory

Joan in a cheerleader unform in church

About five years ago, a little site called 25 Years Later, which had started to cover the return of Twin Peaks, and which I read as a fan of the same, decided that they would continue beyond the end of that series and begin to cover other TV. I responded to a call for writers, with a pitch to work through each episode of Black Mirror, and I did. And I proceeded to cover each new episode since, until Season 6, when I decided to let some others get in on the fun.

I suppose I say all of this to try and demonstrate my bona fides as a fan of Black Mirror before I proceed to seriously question the merit of this most recent season. I’m not writing this as someone who’s a casual fan of the show; I’m writing as someone who has thought a lot about it. And while I of course like some episodes better than others, I’ve never found myself tempted to say an episode wasn’t worth watching… until Season 6.

A young woman looks frightened in the Black Mirror Season 6 trailer

That’s not a blanket claim I’m making, to be clear! I think that “Joan Is Awful” manages to present some compelling problems worth thinking about. “Beyond the Sea” is a fundamentally well-put-together entry, with some superb acting, and I enjoyed it. “Demon 79” is a lot of fun. “Loch Henry” almost comes close to hitting on a critique of our obsession with true crime, and though it fails you could still fruitfully think about what it might have been. “Mazey Day” is the only one I really don’t think is worth anyone’s time.

Yet, even in its best moments, I couldn’t help but feel like something was off about this season of Black Mirror. It never quite felt like I was watching the show I love. Perhaps part of this relates to the settings we’re given: “Beyond the Sea” is in an alternate 1969; “Demon 79” is set in 1979; “Mazey Day” is set in 2006; “Loch Henry” would seem to be present day, but the location is remote enough that phones don’t work. Only “Joan Is Awful” feels like it’s exploring our contemporary relationship with technology, and even that one kind of sidelines questions about the tech involved.

Two people sit at a bar with an open laptop displaying Joan is Awful on Streamberry

As I watched all of these episodes, I found myself working on a thesis that I feel a certain hesitancy about presenting, which is either fitting or ironic because it’s a thesis about the same kind of hesitancy on the part of Black Mirror’s creators: I think that fundamentally they were afraid to truly grapple with the problems of our post-COVID world because they didn’t want to give fodder to forces they oppose.

And neither do I. That’s the last thing I want to do. But it would be dishonest to suggest that nothing in the past few years has presented dystopian possibilities. Indeed, it was all too common in 2020 to see someone suggesting that we were living in a Black Mirror episode, and Charlie Brooker himself said things along these lines.

More precisely, he suggested that no one wanted new Black Mirror during such distressing times because it certainly wasn’t going to make anyone feel better. And while I can’t disagree with the latter part of that sentiment, I’ve always disagreed with the first part. Black Mirror has never been about making us feel better. It’s been about making us feel worse, but in significant ways.

Liam and his wife sit in chairs

And that’s the thing. Nothing about Season 6 feels significant. Even “Joan Is Awful,” which I think is the closest this season comes to feeling like proper Black Mirror, largely feels like it’s telling us things we already know. Yes, we’re at constant risk of being taken up and taken over by forces of representation beyond our control, and it’s terrifying, but it’s not for nothing that I actually read someone on Reddit saying they would just go about their business and trust the show would be very boring. The episode is good, but it doesn’t cut you.

Nothing in Black Mirror Season 6 does damage. Nothing makes us question ourselves like the best entries in the series have done. “White Bear” and “Black Museum” interrogated our desire for retribution. “The Entire History of You” explored how jealousy and paranoia could be ramped up by technological innovation. “USS Callister” and “San Junipero,” along with “White Christmas,” made us ask whether copies of ourselves could fit the bill of being persons. “Smithereens” and “Hated in the Nation” interrogated dark possibilities in relation to social media. And so on and so forth.

Lacie holds a microphone as smeared mascara covers her cheeks

What does any episode in Black Mirror Season 6 do, when it comes down to it? Maybe “Joan Is Awful” asks us to examine our relationship with “content,” and maybe “Loch Henry” hits that point a bit too, but it feels more like a wink than a punch in the gut.

“Beyond the Sea” gives us a nice retro-futuristic story that almost manages to hit on something about jealousy and toxic masculinity, but doesn’t quite do that. It doesn’t quite explore the motivations of the cult it presents, whose anti-technological ideology might have been interesting to examine, and it doesn’t show us the violence. You might claim it didn’t need to, but the fact remains that I wanted the episode to punch me in the gut harder and it held back.

