Black Mirror Season 6 Episode 1 Recap & Review – “Joan is Awful”

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: June 15, 2023 (Last updated: June 16, 2023)
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Black Mirror Season 6 Episode 1 Recap & Review - "Joan is Awful"
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Summary

There’s a lot to enjoy about “Joan Is Awful”, including a lively performance from Salma Hayek, but it’s an utterly toothless satire.

This recap and review of Black Mirror Season 6 Episode 1, “Joan is Awful”, contains spoilers.


Any self-respecting speculative fiction that has an exclusive deal with a streaming service has something of a responsibility to satirize its host. “Joan Is Awful”, the premiere of Black Mirror Season 6, is exactly that – a withering look at Netflix specifically and streaming culture generally, taking steady aim at binge-watching and the creep of AI that threatens to reduce the creation and consumption of art into a steady stream of ones and zeroes.

The problem with “Joan Is Awful” is that it’s kicking off a season that the marketing would have us believe will “redefine what a Black Mirror episode even is.” And it doesn’t do that.

Black Mirror Season 6 Episode 1, “Joan Is Awful” Recap

The hour-long episode at least keeps its word – Joan (Annie Murphy) is indeed awful. She’s a middle manager at a hip tech firm who has no compunctions about unceremoniously firing employees and hiding from their ire behind acolytes. She laments her relationship with milquetoast Krish (Avi Nash) and longs for a return to the frisky excitement of her old beau, Mac (Rob Delaney), with whom she’s still texting and secretly meeting.

What is Streamberry?

Joan’s life is upended when she and Krish settle onto the couch to browse Streamberry – the in-universe Netflix piss-take, complete with a similar logo and identical “tudum” jingle – and discover a new series titled Joan Is Awful, in which Salma Hayek portrays Joan in a warts-and-all redo of her day, including her meeting with Mac.

Joan is furious, obviously, but there’s little she can do. She technically gave consent by agreeing to the Streamberry terms and conditions that nobody ever reads. Any embellishments that portray her as even more awful than she is constitute artistic license. And since the whole thing is developed by AI and sophisticated deep fake technology that only uses digital likenesses of actors rather than the real thing, she can’t even sue Salma Hayek.

Who is Mona Javadi?

Distraught, Joan runs into the arms of Mac, who is suddenly less interested in her now that their liaisons constitute him becoming a public figure. Joan immediately takes matters to an extreme, loading herself up on Buster Burgers – a very obvious Burger King rip-off – and laxatives. Walking into a church in the middle of a wedding, she noisily defecates in front of the attendees, with the logic that Roman Catholic Salma Hayek might take issue with her likeness being used in such a blasphemous manner.

Hayek does take issue, but she has no legal comeback either. So, she and Joan team up to take on Streamberry itself, fronted by Mona Javadi, a very obvious pastiche of Netflix’s Chief Content Officer, Bela Bejaria. Javadi is spearheading a whole wave of content developed by a quantum computer that tailors the most “relatable” content possible by packing a user’s worst fears and anxieties and keeping them suspended in a state of paralyzing existential horror.

It’s great for engagement, apparently.

Black Mirror Season 6 Episode 1 Ending Explained

Joan and Salma plan to destroy the quantum computer that Javadi keeps just down the hall, but when they bust in a boffin played by Michael Cera delivers the episode’s big twist, which is that this is a layer of the show. Joan isn’t the “source Joan”, but the level above it, a version of Joan played by Schitt’s Creek’s Annie Murphy.

Annie Murphy’s Joan takes a fire axe to the quantum computer, theorizing that, if she’s in the show, a version of these events must have already taken place, and Joan has already made the decision to destroy the computer.

It turns out she has. “Joan Is Awful” ends with Source Joan in a much better place, in terms of her career and mental health. She has much healthier relationships now. And she owns a coffee shop, where Annie Murphy calls in to see her. Both are wearing ankle bracelets signifying their house arrest.

Black Mirror Season 6 Episode 1, “Joan Is Awful” Review

The novelty of this episode is Netflix having agreed to such an obviously parodical version of itself, but after watching the hour it’s easy to see why.

Brooker’s satire here is so broad as to be utterly toothless. Aside from the embrace of AI, shady language in terms and conditions, and a brief mention of the gender pay gap, nothing is made of the very legitimate criticisms of Netflix revolving around draconian pricing models, crackdowns on password sharing, and unceremonious axing of beloved shows for nebulous reasons.

Brooker is far too sharp of a satirist – and was far too incisive a TV critic – for these omissions to be accidental. And if Netflix had even a little say in limiting how far “Joan Is Awful” was allowed to go, it can’t be considered anything other a failure.

You can stream Black Mirror Season 6 Episode 1, “Joan is Awful”, exclusively on Netflix.


Additional reading:

Netflix, Streaming Service, TV, TV Recaps
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