TV Series

FIRST LOOK: Black Mirror (Season 6)

Jun 15, 2023
Dimitris Passas

Created by Charlie Brooker, one of the most eminent contemporary prophets of a dystopian future who has been even hailed by some as "the Philip K Dick of Generation Binge" (THE TELEGRAPH), Black Mirror returns on screen for its latest -sixth- season and Brooker sets the tone even from the first episode, titled "Joan is Awful". The story featured involves a substantial meta-level element as it concerns the modern ills of the current reality in television productions as generated by the majestic streaming platforms. However, the episode and the show in itself is a product of those platforms as it is distributed by Netflix with the screenplay making direct references to the massive provider and producer, only changing its name: Netflix becomes "Streamberry" in the show's fictional universe and the kinship between the two are more than conspicuous in terms of user interface and exact font while there is also the classic double-knock at the beginning of each title, leaving the audience in no doubt regarding for whom the bell tolls. "Joan is Awful" aspires to be a commentary as well as an apical satire on the insatiable hunger of the TV producers for their -proliferating- content to engage an ever-growing part of the audience utilizing Artificial Intelligence algorithms and the use of quantum computers that offer the opportunity to tailor a new production to the lives of the subscribers. This episode is also a sad reminder that we ought to read the fine print when we so flippantly agree to the terms and conditions of companies such as Netflix.

Brooker has stated that it's the Internet that is using us, not the other way around, and that “the more personalised any online service appears to be, the less it thinks of you as a person.” (NATIONAL WORLD), a remark that embroiders Black Mirror with a rich and fertile subtext that becomes further explained and analyzed during each season. In order to make his point clear, the creator of the show and screenwriter of this episode chooses to employ a hellish what-if scenario and builds upon it an in parts humorous, in parts brooding story centered around an average woman, Joan, who finds herself in a bizarre predicament: her life, with all its micromanagement and trivial interplay, has become the screenplay of a new show, the titular "Joan is Awful", that is nothing else than a disturbingly accurate dramatization of her life. After the initial shock, the protagonist sees everything around her beginning to crumble: she gets dumped by her humdrum boyfriend, gets fired from her job as, due to the show's airing, and she is perceived to have violated the NDA that she has signed with her firm. She rushes to her lawyer to find a legal way to address the issue but she hits a brick wall as she is explicitly told that there is nothing that she could do as she has already agreed to cede some fundamental rights to "Streamberry".

What ensues is a development that remains light in its tone, a rare occurrence for a show which has established a reputation for its cynical, pessimistic, and even misanthropic approach to its main themes. The same applies to the finale that lacks the trademark tragic facet and provides a hint of optimism, always within the confines of "this ominous tech-savvy world" that the characters inhabit. The director, Ally Pankiw, takes us on a trip down memory lane as "Joan is Awful" is, in some ways reminiscent of the series premiere back in 2011, the unsettling and irksome "The National Anthem" as in both cases "Brooker is able to address viewers' questions in a timely fashion" (DEN OF GEEK). It is indeed a highly topical story, as one of the prime demands of the 2023 Writers Guild of America strike concerns the ban of the use of AI for writing and rewriting source material. It is a matter of a wide debate whether the developments in Artificial Intelligence writing will turn out to be a valuable tool for the writers, or if it will signify their permanent riddance from their jobs. In a keen observation, Alec Bojalad writes: "Joan Is Awful isn’t a commentary on how reality in our modern era resembles an episode of Black Mirror. It’s more of a commentary on how reality has always resembled an episode of Black Mirror but now none of us can shut up about it because the algorithms have reduced us to the same SEO-friendly talking points over and over again."

Annie Murphy and Salma Hayek are a treat to watch in their respective roles of Joan, the real and the fictional one as we are led to believe until the ending that introduces a well-placed and effective plot twist that turns the story on its head. I won't say anything more regarding this as it would spoil the fun. The first episode of the sixth cycle of Black Mirror incorporates several themes as well as various moods in the right doses, and the final result is an episode that stands out from the majority of the others in the series. From what I read around the Internet, things are about to take a rather grim turn in the following four episodes of this season, so beware. Brooker's intention regarding this first part "isn’t so much biting the hand that feeds so much as he is firmly planting a stick of dynamite in it." A solid choice in the recent Netflix catalog, and it can be watched even by those, such as myself, who are not familiar with the show as a whole.


Black Mirror (Season 6)
Episode 1: "Joan is Awful"
TV Series
Charlie Brooker
Ally Pankiw
Written by
Charlie Brooker
Annie Murphy, Salma Hayek, Avi Nash, Michael Cera, Kayla Lorette
Production Companies
Zeppotron Channel 4 Television Corporation (for) Babieka Banijay Entertainment Broke and Bones Gran Babieka (Canary Islands) House Of Tomorrow
60 min

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