Netflix’s anthology series, ‘Black Mirror,’ returns with its sixth season, where it pushes the boundaries of storytelling with the first episode, ‘Joan is Awful.’ Starring Annie Murphy and Salma Hayek, the episode creates a scenario that doesn’t feel too far in the future. This episode poses questions about privacy and data collection while making us look twice at the fine print we usually agree to without reading while signing up for various sites and apps. There are many layers to Joan’s story, which makes it such an intriguing and compelling episode. Here’s what the ending reveals about the episode and the future of its characters. SPOILERS AHEAD
Black Mirror Season 6 Episode 1 Recap
Joan is an ordinary woman working a regular job. She wakes up next to her fiancé, Krish, and has breakfast with him before leaving for her office. She works as a mediator between the board of directors and lower-ranked employees and has to fire one of them. She is also on edge about her relationship with Krish, which she thinks is too vanilla compared to what she had with her ex, Mac. After talking to her therapist about it, she meets Mac, who is in town for three days. He asks her to come back to him, they kiss, and Joan leaves.
At home, she and Krish settle down to watch something. They scroll through the content on Streamberry, a Netflix-like streaming service. They are shocked to find a show titled ‘Joan is Awful,’ which stars Salma Hayek, who happens to have the same hairstyle as Joan. At first, it looks like a coincidence, but Joan becomes suspicious of the show when the episode plays out precisely as her day had. She thinks it must be a prank, but then everyone she knows tunes into it, and it looks like the whole world is watching the show.
Through the episode, Krish finds out that Mac reached out to Joan and how she called her relationship with Krish “vanilla.” In anger, he storms out of the house. The next day, when Joan goes to her office, she discovers that she has been fired because the show featured some stuff that was supposed to be a secret. When she becomes universally hated, she tries to find a way to stop the show.
Black Mirror Season 6 Episode 1 Ending: Who is the Real Joan?
Because Strawberry created a show about her life without ever asking her, Joan sees a lawyer about it. She hopes to sue Streamberry and have the show stopped in its tracks. However, she discovers that when she signed into Streamberry, she gave over the rights to her life story to the streaming service. She consented to have them listen into and spy on every aspect of her life, which they could use to create content. When she points out that a lot of stuff in the show is made up and could be considered defamation, her lawyer tells her that she agreed to such changes too.
If she can’t sue Streamberry, Joan thinks about suing Salma Hayek, who plays Joan in the TV show. But it turns out that the actress isn’t really playing the role. She just signed over her likeness that Streamberry could use as they wished. The streaming service used a quantum computer called quamputer to create the show. Joan realizes that there is nothing that she can do to stop the show, but Salma Hayek, with her means and resources, can. So, to get her attention, Joan eats a lot of burgers, drinks a bottle of laxatives, and defecates in a church in the middle of a wedding.
As expected, this gets Salma Hayek’s attention, and she approaches her lawyer about it. She complains that she never signed to have her likeness used for something like this, but the lawyer reveals that it is part of the contract she signed with Streamberry. There is nothing she can do about it legally. Because it’s out of her hands too, Salma Hayek shows up at Joan’s door, and after a heart-to-heart about being the victims in this situation, the decision to go to Streamberry’s headquarters and destroy the quamputer.
Salma Hayek and Joan sneak into Streamberry’s headquarters and overhear a conversation between its CEO and a reporter. It turns out that Joan’s show is just a test drive. Streamberry plans to release an unimaginable amount of content catering to every single one of its subscribers because they have signed over their privacy to them. They tried to make a happier version of the story, but it didn’t do well with the test audience. This was when they discovered that negative content is more effective, leading to the creation of ‘Joan is Awful.’
Horrified with what the quamputer can do, Salma Hayek and Joan decide to destroy it once and for all. However, once there, Joan realizes her reality is more convoluted than she’d imagined. On the screen, she sees herself in the first episode of ‘Joan is Awful.’ She is confused because it doesn’t make sense. She knew that Streamberrry was listening to her through her phone and other devices, but how did they have proper footage of her driving her car?
The man sitting in front of the screen reveals that it is footage from the TV show and that Joan is not the real Joan. She is in the first layer of the TV show, played by actress Annie Murphy who agreed to have her likeness used by Streamberry. The real Joan is out in the real world and has already gone through the motions she and Salma Hayek are going through now. Similarly, the TV show in which Salma Hayek plays Joan is going through the same routine with Cate Blanchett, who plays Joan in her world. This goes on and on, creating an unending retelling of Joan’s story.
To prove that Joan in the first layer is not real but a likeness of the ‘Schitt’s Creek’ actress, the man, played by Michael Cera, shows her the pictures of Annie Murphy. With the fabric of her reality torn apart, Joan decides to end everything by destroying the quamputer. When the others try to stop her, saying that she would be ending the lives of all the Joans out there, played by Salma Hayek and Cate Blanchett, and so on, Annie Murphy’s Joan briefly hesitates.
But then she realizes that she is part of a show, which means that whatever she is about to do has already been done by the real Joan in the real world, which means that the quamputer has already been destroyed, and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it. The moment Annie Murphy’s Joan destroys the quamputer, all the tiers of the show fall apart, and we are brought back to reality, where we find the real Joan destroying the quamputer with the help of real-life Annie Murphy.
What Happens to Real Joan and Annie Murphy?
By creating the narrative of a TV show within a TV show, ‘Joan is Awful’ raises many questions, the most important of which is how do we know the real Joan is the real Joan and not just another tier of the TV show’s mind-boggling reality. Because the TV show is the creation of the quamputer, any and all forms of Joan will be destroyed by its destruction. In the end, we find Joan and Annie Murphy destroying the quamputer, getting sentenced to house arrest, and going on with their lives in the aftermath, proving that their reality exists beyond the TV show. The version of Joan we get in the end is the real one.
Because they broke into Streamberrry’s facility and destroyed its prized possession, they are punished for it. They both get an ankle monitor, which means they are under house arrest. However, this hasn’t stopped them from living their lives. Joan is doing much better now. She tells her therapist about how she has started her own coffee shop, which is what she always wanted to do, and is going steady regarding relationships. She is much more in control of her life and is now friends with Annie Murphy.
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