Why You Should Watch Black Mirror Season 6 in Reverse Order

Beginning with "Demon 79" and ending with "Joan Is Awful" gives Black Mirror season 6 a whole new perspective.

Salma Hayek in Black Mirror "Joan is Awful"
Photo: Netflix

This article contains spoilers for Black Mirror season 6.

First things first – as you can see from the warning above, we are about to have a quite spoilery conversation about Black Mirror season 6. If you have not watched this season yet, then you’ll just have to take our word for it – watch it in reverse order! And then come back to this article to see why we made that recommendation.

If you have already seen it and you are going to rewatch it, read on! And we will explain why we think reversing the order in which Netflix has put up season 6’s five episodes will be a better viewing experience.

The Episodes Were Written in Reverse Order

The first and simplest reason for watching this season in reverse order is a very straightforward one – that is the order in which it was written, as Charlie Brooker told us. This means there are little Easter eggs spread throughout the season that only make sense if you watch the episodes in reverse.

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For example Micheal Smart, the Nigel Farage-like politician introduced in “Demon 79,” is featured on most of the front pages of the newspapers we see in “Loch Henry,” all of which reflect the future Gaap predicted for Smart back in 1979. Smart is also the subject of a documentary Joan and Krish scroll past on faux-Netflix site Streamberry in “Joan is Awful.” None of these references have any meaning on a first viewing of the season if the viewer has not yet watched “Demon 79.”

Streamberry itself is another new addition to the Black Mirror universe. Although Netflix exists in this world and has been name-checked in both Bandersnatch and “Loch Henry,” the latter also introduces Streamberry as the company that produces Davis’s documentary. Streamberry then becomes a core part of “Joan is Awful.”

That also indicates that the two episodes set in a vaguely “current” or near-future time period actually take place in reverse order. The documentary Loch Henry: Truth Will Out is made and released over the course of the episode Loch Henry, and Joan and Krish decide not to watch it in Joan is Awful (flagging up the core idea of Loch Henry, there are too many true crime shows around, in the process). Admittedly, trying to watch Black Mirror in order is almost impossible as the timeline of its shared universe is almost incomprehensible and full of contradictions, and the other three episodes will take you from 1979 to 2006 to 1969 and then back to the future, but still, if you are a person who likes to watch things in chronological order, these two need to be reversed.

Themes and Characters Make More Sense

The themes of the season also develop more naturally if you watch these episodes in the order they were written. “Loch Henry” for example, echoes a couple of themes from “Mazey Day” and from “Demon 79.” Davis’s Black American girlfriend Pia is subject to a lot of casual racism when she visits the rural Scottish village where he grew up, and we see even more overt examples of that in the treatment Nida is subjected to in Demon 79, the 1970s setting making the racism even more overt. Racism is not central to the plot of Loch Henry, making these references seem a bit tokenistic on their own. Seen as a further development of a driving theme from Demon 79, they fit the season more smoothly.

Pia also comments that she thinks maybe if the person stealing rare eggs “looked like [her]” the police would be more keen to pursue them, referring to the numerous instances of institutional racism in the police that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement. In Mazey Day, set back in 2006 before the movement took off, Bo and Hector, both people of color, burst into a diner and beg the local cop to call for help to fight off the monster that is coming. The police officer does not attack them, but he focuses entirely on telling Bo to “calm down” before doing anything else, with the result that no one is prepared when the monster breaks in. Perhaps he would have reacted this way to anyone, but the fact that both Bo and Hector are people of color may also be one reason he does not do what they ask straight away. Again, this embeds that theme throughout the season, making the reference to it in Loch Henry (where Davis’s father is an entirely different kind of corrupt policeman) fit in with the overall themes of the season better.

Mazey Day’s focus on ruthless paparazzi photographers taking photographs of an injured or dying woman also clearly brings to mind the death of Princess Diana, which is then referenced directly in Loch Henry. Although it functions to place the episode’s backstory in the late 1990s, we knew that already, and when you watch the episodes in the Netflix order this seems to come somewhat out of nowhere, and is entirely unrelated to the episode, other than perhaps to echo the theme of public interest in other people’s deaths. If you have watched Mazey Day first and have the idea of ruthless paparazzi in your mind already, this link between the themes of Mazey Day and Loch Henry becomes much clearer and the reference fits more with the overall tone and themes of the season, rather than seeming disconnected.

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Reverse Order Leads to a Happier Ending

Watching these episodes in reverse is also a bit more of an uplifting experience, if we look at how each episode ends. Black Mirror is notorious for downbeat, shocking, or depressing endings, but its bittersweet endings are often more powerful. Watched in order, season 6 starts us off with an almost entirely happy ending; like season 4’s “Hang the DJ,” the only slight bitterness in what is otherwise almost saccharine it is so happy, is that countless digital copies of people have been wiped out of existence, which is pretty dark if we consider them to be sentient. But Source Joan is certainly much happier by the end.

Then we get a very downbeat ending to Loch Henry, tempered only slightly by the fact at least Daniel Portman’s Stuart is happy; then a shocking, horrifying and utterly miserable ending to “Beyond the Sea,” quite possibly the darkest and most miserable the show has ever done (which is saying something); then another dark and miserable ending to Mazey Day, and finally the worlds ends in Demon 79. Or it doesn’t, but either way something dark is going on at the end of this episode, though at least Nida seems to be happy.

Reverse that order, and you get a strange/bittersweet ending (Demon 79) followed by two very dark ones (Mazey Day and Beyond the Sea), then a fairly dark one (Loch Henry), and finally a (mostly) happy one (Joan is Awful). Perhaps some fans crave a bit of darkness and gloom in their Black Mirror endings, and we’re certainly glad the season ends with Demon 79 rather than Beyond the Sea. But we can’t help feeling that we will walk away in a more cheerful mood from a season that ends on Joan is Awful rather than one that opens up fresh anxieties about the ever-present threat of World War III on the horizon by showing us nuclear annihilation.

Reverse Order Becomes More ‘Black Mirror’

The most important reason of all, though, is that as Brooker himself acknowledges, “the series got more Black Mirror as it went along.” Demon 79 started out as an episode for a new series, not part of the Black Mirror universe at all. Even in the final version, it is clearly different; it has a whole new branding, its opening titles proclaiming it a “Red Mirror” production. Mazey Day is also a different type of episode than most of the run of Black Mirror, as it is unambiguously a fantastical, supernatural story (as opposed to Demon 79, which could possibly be happening in Nida’s imagination rather than in reality).

Beyond the Sea brings us much more into typical Black Mirror territory, but with the period setting making it stand out – before season 6, only the interactive special Bandersnatch has been set in the past. Then we get to Loch Henry, which has some similarities with season 4’s “Crocodile” and even uses the original setting for that episode (which was changed from Scotland to Iceland) and is fairly classic Black Mirror material.

Finally Joan is Awful is pure Black Mirror, its concept easily reflecting a basic idea of “what if phones but too much?” It features people living inside a computer, the dangers of technology, and it even manages the show’s fastest-ever prediction of something that was about to hit the news, as it was written and filmed just before the release of ChatGPT brought the idea of AI writing television shows into everybody’s consciousness.

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You can understand Netflix’s thought process in deciding on this episode order. After a long four-year break, they wanted to ease audiences in with an episode that was familiar, that gave them exactly what they expected, to reassure them that Black Mirror was back, especially as reactions to season 5 had been a bit lackluster. Follow that up with another familiar story, then place Beyond the Sea in the middle. That episode is the centerpiece of the season either way. Its length, distinctive period setting, and miserable ending makes the middle of the season the perfect slot for it, as the two episodes beforehand can ease the viewer in, while the two afterwards offer a palate cleanser.

Then comes Mazey Day. Brooker told us that he thought about keeping the “Red Mirror” branding in place for that one. Presumably he and Netflix decided against that idea in the end because they wanted to surprise and shock viewers with this extremely unexpected twist – no one, prior to season 6, was going into an episode of Black Mirror expecting a werewolf story.

But this is where we think the choice really falls down. Mazey Day has not been especially well received, because this twist was not satisfying for viewers. It’s commonly said among writers that the genre of a book, show, or film is a promise to the reader or viewer. If something is sold as a romance, they are promised a love story. If it is fantasy, they are promised something magical or fantastical. If it is horror, they are promised something scary.

Black Mirror, although an anthology show with a variety of types of story, is basically a techno-horror with science fiction elements. By veering into outright fantasy, Mazey Day breaks the promise to viewers built up over five seasons, that what they are watching could plausibly happen at some point in our future.

If the episodes had been listed in the order they were written, Mazey Day would have been better received – not a classic, perhaps, but not the disappointment many viewers felt it was. Watch Demon 79 first, with its “Red Mirror” branding, and you can see a story that is obviously trying something a bit different as the introduction to this new, long-awaited series. Mazey Day then comes as far less of a nonsensical shock, because the existence of Demon 79 has you primed for the possibility of something paranormal happening (and, even better, put the “Red Mirror” branding on that one too). Beyond the Sea stays where it is, bridging the gap between two period pieces with supernatural elements and two near-contemporary, typical Black Mirror episodes by being a much more typical Black Mirror episode, but with another period setting. Then you can finish off the season with Loch Henry and Joan is Awful, bringing you back into the world of Black Mirror that you have been missing for the past four years. That’s what we will be doing when we re-watch this season.

All five episodes of Black Mirror season 6 are available to stream on Netflix now.

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