Black Mirror season 6’s Beyond the Sea plays out like a classic science fiction story that strikes not with technological mishaps but with the most basic and primitive of human emotions. The episode follows two astronauts in an alternative 1969, where technology has made it possible for them to visit their homes and families through a body replica while still being posted up in space. With a limited set of characters and no unnecessary divisions whatsoever, Beyond the Sea is a treat to watch and contemplate on.
Who Are Cliff And David?
Beyond the Sea begins with David Ross spending loving time with his family on the birthday of his youngest son, Ricky. The four members head to a cinema theater next, where a young couple recognizes David and comes to talk to him. It is apparent from this conversation that David is a renowned astronaut who is involved in an important space mission. On the other side, Cliff Stanfield is also an astronaut involved in the same space mission, but unlike David, who still lives in a big city, Cliff has recently moved to a new house near a small town quite far from any metropolis. Cliff has also brought his wife Lana and their young son Henry to the house, most likely to get away from the public eye.
The real reason behind this is directly linked to the space mission, for as it turns out, both David and Cliff were actually still in space during all this time. The alternative 1969 that has been presented shows technology to be capable enough to basically transport the consciences of David and Cliff into replica bodies that had been made of them on Earth before the mission began. These replica bodies are kept at the men’s respective houses on Earth, and when they do not have any specific task at hand aboard the space shuttle that they are on, David and Cliff can easily return to these bodies and spend time with their families. The process of going through such a transformation is also shown soon, as the men have to insert their respective tags into consoles, which make them unconscious and transfer their consciences back into the replica bodies on Earth.
Because of this new technological experimentation, this specific space mission has gained quite a bit of popularity among the masses, and therefore David Ross and Cliff Stanfield are easily recognizable men. While David is fine with such popularity, even though his wife is sometimes disturbed by the excitement of his fans, Cliff mostly wants to avoid this and has therefore moved to his new home far away from people with any interest in space research.
What Happens With David’s Family?
One night, while at his house on Earth, David hears loud noises coming from downstairs and naturally goes to check. To his horror, the man sees that four men and women have broken into his house, and they are clearly looking for him. The intruders belong to a cult of sorts that believes that human civilization should be restricted to everything natural and conventional. Therefore, the new technology that allowed David to essentially be present both in space and at his home on Earth was an absolute abomination. The cultists had come to David’s house in order to send a message to enemies and followers alike that such unnatural practices should be stopped, and the practitioners punished. Although David tries to put up a fight, he is outnumbered, and soon the cultists cut off his arm to check whether he has any blood inside. As the body is basically that of the replica, there is indeed no blood inside, and this further outrages the intruders. They now get hold of David’s wife and children, too, and mercilessly kill them right in front of the man’s eyes. The cultists also murder David’s replica, which means that the man can never return to Earth anymore. Since the space program had only been for two years, with four more years still left, this meant that David would remain restricted in space and, in all probability, lose his mind.
How Does Cliff Want To Help David?
After the violent murders at David Ross’s house, the matter is reported in the news and becomes quite a headline. The cultists also surrendered at a police station immediately after committing the crime, making it evident that their only purpose was to kill the man and his family and send a message to the public. David’s situation in space cannot be helped, though, as the man now has no way to return to Earth, and he even has to watch his family’s funeral through a video feed. The only way that the administration could create a body replica was when the astronauts were on Earth, and therefore, no second replica could also be made for him. David evidently starts to lose grip over his mind and situation as he spends most of the time alone in the space shuttle, while Cliff still visits his family.
Cliff had been growing concerned about his partner’s situation for quite some time before finally becoming quite alarmed on one particular occasion. While at home with his family, Cliff gets an emergency alert on the wristwatch reminder that monitors the status of the space shuttle, and he immediately returns to his original body. He then finds David about to open the airlock of the spacecraft without any gear at all and manages to stop the man in time. Although David had not yet done anything so drastic, Cliff believed that the man was developing suicidal tendencies and that he might just jump out of the shuttle into open space one day. Along with being genuinely concerned about the man, with whom he had already spent two years, Cliff is also worried about his own safety because he is essentially still in space with David. Therefore, anything David might do on the space shuttle will also have an effect on Cliff, and if he dies in space, his replica will also obviously cease to exist.
Because of these two very important reasons, Cliff discusses a plan with his wife, Lana, about how they can help David out of his misery. Cliff decides to let David visit Earth through his key tag, meaning that David’s conscience would be transferred to Cliff’s replica body so that the man can at least enjoy being amidst nature, even if not among his family. When presented with the plan, David also agrees to it and is quite thankful to Cliff for suggesting it. On his first visit back to Earth, David makes acquaintance with Lana and, upon his return, draws a picture of the house. Cliff is impressed by this drawing, and when David admits that drawing and painting work like therapy for him, the man comes up with a new plan. Once again discussing it with Lana, Cliff allows David to visit his house for one hour every week so that he can make a grand painting of the house.
