‘Black Mirror’ Season 6 Review: Ranking the New Episodes from Best to Worst

A guide to which episodes of the new season you need to stream, and which you can skip.

Aaron Paul in “Beyond the Sea,” Episode 3 of Black Mirror Season 6. Nick Wall/Netflix

Charlie Brooker’s twisty, twisted anthology series has returned to Netflix (NFLX) for Season 6. Black Mirror has long made a name for itself as a sci-fi show with clever, sometimes scary, observations on the state of our society amidst endless technological advancements, but this season sees a few ventures into the supernatural—with mixed results. The concern of several of the season’s best episodes isn’t scary tech gone wild, but how we’ve allowed ourselves to be consumed and dehumanized by that which we choose to amuse ourselves with. It marks a meta shift for the series in how it addresses its viewer, and it’s a change for the better. 

All five new episodes of Black Mirror are ranked and reviewed below, starting with the stories you can’t miss.

Kate Mara and Aaron Paul in “Beyond the Sea.” Nick Wall/Netflix

1.) Episode 3: “Beyond the Sea”

Black Mirror is at its best not when it drops its characters in worlds with unprecedented technological risks, but when it uses its sci-fi premises to tell deeply human stories. “Beyond the Sea” fits that brief, as it focuses on Cliff (Aaron Paul) and David (Josh Hartnett), two men on a space mission in a futuristic 1969. Both are able to return to their lives on Earth thanks to robotic replicas that they can upload themselves into, but when an unexpected tragedy hits David and his replica, Cliff and his wife Lana (Kate Mara) agree to let the grieving man take a spin in Cliff’s body.

While the circumstances that lead to the plot are a tad outlandish and rapidly lose relevance, the body-swapping story is the main event. It brings three adults and their own heartbreaks together, serving as a meditation on loss, toxic masculinity, and the terminal ennui of being a mid-century housewife. Paul pulls double duty, deftly distinguishing his portrayals of Cliff and David and crafting a clear emotional journey for each, and Mara is more than game to juggle her character’s complicated relationship with her husband and his colleague. It’s not an episode about deep space or robots or the danger they present; it’s about a difficult marriage and a man experiencing near-insurmountable grief. “Beyond the Sea” does succumb to an overly schlocky ending (not every episode needs an insane twist, Charlie!), but it offers a disquieting finish to a heartbreaking episode.

Samuel Blenkin and Myha’la Herrold in “Loch Henry.” Courtesy of Netflix Media Center

2.) Episode 2: “Loch Henry”

“Loch Henry” gets deep into the heart of our obsession with true crime, as young filmmaker Davis (Samuel Blenkin) and his girlfriend Pia (Myha’la Herrold) go to his small Scottish hometown with the intention of making an impactful nature documentary, only for girlfriend Pia to find an opportunity in the local lore about a series of sordid murders. Naturally, it’s hardly a case closed kind of situation, and they uncover secrets that bring them dangerously close to the crimes.

The episode bounces back and forth between a mildly ironic appreciation of the true crime genre and a condemnation of it. While Davis and Pia work on their film, the audience is treated to a mixed media affair, from filmed re-enactments to old news reels to police evidence. The processes of shooting, digitizing, and editing are shown in a montage that understands the passion and excitement behind these projects, but it also demonstrates the kind of sheen that true crime plasters over tragedy. These stories are the bread and butter of many streamers, a point that Black Mirror is cognizant of (at one point, to the question, “What was that Netflix thing? About the guy who killed women?” Pia knowingly responds, “Maybe narrow that down”). The episode’s big twist may be easy to spot, but it does lead to a genuinely tense sequence that holds up against any slasher favorite (although it ends a bit anticlimactically). In the end, “Loch Henry” gives true crime lovers plenty to chew on, both as a self-contained story and a warning about the personal costs of these tales.

Paapa Essiedu in “Demon 79.” Nick Wall/Netflix

3.) Episode 5: “Demon 79”

The more successful of this season’s supernatural episodes follows mild-mannered retail worker Nida (Anjana Vasan) as she falls into a deal with the devil—rather, a deal with Gaap, a well-dressed demon played with all the charm in the underworld by Paapa Essiedu. The year is 1979, racist, fascist politics are on the rise in Britain, and Nida’s fellow townspeople are happy to trod on her as one of the few brown people around. As the microaggressions build, so too does Nida’s own suppressed anger towards the perpetrators. 

The episode is a good time, albeit not one you’d expect from Black Mirror. Elements of ‘70s slashers make their way in to add some genre flare, from the opening titles to a grainy camera to some throwback prosthetic gore. It doesn’t fully commit to that kind of fun, and it certainly gets bogged down by its 74-minute runtime, but Vasan and Essiedu make for this season’s most watchable pair. The episode doesn’t provide a message through these two figures so much as a twisted sense of catharsis, which is a refreshing choice. 

Annie Murphy in “Joan is Awful.” Nick Wall/Netflix

4.) Episode 1: “Joan is Awful”

“Joan is Awful” follows a fairly simple conceit (for Black Mirror, that is): what if you saw your life playing out before you on TV? For Joan (Annie Murphy), what starts as a confusing recommendation on Streamberry (a cheeky Netflix analog) soon consumes her whole life—mostly because it’s showing her whole life, from risky text exchanges to her therapy session. Despite having the honor of being played by Salma Hayek in the TV version of her life, Joan find her reputation quickly begins to deteriorate, as does her concept of privacy and autonomy.

Ultimately, the episode works on quite a few meta levels, dealing with the sanctity of cinema in an industry rife with AI and algorithms. The winks at Netflix feel a bit self-satisfied (Black Mirror is one of the streamer’s biggest shows, after all), but “Joan is Awful” does make good points about the state of streaming. Murphy nails her character’s mounting anxiety, and the few interactions she has with Hayek are a treat. That said, the episode escalates a little too quickly, making for a wonky internal logic in a show that loves to embrace the farfetched, and the final twist feels more than a little labored. A few bonkers set pieces and the star-studded cast certainly make this the season’s big draw, but it doesn’t quite live up to that standard.

Zazie Beetz in “Mazey Day.” Courtesy of Netflix Media Center

5.) Episode 4: “Mazey Day

“Mazey Day” is a notable departure for Black Mirror. For one, it’s a period piece that takes place in 2006 (we hear an announcement over the radio about Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ first child). It doesn’t introduce any novel gadgets, just a reluctant paparazzo (Zazie Beetz) who makes a living snapping shots of Hollywood’s most wanted. When starlet Mazey Day (Clara Rugaard) goes all but missing, she’s offered a payday she can’t refuse to get a picture of the actress. What follows is a bout of stalking that would surprise even the likes of Britney Spears.

The fact that the episode takes place in a period of celebrity culture we’d all like to forget tees it up to be something great, but unfortunately that potential goes unrealized. Beetz plays a woman who fully understands the parasitic nature of her career path, but her nuanced work gets trampled over by a truly baffling twist that lacks both suspense and a genuine sense of horror. What seems like a thinly drawn metaphor about fame completely falls apart, and it sticks out like a sore thumb amongst the rest of the episodes. In the end, “Mazey Day” is a bad B-movie—and not the fun kind.

‘Black Mirror’ Season 6 Review: Ranking the New Episodes from Best to Worst