Netflix billed the sixth season of Black Mirror as the ‘most unpredictable, unclassifiable and unexpected yet’. The episode Demon 79 certainly lived up to those expectations.
Combining genre-bending black comedy with politics and supernatural horror, Demon 79 was my favourite instalment of the new season. Discover here what makes this episode so special.
(Note: this review contains spoilers)
A Supernatural Horror Set in the Past
Demon 79 is one of the best Black Mirror episodes yet. Until now, the series mostly warned of future techno-dystopias—but this episode takes us back in time, using the supernatural to tell a striking moral tale…
Set in Britain in 1979, the episode follows the trials of a meek shoe sales assistant, Nida, who faces daily racism from colleagues and the National Front and can do nothing but keep her mouth shut.
One day, having been banished to eat her ‘smelly’ biryani in the work basement, Nida happens upon a talisman in an old bureau drawer. She takes it home and is unexpectedly visited by a demon that night, which takes the form of a pop star she’d been admiring, Boney M.
The Boney-M-presenting demon, Gaap, confronts Nida with a predicament: she must kill three people in the next three days—or else the world will end in a nuclear disaster and Gaap will be banished to oblivion forever.
Gradually warming to Gaap’s sardonic charms, Nida sets on a killing spree. Although she needs persuading by Gaap at first, by her third kill, she acts for herself, resolving to target a Conservative politician whose racism she witnessed firsthand.
Brooker’s Dark Psychosocial Messages
Combining overtones of racism with Nida’s mental battles, Demon 79 adeptly covers dark societal and psychological themes in ways that we haven’t seen on Black Mirror before.
One of the most harrowing scenes is that in which Gaap gives Nida visions of the racist politician’s future: he establishes a fascist political party, warns of ‘rising seas and burning sky’, and proclaims ‘we are at war’ as the camera cuts to fires and metalhead robo-dogs.
Through this horrific montage of Britain’s future, Demon 79 hints at how a past twist of fate in the real Britain could have brought a fascist like Enoch Powell into power. If that isn’t true to Black Mirror’s dystopian roots, then we don’t know what is.
A further theme I appreciated was the episode’s critique of modern loneliness. Nida watches television alone every night and begins to have visions of a demon (whom only she can see). Perhaps Nida is slowly going mad—which would be no surprise given the solitary conditions she and so many of us live in.
Although Demon 79 doesn’t provide the futuristic dystopia we’re used to with Black Mirror, its supernatural elements channel an equally ominous message. While many modern societies are just a step away from fascism, their isolated citizens are a stone’s throw from mental collapse.
A Distinctive Dose of Dark Comedy
Bleak themes underpin Demon 79, but I appreciated that the episode isn’t heavy in tone. Creator Charlie Brooker does dark humour so well, and this episode has plenty of it.
The character Gaap, in particular, is very darkly funny. He casually calls his demonic superiors on the phone, grins at the thought of Nida’s dark impulses, and proposes that Nida kills an innocent old lady for being ‘nearly dead already’ anyway.
There are moments of light humour in the episode, too—like when Nida, angry with Gaap, turns on the car radio to Madness booming ‘One step beyond!’.
All this comedy in Demon 79 may, as some critics argue, dilute the series’ dystopian roots. But perhaps that’s what viewers need today. Our communities are divided, AI is taking over, internet addiction is rife… Maybe we’re already living in a dystopia. In that context, Demon 79 provides audiences with much-needed comic relief.
And that’s not to say the episode is spineless. The meaningful themes are still there, but just in the backseat. I like this new style of Black Mirror.
The Ending Is Unique and Refreshing
Credit must also be given to Demon 79’s ending, which is unexpected and unique.
Throughout the episode, viewers can’t help but question if Nida’s experiences are simply in her head. However, we would have been disappointed if that were the conclusion of Demon 79. Relying on mental illness as a ‘twist’ is long overdone in TV and cinema, now making for some predictable finales.
Luckily, Demon 79 doesn’t succumb to that trope. Gaap reappears to Nida inside the police station, the nuclear apocalypse ensues as promised (Nida failed at her third kill), and Gaap invites her to join him in oblivion. And so the pair hold hands and march forward as the world is obliterated around them.
I loved the mise-en-scène of these final scenes. As the world explodes, Gaap and Nida walk forth to the ethereal lyrics of Watership Down (‘Is it a kind of dream?’). I couldn’t help but draw parallels with Fight Club’s ending here, in which the protagonist couple holds hands and watches their city implode to Pixies’ ‘Where is my mind?’.
Like Fight Club’s ending, Demon 79’s apocalyptic romance is darkly gratifying and empowering. Admittedly, Nida could still be imagining everything, but the fact that it’s left open to interpretation, and we get a powerful apocalyptic love story instead, makes Demon 79 one of a kind—and we love it.
Are There Similar Episodes to Come?
With its subtle dystopian themes, brilliant dark comedy, and unarguably original ending, Demon 79 is one of my favourite Black Mirror episodes.
Notably, Charlie Brooker has hinted that, if audiences enjoy this episode like I did, a spinoff series by ‘Red Mirror’ is on the cards. He plans to expand on the elements of horror and supernatural that we saw in Demon 79.
With these ambitions, Brooker is cleverly appealing to the Zeitgeist. Supernatural- and horror-themed movies and TV are more popular than ever, and tapping into these genres might help him save face after the questionable success of Black Mirror season 5.
But, if Red Mirror does happen, Brooker must not only appeal to audiences’ obsession with horror—he must critique it. He mocked our true crime obsession in the episode Loch Henry; will he do the same for the supernatural?
Fascination with blood and gore, dissociating into fantasy worlds, and desensitization to violence are all important topics that any horror spinoff of Black Mirror should address—in order to stay self-aware and true to the franchise’s critical values.
Fortunately, Demon 79 sets a promising precedent. Darkly comical, supernatural, and full of subtle psychosocial warnings, the episode has set the tone for a new, more otherworldly era of Black Mirror—and I cannot wait for more.