What Does David Gradually Want From His Visits To Earth?
The plot from this point onwards in Beyond the Sea bends more towards a romantic drama than any science fiction thriller. As David starts to visit Earth in the form of Cliff, Lana gradually starts to recognize the many differences between the man and her husband. David had always been very interested in painting and reading, and the man generally had an artistic side to him. But on the other side, Cliff was a very different man. Instead of having any interest in art or music, Cliff was more into outdoor activities and spent most of his time on Earth teaching young Henry various outdoor skills. But even though the husband was of this kind, Lana, too, always had an interest in art, music, and books. Most of her lonely time at the house, away from any modern civilization, was spent reading books, and despite her wish to have parties at their house and make acquaintances with neighbors, Cliff did not approve of it. Once David and Lana start to develop feelings for each other, David eventually falls deeply in love with the woman. Cliff questions when and how this happened.
But in reality, this had been just a gradual process, aided by various other factors pertaining to how Cliff was with Lana. From the very beginning of Beyond the Sea, Cliff and Lana’s relationship seemed to have some uneasy distance, and the two were never as expressive or loving as David and his wife. We later get to know that Cliff and Lana had not been physically involved with each other for a long time, possibly ever since their son Henry was born. For some unmentioned reason, Lana had been just a means to give birth to a son for Cliff, and once that purpose was fulfilled, the two did not have any other bond. When David finally professes his love to Lana, she does push him away and shows her anger for what he has just done, but as she herself later admits, Lana did also wish that something had indeed happened between her and David. Unlike Cliff, who was really like an empty shell of a human being and did not even understand or register Lana and her desires, David felt very real to her. From buying her a book to teaching her to paint, the man acknowledged Lana’s passions in a shorter time than her husband did.
When the bookseller in the nearby town asked David, in the body replica of Cliff, and Lana whether they were a couple, and the woman answered that they were, Lana perhaps, even for a moment, wanted to believe the lie. But nonetheless, she also registers a difference between having feelings and actually committing adultery, and so she pulls herself away from David. The woman does not report any of this to her husband and instead tries to get David stopped from coming anymore, probably because she still somewhat yearns that something happened between them. There is finally no chance left when Cliff discovers the nude sketches of Lana among David’s belongings. Knowing well that the man used to draw from memory, he confronts Lana about what had happened between them. But as Lana admits that there had really been nothing, it seems like David had used his imagination this time around and not memory like in the other times. This confrontation also makes Cliff understand what effect his detached behavior was having on his wife, and the man finally apologizes to Lana. Their embrace suggests that Cliff is determined to change his ways, but then, like the necessary evil in a sad love story, a sinister plan is in the works.
Why Does David Kill Lana and Henry? Is David Dead Too?
Ever since the plot in Beyond the Sea had turned towards David and Lana’s impossible romance, a sinister ending, or attempt by David, was surely in the works. David had already changed into a quieter and more reclusive man after the death of his family, possibly even having more dark thoughts than before. When his desire to express love for Lana also fails, and then Cliff has an angry spat with him regarding it, it can be felt that David is slowly pushing towards the edge of sanity. The fact that Cliff talks about Lana almost as a possession of his that nobody else can ever have or even dare to have also irks David. The man pleads to see Lana one last time, saying that Cliff can never understand his helpless situation and cannot fathom what it means to lose every loved one. But Cliff denies this chance, further stating that Lana was only his. There could have been a number of things that David could have done out of rage, but he chose possibly the worst one.
David does not kill or harm Cliff, but instead uses the man’s tag for one last time after he fakes an urgent repair to be made on the shuttle’s body. As Cliff goes to make the repair and has to leave all metal items, including his tag, behind, David returns to Lana for one last time. But the man now murders the innocent and helpless Lana and Henry in an evil desire to make Cliff realize how he felt. When Cliff returns inside the shuttle, he immediately realizes that something has happened, and upon returning to his replica body, he stumbles upon the bloody scene.
Still completely shocked, Cliff then returns to the space shuttle, where David points him towards a chair and asks him to sit down, signifying how the two men were now in the very same situation—without any of their loved ones and with no reason to return to Earth. The grief and anguish of having lost his own family had finally totally engulfed David, turning him vengeful and hateful against any other loving family around. It is possible that Cliff confronts David and kills him following this, or that Cliff loses all hope and motivation and instead just passively co-exists with David. We are not made part of those possibilities anymore, though, as Beyond the Sea ends with a shot panning away from the lonely space shuttle in the dark, empty space.