Black Mirror: Demon 79
June 18, 2023 8:04 AM - Season 6, Episode 5 - Subscribe

Northern England, 1979. A meek sales assistant is told she must commit terrible acts to prevent disaster.
posted by ellieBOA (30 comments total)
Black Mirror Looks Back [Vulture (spoilers for whole season 6) / Archive]
posted by ellieBOA at 8:22 AM on June 18, 2023

This was actually the first full season of Black Mirror I’ve ever seen, I really enjoyed it so think I will watch season 5 next!
posted by ellieBOA at 8:23 AM on June 18, 2023

"Bright Eyes" is a pretty creepy song, even in the original context of the Black Rabbit of Inle.
posted by SPrintF at 10:53 AM on June 18, 2023 [1 favorite]

I think they should have placed this in 1983 rather than 1979 — specifically September 26th.

I could have sworn that the other night I thought I'd discovered a very trenchant bit of commentary by this episode, but I just can't recall what that was.

Somewhat less trenchant, but also interesting, is how her decision is so unapologetically in-our-face, very much like the ending of the excellent 1991 film "The Rapture" written and directed by Michael Tolkin. (Never posted to FanFare — I should get on that.)

It's like, fuck your rules and the horse they rode in on, I ain't killing this guy.

Which I would applaud, as I did with something similar in the Tolkin film, but the problem is that it's apparently justified to kill a guy who's already served time for killing his wife, and an innocent eyewitness, but killing a secret Nazi who will otherwise go on to lead Britain into atrocities is a bridge too far. (I'm fine with killing the pedophile.)

Oh, I just remembered what it was I'd forgotten I'd thought of earlier — if we don't accept that her choice in the end was the truly moral choice (which is to say we're Kantian and not utilitarian), and that it was the wrong decision, then basically Booker is saying we should always execute fascists whenever possible. Or else really bad shit is gonna happen. That's a message I can get behind!
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:06 PM on June 18, 2023 [4 favorites]

I wonder whether Gaap's Bobby Farrell white suit, and incorporate cheerleading is an allusion to Randall and Hopkirk Deceased. Probably not, but I like to reach a bit in my commentary.

(I could probably watch a reboot of Randall and Hopkirk with this combo, tbh.)
posted by Grangousier at 2:49 PM on June 18, 2023 [2 favorites]

“(which is to say we're Kantian and not utilitarian)”

I wrote that opposite to my intended meaning. Her choice is correct according to Kant, really incorrect by utilitarian reckoning.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:18 PM on June 18, 2023

It may be an artefact of consuming too much pop culture at a formative Gen-X age, but my first thought when Boney M appeared on Nida’s TV screen was, “Hey, that’s not Bobby Farrell.” No, as it turns out, it was an affable demon.

I’m not sure anyone has ever produced any fiction that hinges on Bobby Farrell dying on a December 30 in St Petersburg, just as Grigori Rasputin had done 94 years earlier.

Between the last episode and this one, Black Mirror seems to have shifted gears from what-if-phones-but-more to full-on urban fantasy.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:27 PM on June 18, 2023 [1 favorite]

killing a secret Nazi who will otherwise go on to lead Britain into atrocities is a bridge too far

I didn’t get this from the episode? It seemed to me that Nida would have killed Smart had Len the Cop not shown up and stopped her. She didn’t choose not to kill Smart, Len physically intervened. She admitted to Gaap that she failed and was fully expecting the apocalypse to happen at midnight—but she never claimed that she chose this outcome due to her morals.

Anyway, if I felt like “Mazey Day” was unusual for opening the door to fantasy elements in Black Mirror, this episode kicked the door right off its hinges. I’m just sorry that an episode set in 1979 precludes dunking on Netflix Streamberry. (Soundtrack kicked ass, though.)
posted by ejs at 7:30 PM on June 18, 2023 [3 favorites]

“It seemed to me that Nida would have killed Smart had Len the Cop not shown up and stopped her. She didn’t choose not to kill Smart, Len physically intervened.”

Really? I was certain she had the opportunity before and after he arrived. I'll watch the scene again right now...

...well, it's ambiguous. She tries three times (crash, two hammer blows) before the detective gets there, which bolsters your view, but on the other hand he's unarmed, she asks him if he's a good man while she's keeping him at bay with the hammer, and then she voluntarily lowers the hammer at his urging. He didn't precisely prevent her. Either reading is valid!

And I think that makes sense in that her actions were most likely a combination of the two factors — his presence and her reluctance to kill the detective, not the Conservative politician who was a Nazi (but I repeat myself). That's the part I missed. So it was her morals, in part — she thought she'd found the perfect solution in the Nazi and so was especially unwilling to kill the cop, which ironically would have been enough alone. Unless he's killed someone, which would have been hilarious.

BTW, I'm not convinced I've never seen this actor play a late-20th century British detective in a UK police drama because he's as much a late-20th century British detective in a UK police drama as is humanly possible.