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

“Demon 79” ends up feeling almost too smart for itself. It fails to give us a murder that would have felt catharitic and just. It could have examined the aftermath of that and the uncertainty of its overall premise, but instead it tells us its premise was real, the world ends, and that’s OK I guess?

“Mazey Day” presents an incredibly tired argument against paparazzi, doubles down on it, and then just ends.

Mazey Day looks upwards, sweaty

And what is going on with the sudden addition of supernatural elements to Black Mirror? A demon? A werewolf? All of this might be fine if the surrounding context felt sufficiently in line with the spirit of the series, but it truly does not. If you’re trying to tell yourself this is all good Black Mirror, you’re deluding yourself. It might be good enough TV, but it’s not what we should expect from this series.

Everything feels toothless because it is. Maybe that’s because Charlie Brooker fundamentally ran out of ideas. But I think it might be because he was afraid to explore the ideas that our world presents right now in an honest way.

Aaron Paul looks at his hand, which has been shaking

I hesitate to give examples of things Black Mirror might have explored because I think I share that fear, but surely there are things that could have been mined from thoughts about biometrics, working from home, or the fear of others brought on by the pandemic.

If Black Mirror isn’t going to interrogate aspects of our contemporary world by pushing them into spaces that make us deeply uncomfortable, then I’m not sure what it’s doing. Whether from the kind of fear I suggest—which I sympathize with—or for other reasons, Season 6 just doesn’t feel like what this show is supposed to be.

If you want to make a show about demons and werewolves, that’s cool I guess. I like Supernatural as much as the next guy. But Black Mirror is supposed to make me feel bad about myself. It’s supposed to make me feel bad about being human. So if you’re tempted to come at me for what I’m saying here, just ask yourself: did any of these episodes do that?

And if you think they did, lay it out for me in the comments.

Written by Caemeron Crain

Caemeron Crain is Executive Editor of TV Obsessive. He struggles with authority, including his own.

Caesar non est supra grammaticos


Leave a Reply
  1. its quite simple – after a Hiatus, and huge demand, the creators felt they needed to change the format to be even more relevant and shocking. what they missed was that the first installments were so ahead of their time and contemporaries, they could have done a great job for the viewers by continuing the same style. if it aint broke etc… listen – i absolutely adored the first Black Mirror but season six is desperate on behalf of the writers and actors – so overacted it was cringy – with A listers which might tell us something ! and the plots were lacking. i have no pleasure in writing this but have to be honest – a huge disappointment. and thats because how much the other seasons were so impressive

    • I agree Season 6 is terrible, but to be honest Black Mirror has been declining in quality since Season 4. It’s lile Game of Thrones. Everyone agrees Season 8 was garbage, but they don’t want to aknowledge the show went downhill since Season 5.

  2. No lies were told in this article. Signed, a die hard fan that was so disappointed with this season, he went back and rewatched the Miley Cryus episode from season 5 and enjoyed it the second time around.

      • “As I watched all of these episodes, I found myself working on a thesis that I feel a certain hesitancy about presenting, which is either fitting or ironic because it’s a thesis about the same kind of hesitancy on the part of Black Mirror’s creators: I think that fundamentally they were afraid to truly grapple with the problems of our post-COVID world because they didn’t want to give fodder to forces they oppose.”
        Boy I’d love to know what this means. Can the words even be spoken or will evil forces weaponize them?

        • Haha, use your imagination! I can’t say I had anything super specific in mind; it’s just a thought that surely you could mine Black Mirror premises from things pertaining to the pandemic and the response to it, but I think they didn’t want to. The season just feels a bit divorced from contemporary problems, with the exception of the AI/Netflix episode

    • I did the same. watched the episode with the social ratings system only to prove to a friend that it used to be a fantastic show

  3. Charlie Brooker was on Radio 6 the other day – he mentioned the change in tone for the series was because he’d grown out of trying to make people feel bad. I think he was successful in his ambition for S6, even if it doesn’t match his earlier seasons. Still way better than S5’s attempt in my opinion.

