Black Mirror Season 6 episode 4 review: ‘Mazey Day’ is a horror that emphasises Black Mirror’s comic instincts
Black Mirror returns to its roots in more ways than one in Mazey Day, an episode that demonstrates how flexible the anthology can - and perhaps can't - be
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This piece contains detailed and immediate spoilers for Black Mirror Season 6 episode 4, ‘Mazey Day’.
Originally, of course, Black Mirror was commissioned by Channel 4 as a comedy. The series is a lot of things, obviously, and more often than not it’s characterised mainly as a science fiction piece – understandably, given how frequently it concerns itself with imagined technologies and their potential impact. But if you look at those early episodes again, what stands out is how many of them are dark comedies first and foremost – after all, what’s the difference between a shock plot twist and an unexpected punchline?
Mazey Day feels like it returns to those roots, in more ways than one. An early reference to Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ daughter dates the episode to 2006, not just introducing its intent to engage with the early 2000s celebrity culture, but also placing it just a few years shy of Black Mirror’s own beginning, at a point when Charlie Brooker’s television writing career was just beginning. Several episodes of Black Mirror’s sixth season are period pieces, but this is the only one set in the relatively recent past – and the only one still at least nominally engaged with the media commentary that’s previously defined the series. Put another way, Mazey Day feels a little like a sort of ur-Black Mirror, the only one of the most recent season that might’ve existed in a world where Brooker conceived of Black Mirror before Dead Set.
The episode follows Bo (Zazie Beetz), a paparazzo who picks up her camera again for one last job – she left the industry after outing the one-time star of a television soap, but the promise of $30k for a picture of a missing movie star (“$40k if she looks like a junkie”) is too good to turn down in the face of mounting money troubles. Unfolding in tandem is the story of Mazey Day (Clara Rugaard), lead of a vaguely Harry Potter/Twilight-esque YA fantasy drama called The Everwish Saga; driving home from set late one night, she hits someone, and immediately leaves the scene. The guilt starts eating at her, and Mazey Day absconds from the film – hence why trashy tabloids are willing to shell out big money if Bo can get a picture of her.
After some brief detective work, Bo manages to track Mazey down to Cedarwood, a secluded holistic medical centre, completely booked up to afford its high-profile patient even greater privacy. With all the sleaziest of her former colleagues catching up to Bo as she arrives at Cedarwood, the four paparazzi break into the facility – photographing everything as they go – and find Mazey chained up and alone. Bo is horrified, and over Mazey’s slurred protests tries to free her – until the light of the full moon starts to shine through the open door, and Mazey begins to transform…
It's the first outright horror story Black Mirror has ever really done, abruptly shifting into a new register: rather than the cold hardness of a techno-paranoia thriller, it’s schlocky and gory, turning into a monster movie as quickly as… well, as Mazey contorts and transforms into a werewolf. It’s impressively directed by Uta Briesewitz, who revels in the disorientation of the sudden tonal shift, and clearly has a huge amount of fun with that new aesthetic. Mazey Day, the shortest of Black Mirror’s recent run of episodes, feels lean and taut, pared back to let it move like lightning – it’s exactly the right length, and well-paced to make sure that disorientation turns to thrills rather than the “wait… what?” that might come had the episode overstayed its welcome.
More importantly, it’s also often very funny. Part of that is part and parcel with the new horror aesthetic – a blood splatter on the camera is as goofy as it is gory, and rightly so – but it’s also clear that Brooker and Briesewitz are indulging in every opportunity for a dark joke as characters are dispatched one by one. It even ends on one grand punchline, too: in the end, a wounded Mazey passes Bo a gun and asks her to “just shoot me”. Instead, she picks up her camera, and takes a photo instead.
Of course, Mazey Day quickly loses sight of any kind of commentary on celebrity and media – very vaguely, you can read it as suggesting that media avarice makes celebrities monstrous, invasions of privacy inevitably going to lead to a trapped animal lashing out, but that’s more than a little strained – but the entertainment value alone generally makes up for that. (Which could apply elsewhere, too: perhaps The Idol might be a little more entertaining if Lily-Rose Depp’s character simply turned into a werewolf?)
Within all of that, it does raise the question again of what Black Mirror actually is in 2023, and what it should be – particularly after a four year break prompted in part by questions surrounding the series’ ongoing relevance, and here now with an episode that feels so connected to the show’s beginnings while at the same time shirking the themes and styles that have characterised the show so far. Maybe asking what Black Mirror is is needlessly reductive – it’s not a show that reflects back the world anymore, but one that reflects back whatever given thing is interesting Charlie Brooker at the moment. In this particular instance, it’s werewolves. Sure, why not.
Black Mirror Season 6 is available to stream on Netflix now. You can read more of our Black Mirror coverage here, including our reviews of the previous episode Beyond the Sea and the next episode Demon 79. You can also listen to us discuss the series in full on the most recent episode of our Screen Babble podcast.