I'm not going to check because I prefer to believe he's played this character in everything like this I've ever watched.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:00 PM on June 18, 2023 [3 favorites]

Felt like the best episode was saved for last!
posted by porpoise at 9:19 PM on June 18, 2023

I didn't love this episode. I think it didn't help that I was watching this in between looking after a poorly child, but a few things bothered me.

Why doesn't Nida have anyone else in her life? Not a relative or a friend. I understand that her mother presumably died but has she really not managed to make a relationship with anyone other than her awful coworkers? This matters quite a bit as it leaves her unable to discuss her situation with anyone.

What is Nida's faith? I wouldn't normally be too fussed that a story doesn't tell me, but here she meets a literal demon and doesn't even have a conversation about theology.

The reason these things bug me is I guess a cumulative case from other stories in this and other stories. Brooker is constantly doing this, refusing to explain details which the audience will naturally be curious about.

The thing that threw me off with this story is that it has the whole set up of demonic corruption, which had me expecting some sort of twist in the deal. That's just kind of standard issue for this sort of story, and would have made more sense of the narrative for me too. Like, taking the story on its own terms, how can this be a corruption narrative? You can't really say you are corrupting someone when they entered a deal unknowingly, and the consequences of them not doing terrible acts is the end of the fricking world! Do the demons want the apocalypse to happen? Presumably not.. so why is that the consequence anyway? From a corruption point of view it would have made more sense if Nida's life was on the line, or better yet, someone she cared about. But for the latter to be the case, Nida would have to care about literally anyone.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 11:29 PM on June 18, 2023 [1 favorite]

This was my favorite of the season, though I wish it had remembered more often it was supposed to be a trashy horror film.

It wasn't great but I was laughing at the plot contriving to get the red-jacketed red-car driving Nida out to kill the Conservatives to save the universe. And yeah, she should have done it.
posted by fleacircus at 4:30 AM on June 19, 2023 [3 favorites]

Well, I suppose this episode season confirms that despite occasional winks and nudges, the entire show is not set in a single continuity. I am fairly sure that having lifelike telepresence-operated androids in 1969 would have changed the course of later history a bit, and a nuclear holocaust a decade later would have been mentioned by someone at some point.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:47 AM on June 19, 2023 [1 favorite]

This episode was specifically called out as being "Red Mirror" which might imply a new way for the show to aim for more supernatural epsiodes. I guess this one was unique in that it really wasn't about technology at all; even Mazey Day had a through line there.

I will say that in most Black Mirror episodes there's a lot to like. I think the period portrayal was great, and the overwhelming casual racism was very well depicted; along with the threat of figures like Smart.

I think most Black Mirror episodes tend to hit a bit of a wall for me where I end up thinking about them too much and I'm not sure they actually hold up properly. That is I think I am thinking past where Brooker thought. Sometimes I think he writes for a startling image and doesn't really consider the internal story logic, or the thematic through line which underpins it.

I found this with bandersnatch too. It really frustrated me with that that each ending was completely disconnected from one another; in that they were now mutually compatible with one another. Choose your own adventure doesn't actually normally do that; you can't take the left door and find a demon, and the right door and find a robot. Maybe there was some purpose for that, but to me it left me feeling a bit confused as to what the show actually was saying.

I found power in lots of individual moments in Black Mirror, I just don't know if they always add up to something complete.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 5:00 AM on June 19, 2023 [3 favorites]

BTW, I'm not convinced I've never seen this actor play a late-20th century British detective in a UK police drama because he's as much a late-20th century British detective in a UK police drama as is humanly possible.

This is hilarious to me because I know this actor from Misfits, in which he plays a terrifying, completely horrible social worker.
posted by ejs at 10:25 PM on June 19, 2023 [2 favorites]

I was mostly not liking this until the very end. Whatever the underlying point, I desperately didn't want her to be going through all this for nothing. It seemed like she was already going through a lot. She was already dealing with micro and macro racism. She was already so very alone. Then they were going to make her a crazy murderer which the far right groups would certainly use to further their cause.

What was the deal with the politician and the terrible coworker shoe lady? Did he hypnotize her?
posted by mokeydraws at 6:53 AM on June 20, 2023 [1 favorite]

I feel like he was charismatic and hinting at being just as racist as the National Front, but with the popularity of the Conservatives behind him so she knew he had more chance of winning.
posted by ellieBOA at 7:27 AM on June 20, 2023 [8 favorites]

That brief shot of the dog from "Metalhead" when Nida saw the conservative politician's future...
posted by yoHighness at 12:53 AM on June 21, 2023 [4 favorites]

Paapa Essiedu Can’t Stop [Inverse]
posted by ellieBOA at 6:35 AM on June 22, 2023

I had two ideas about how this would end. Neither of them turned out to be true, but I still like them both.

