Like every other anthology movie or show in existence, Black Mirror’s episodes can be very hit-and-miss. Some of them turn out to be absolute masterpieces, while others end up being a flimsy take on an otherwise relevant topic. And striking that balance is becoming more and more difficult because our reality is becoming weirder than anything that Charlie Brooker and his team of writers can come up with. So, it makes sense for them to take things back to 1979 in Northern England because things were apparently “simpler” back then. However, when seen through the eyes of a timid Indian immigrant, Nida, working as a sales assistant at a shoe shop, the whole environment starts to feel incredibly toxic. Nida faces racial discrimination from her coworkers, neo-Nazis on the streets, and politicians who are trying to win votes based on their anti-immigration policies. When Nida feels she has been backed into a corner (or a basement), a demon, who takes the form of one of the members of Boney M., gives her the option to sacrifice three human beings in three days or witness the annihilation of humanity.
I don’t think anyone needs to be a real genius to know that episode 5 of Black Mirror Season 6, which is titled Demon 79, is talking about racism. Vicky, i.e., Nida’s coworker, is outwardly racist towards her as she keeps referring to her race in odd ways. She is obviously jealous of the fact that the customers prefer Nida to her but is oblivious to the reason. Due to her White privilege, Vicky doesn’t want to do any work, but she wants to get all the praise and attention. When she can’t get that, she makes Nida’s food a workplace issue. Nida’s boss doesn’t feel outwardly racist. However, he does penalize Nida instead of telling Vicky to be more accommodating or going to the basement to have her lunch if she’s that bothered by what Nida is eating. Then there are the neo-Nazi skinheads who mark Nida’s house. It’s pretty self-explanatory what they feel about anyone that isn’t White.
Finally, there’s the politician Michael Smart. He is evidently racist, but he only resorts to dog whistles. He even says that the reason he doesn’t resort to anti-immigrant rhetoric is that it’ll be perceived as uncouth behavior by the people sitting on the fence (Centrists). His subtle but not-so-subtle taunts about immigrants, though, are going to get those very people off the fence and onto his side. Going by the vision that Gaap (the demon) shows, he intends to extend these sentiments of his into violent policies. The funny thing about it is that that vision features a snippet of Metalhead. In that episode of Black Mirror, a White blonde woman was chased down by a relentless robot dog. That means, even if Smart comes to power by being racist, once he’s done with immigrants, he’s going to turn on his own people because that’s what fascists do.
Nida says that her mother used to suffer from some form of mental illness, and she feels it has been passed down to her because she is doing the bidding of a demon that cannot be perceived by anyone else. When we see through Nida’s perspective, Gaap seems to be a living, breathing human being. When we look at Nida talking to Gaap, it seems like she’s talking to herself. Now, it’s easy to associate all of this with a “faulty” strain in Nida’s gene, especially because Nida says so herself. But, if you look at the evidence, you can come to the conclusion that it’s a psychotic breakdown as a result of the relentless racism that Nida faces on a daily basis.
Everyone thinks that racism is just edgy humor nowadays. However, unless you face it (which I hope nobody does) from the descendants of your ancestors’ oppressors, you won’t understand how much it stings. In fact, it doesn’t even need to be outright racism. If you face any kind of discrimination based on who you are by birth, it’s going to get to you. And avoiding something like that isn’t the patient’s responsibility. The onus is on the society to maintain a healthy atmosphere where humans can coexist without facing any kind of hostile behavior. I think officers Len Fisher and Suzie kind of understand that. But since they represent the law, they have to treat Nida like a criminal, instead of a victim of systemic oppression.
What Is The Meaning Of Nida’s Trials?
Alright, so here’s where Demon 79, i.e., episode 5 of Black Mirror Season 6, gets a little sketchy. Initially, it seems like Gaap is the personification of the catharsis that Nida wants. She wants to be violent. She wants to kill every racist person that exists on this planet. She wants to get rid of the murderers. She wants to get rid of every sex pest. The only thing that’s stopping her from doing so is her niceness, which is a result of being a Brown person in a predominantly White country. In addition to that, Nida’s vigilante act, which is happening under the garb of saving the world, feels like a commentary on how the oppressed always have to resort to unlawful activities (laws which have been made by the oppressors) to make the world a safe place. But as the episode keeps beating around the bush, it gets awfully close to saying that immigrants are going to do all kinds of heinous crimes and then blame it on the devil. And that’s not a very good look.
The other thing that I was thinking about while watching Demon 79 is that Nida is given the option to kill three people or let the whole world die. So, I assumed that Nida is going to wonder if she should let the whole world die because it hasn’t been all that nice to her, or if she should be the bigger person and stop the world from destruction by letting herself get corrupted by Gaap. However, the ending shows that since she isn’t allowed to complete her killings, humankind nukes itself into oblivion. And she walks away into the cosmos with Gaap? What am I supposed to make of that? Are writers Charlie Brooker and Bisha K. Ali simply saying that, in the grand scheme of things, our choices don’t really matter because the nuke buttons are in the hands of complete idiots? I mean, that’s a good assessment of the situation we are in. But the execution is extremely confusing because it chooses to talk about racism, xenophobia, and murder through the eyes of an immigrant for the most part, and then pivots towards abject nihilism, thereby rendering Nida’s whole journey meaningless. If that was the aim all along, well done, I suppose.