  4. your review word for word describes how I exactly feel after watching this disappointing season. This isn’t black mirror. I can watch much more suitable shows like X files for supernatural, true crime stories for cheap thrills, shock factor etc etc. But black mirror has a special place in my heart and a premium night time slot on my tv for that unique one of a kind contemporary hour of experiencing a dystopian world where everything seems over the top but regardless invokes a very real fear in me somewhere that it could truly be our future. There was so much to explore this season, specially right after the world experienced a once in a century type event where stuff of fiction or imagination actually came true and thus our minds were opened up to wild possibilities of fictional events manifesting in real life even more. This was their chance to cash in on the aftershock of covid and expand and stretch their imagination so wild that the show could truly imprint on it’s fans a feeling that there was never gonna be a show made like this again (what X files did in the 90s, TWD did for the zombie and GOT did for the fantasy genre). That was my expectation this season but I would have honestly been happy even with their usual dose of technology gone extreme. But what I didn’t expect at all was them to lose the original plot completely and go completely ordinary and very oddly venture into the supernatural category and not even do it justice (the werewolf episode ending was laughable at best). They had so many topics left to explore that would have been wonderful additions to the already impressive collection of episodes so far, like wfh isolation followed by social anxiety of resuming normal life, the 5G controversy and mass hysteria arising from a covid like situation co-enabled by social media, AI that is currently having its moment (chatgpt), governments controlling populations using covid like situations through lockdowns tactics, imposing identification measures etc etc. there you go. there’s 5 episodes I would have loved to watch.

    and I don’t agree people were too depressed post covid to watch this. no. the show makers just got that wrong. I think people are generally happy it’s over and wasn’t the stuff of nightmares that it could have been, and BM could have nailed it further. Fans would relate even more to these kind of topics now more than ever having witnessed an almost fantastical concept being played out live.

    Such a lost opportunity

    • yup, you’re right.. my guess is he got a warning perhaps? idk, more and more nowadays, we all are punished for speaking the truth, even a comment like yours, could get a mob of angry narcissistic clones, the false keepers of ‘moral’ justice are everywhere now.. it’s awful, may we ARE in the latest black mirror episode after all..

  5. Couldnt agree more with what was said here. The episodes werent even bad (in fact most were good) but it wasn’t what I wanted from a Black Mirror experience. It felt diluted and safe. The Supernatural elements felt out of place, if you want to dabble in that fine, but don’t put them in a Black Mirror series. I’m afraid the show is officially dead.

  6. Well, I’m not going to repeat what was in the article or the longer comments but just say I too found the latest season fairly lackluster.
    I wasn’t sure if I was just being pretentious or expecting too much from Charlie but most of the episodes seemed fairly formulaic and lacking anything surprising. I actually found myself trying to think back and remember Charlie from episodes of “How TV ruined your life” if he’d discussed the tropes and stereotypes being used in the episode instead of paying attention to the episode that much 😬.
    Anyway, thanks to Caemeron and the commenters for confirming that other fans aren’t that impressed with season 6 too.

  7. I could not agree with you more! For true Black Mirror fans season six was such a huge disappointment. The storylines ranged from okayish to the downright mediocre. The Ukraine-Russian war, COVID-19, aliens … they had so much fodder out there they could have used to tell more interesting stories

  8. I was definitely disappointed in this season. It gave me more of a Twilight Zone vibe than Black Mirror- although that isn’t exactly an accurate comparison either. I understand they mentioned wanting to change the direction of the show, but at that point they could have just created a new show. I felt like they put a generic product in a name brand box.

  9. I was consistently surprised to see Charlie Brooker named as writer after each episode. It would have made more sense to me that the whole season was written by chat gpt.

  10. Shard, I’ll use your comment to create some type of slow burning conspiracy theory in my mind to make myself feel better about this whole situation. Thank you.

  11. I agree! I was late to Black Mirror and binged 1-4, then 5 and watched 6 after release. I thought that maybe the fact that I binged watch 4 seasons and then season 5 not long after that my perception was screwed up. I could barely make myself finish season 6. There was nothing that kept me thinking about it. I felt no attachment for any of the characters.

    It’s like they thought of an off the wall idea and used filler to get to that point rather than build up to that point. The werewolf episode was the absolute worst. The filmmakers was next. It seemed more like a quick cash grab to go out with one last bang than a well thought out season.

  12. I’m really really hoping that the whole Season 6 is one whole big ploy to throw us off and in a few days they’ll surprise us somehow in ways we can’t imagine and make us all feel crap for ever doubting the series has lost it’s ways.

    Now THAT would be Black Mirror Black Mirroring!

  13. Black Mirror started to suck with the 5th season. The darkness was gone. Season 6 is hurried up cheap Twilight Zone crap. Unfortunately the ride seems to be over now. Now there really is no more reason to keep Net(woke)flix.

  14. I agree Season 6 is terrible, but to be honest Black Mirror has been declining in quality since Season 4. It’s lile Game of Thrones. Everyone agrees Season 8 was garbage, but they don’t want to aknowledge the show went downhill since Season 5.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *