Black Mirror Cements a Bold Departure with an Homage to The Twilight Zone’s Worst Episode

Dustin Waters
Dustin Waters is a writer from Macon, Ga, currently living in D.C. After years as a beat reporter in the Lowcountry, he now focuses his time on historical oddities, trashy movies, and the merits of professional wrestling.

Longtime fans of Black Mirror were likely taken aback by the recent release of the show’s sixth season. More humor. More horror. And even elements of the supernatural have been introduced to the series that has thus far stood out for its bleak examination of technology’s influence on  everyday life. 

Creator and writer Charlie Brooker has been up front with audiences about a change in tone for the new season. One notable distinction seen in the feature-length episode “Demon 79” is the label of “Red Mirror” appearing in the opening credits. Brooker describes the new brand as a way to refresh and reset the Black Mirror franchise. As more and more shows and films — as well as day-to-day life — hone in on techno-dystopian themes, now seems like a good time to pivot. 

Fans may have mixed feelings about the show’s tonal shift, and Brooker seems aware of the response this change is likely to get. One interesting aspect of the “Demon 79” episode of Black Mirror’s most recent season is its shocking similarities to what is widely regarded as the worst episode of seminal anthology series and Black Mirror forerunner The Twilight Zone

Much like Black Mirror, The Twilight Zone took an often difficult look at contemporary society and served it back at viewers in the most unexpected ways possible. That’s why the show’s attempts at broad comedy always seem to stand out — perhaps none more than the 1962 episode “Cavender is Coming.”

Featuring a very young Carol Burnett, the episode focused on a would-be guardian angel who is sent to Earth for one final shot at earning his wings. The titular Cavender has only 24 hours to improve Burnett’s life, lest he face some ill-defined heavenly reclassification. 

Burnett serves as a clumsy urbanite who finds her boring life turned upside-down by Cavender, who showers her with every luxury imaginable only to learn that material wealth isn’t the key to happiness. The premise was originally intended as a new series, but Twilight Zone creator and writer Rod Serling repurposed the script after CBS passed. And for good reason.

Serling sent Burnett an apology before the episode aired, writing, “The show you did for us is not good and it’s not bad — which makes it lousy.” In that letter, Serling praised the young star’s talent, placing the blame on the script and direction. 

Those familiar with “Demon 79” know it tells the story of Nida, a meek department store worker faced with daily discrimination during the rise of Thatcherism in the U.K.. She is met with a demon in training who explains that Nida has three days to kill three people in order to prevent the apocalypse. The demon, Gaap, says if he fails to “earn his wings” and help carry out the ritualistic murders, he faces banishment to an eternal nothingness. 

Nida subverts the evil intentions of Gaap and aims to murder only those truly deserving of such an awful fate. I won’t tell you exactly how the episode ends, but it is clear that Brooker is intentionally thumbing his nose at all those trying to confine Black Mirror to any one genre. Instead he seems keen on blowing up the whole status quo. 

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