First: once it emerged that Michael Smart had not been killed by driving his car straight into a tree, and as Nida started to beat him with a hammer, for a fraction of a second I was convinced that he would turn out to be immortal, or nearly so, and Boney M’s “Rasputin” would reprise behind a montage of Nida trying to kill him through increasingly elaborate means.

Second: after Smart’s murder was thwarted, as Nida looked at the clock and dreaded the impending stroke of midnight, I was convinced that she’d be bailed out of having caused Armageddon in some sort of slapstick way. I thought back to when her co-worker barked at her to get a size 11, and she said “stool’s there — do it yourself!” and walked out. I wondered if said co-worker had stood on the stool to grab shoes from a high shelf and had some sort of fatal accident, and if Nida would get credit for having murdered her.

Anyway, I enjoyed the parts that were inspired by The Dead Zone and the portrayal of what it must’ve been like to be brown in Britain on the cusp of Thatcherism, but this wasn’t really satisfying for me. The fact that she kills three guys and only finds out later that one of them doesn’t count — even though she did what Gaap told her to — made me roll my eyes. I know that with a supernatural plot like this I’m supposed to suspend disbelief and just go with the contrivance, but it’s easier to do that when they don’t change the rules in the middle of the episode. It felt like someone from oblivion really wanted to cause an apocalypse but wanted not to be the one held responsible for it.

And I’d forgive even that if I thought there were a larger point, but I’m not seeing it. Ivan’s invocation of “Rapture” upthread is apt — that’s an awful movie that I’ll never watch again, but its best scene is its very last one, and the stark moral choice that the protagonist makes is pretty much the reason that Ebert gave it a good review. By contrast, I don’t think that Nida was acting as a Kantian or as a utilitarian as the cop talked her down; I think she was just tired.

The weight of humanity has been put on her shoulders, yet the lives around her that hang in the balance are the same ones voting for cryptofascists and calling her food “ethnic.” She accepts Gaap’s offer at the end because it’s better than dying; but I think that, with an edit and maybe a couple new lines in one or two scenes, this episode could really sell the idea that Nida decides that the world isn’t worth saving, and can at least take comfort that all of the things that cause her daily microaggressions are about to be vaporized along with everything else.
posted by savetheclocktower at 12:33 AM on June 23, 2023 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I like that version. Certainly the world she lived her life within didn't deserve to be saved.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:12 AM on June 23, 2023

With the exception of episode 3 I loved this season. It’s like Booker had been trundling down the motorway and suddenly realised there was nothing stopping him taking the next exit and driving a completely different route, flicking the v’s at Netflix in his rear view mirror.

This episode was so well cast. Yes, the detective has indeed played several British TV detectives in his time :). I think it’s worth noting that he played a slightly heart breaking role in It’s a Sin too, which everyone should absolutely watch if you haven’t already done so.
posted by chill at 2:07 PM on June 30, 2023 [1 favorite]

Brooker! Brooker!

tay! tay! arghurgle
posted by flabdablet at 3:18 PM on July 2, 2023 [2 favorites]

The weird thing is I never called him Booker till I started reading these threads! Like, I’ve been a fan for > 20 years :)
posted by chill at 6:06 AM on July 3, 2023 [1 favorite]

brook him, danno, murder one
posted by flabdablet at 6:11 AM on July 3, 2023

The actor who played Gaap was a full on delight. Would love to see him in more stuff.
posted by Julnyes at 10:25 AM on July 20, 2023

BTW, I'm not convinced I've never seen this actor play a late-20th century British detective in a UK police drama because he's as much a late-20th century British detective in a UK police drama as is humanly possible.

Well I couldn't resist looking him up. He's played at least two DCs and one DI previously.
posted by biffa at 3:31 PM on July 21, 2023 [1 favorite]

I thought this was easily the sharpest scripted BM for a long time. Some excellent dialogue, and great delivery from Paapa Essiedu as Gaap particularly. Liked the 'getting his wings' line particularly, esp given the Boney M costume.
posted by biffa at 3:35 PM on July 21, 2023

Yeah, I like that version. Certainly the world she lived her life within didn't deserve to be saved.

What I choose to believe is that (a) in the cosmology of Black Mirror, the multiverse is real (e.g., "Bandersnatch"), and (b) the dog from "Metalhead" in Nida's vision implied that this Earth would have ended in the apocalypse seen in "Metalhead," and (c) most of the Black Mirror episodes take place in this continuity, and (d) Nira bringing on the apocalypse in 1979 means most of Black Mirror didn't happen, making her, frankly, an overwhelmingly positive force in the multiverse, perhaps even a savior figure. Now let's move on to Red Mirror.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:42 PM on August 4, 2023 [1 favorite]

...a nuclear holocaust a decade later would have been mentioned by someone at some point.

Don't mention the war.
posted by fairmettle at 12:40 PM on December 28, 2023

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