It’s a cross between The Twilight Zone and Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected but focused entirely on the (perverse) relationship between humans and technology. Thus, back in 2011, Black Mirror (Netflix) was born. It came exactly when the world had begun to accelerate. Social media already existed, the connected planet was becoming a global village by leaps and bounds, and reality had begun to fragment, to atomize, to become completely unreal, a mere individual bubble and, therefore, unrecognizable to anyone other than oneself. Its role was to warn us, like any self-respecting science fiction classic, that we were not on the right track. Rather, that we should be careful with what we had wished for and had finally got, because the consequences could be terrifying.
As time — and Black Mirror’s successive seasons — went by, the battlefield was opened and adapted to another world whose seemingly infinite possibilities only made the paths that could be mistakenly followed infinite as well. From the dangers of being able to record your whole life and not keep a single secret (The Entire History of You), to self-exploitation (Fifteen Million Merits) and pre-written destiny (Hang the DJ). There was also room for consolation and a deepening of what makes us human, and what technology can enhance. There’s the classic San Junipero, about life after death that allows the protagonists to fall in love in a limbo where they are free at last. Beyond the Sea, the most painfully complex episode of this sixth season, plays in that league.
In Beyond the Sea, a pair of astronauts working in space — in charge of a ship, thousands of miles from Earth — are able to return home when there’s nothing to do up there thanks to a pair of robots that look exactly like them. Their consciousness travels, their bodies do not. The receptacle — that mechanical other self — is one of the most compelling and useful applications of the “human” robot concept that has ever existed in speculative fiction. The thing is that one of the astronauts is a cultured man, a painter who loves life, and his family; the other is a man in some sense repressed, unhappy, and controlling. Something happens with the result that both have to use the same body and return to a single family and the reflection on what society has made of you as a man is terrifying, and at the same time, paradoxically, enlightening.
But it’s a small island in this sixth season in which the world we live in is turning so fast and that, imaginatively speaking, there is no place that is too far away for fiction to go to anticipate anything. Because everything is already here. Although the epic first episode,Joan is awful, tries. What happens is that the bubble we live in becomes — like the protagonist Joan’s — our own TV series, thanks to the use of the data that we blithely hand over to all kinds of corporations. And to streaming platforms like Netflix, which here alerts viewers to itself in a curious metafiction that shoots in the same direction as the third season classic Nosedive, where the protagonist’s life depended on the likes she got.
What’s fascinating about this sixth season is that with suspicion, intelligence, and a certain disorientation, it recedes into something akin to obscurity. The episode wisely directed by Toby Haynes, Demon 79, completely abandons the future and plunges into a past that unfortunately contains a lot of present. Because what technological excess has caused is exactly a return to a completely ancestral type of belief that does not go through the rational but — like the populist message of the conservative, ultra-right-wing leader who dazzles submissive voters — appeals to the frightened and rabid animal within us. The demon asking for executions acts as a crude hoax, something to believe in when everything is faltering, and what we want speaks directly to us, and asks only one thing of us.
Loch Henry, a dark episode about a ghost town and a serial killer (and the truth thrown up by the true crime documentary filmed in it) manages to make it clear that what we really are is in that which cannot be manipulated. The videotapes show a past in which the private existed, and even thought it may have been horrible, it existed. This gives a us clue to as to where Black Mirror wants us to look in order to avoid the noisy and confusing present in which the future has ceased to exist. The appearance of a female werewolf (in the episode of pure fantasy, Mazey Day) affects the same idea, that the excess of noise — all those opportunities — only stokes the desire to end it all, that is to say, an inevitable degeneration of consciousness.
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