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Black Mirror: S6E01 Joan Is Awful Review

Joan is Awful is the Season Premiere of Black Mirror’s sixth season. The episode deals with the reality of streaming services and Ad networks' control over our lives.

An iPad portraying Annie Murphy as Joan on Netflix’s show Black Mirror.
Image: Taken by the author // Joan is Awful frame from Netflix for review purposes.

Do you think the smartphone you're reading this article on is listening to you? If you are, this episode of Black Mirror will indeed trigger you. Just a heads up - this episode takes a few things we all do and combines them together into this dystopian universe, honestly? We're not so far off.

Author's Note: This review of Joan is Awful will include spoilers for the episode. Watch it before diving into the review and the conversation it sparks.

Ready? Let's dive into it.

Overall Episode Impressions

The episode itself begins slowly. We got to know Joan and her life. The complexities she deals with every day. And then, 12 minutes in, we are introduced to Streamberry - the dystopian replacement to Netflix.

It even has the same do-doom sound when you start it! A little on the nose there, Netflix.

Salma Hayek is portrayed as Joan in the show "Joan is Awful," and it shows us the same scenes we've seen Annie Murphy act only as Salma Hayek with some creative changes.

While a fantastic idea in general, a little tiring, perhaps.

I loved the idea behind this episode. The creators of Black Mirror want to wake us up and bring our attention to those things we don't always pay enough attention to. The agreements we blindly sign when signing up for services, our phones and the technology used to serve us ads, and the plethora of streaming services now available and how we consume them.

This episode was bold on Netflix's part. Take note that the brands of things in this episode were, for the most part, obscured. Even Joan's phone is not one of the big brands like Apple or Samsung. The app she used to text Mac was not iMessage, WhatsApp, or Android messages.

Imagine the effort needed to ensure none of these companies sue you for the implication that they are responsible for infringing on your privacy.

But Black Mirror managed to do it. At what cost, though?

Blindly Agreeing to Terms

When Joan realizes that by signing up to Streamberry and agreeing to the terms of service, she sold her likeness to Streamberry, we get to meet her lawyer, who tells us that they are well within their rights to do so.

Pretty dystopian and would probably not pass a court of law in 2023. But it still highlights an important lousy habit we have of not even looking at the terms and just blindly agreeing. When was the last time you signed up for some kind of service and read the service terms upon registering?

Yeah, I don't remember either.

Your Phone is Listening to You

When Joan tries to understand how it all works, she understands that the phone and possibly other devices track her every movement.

Nobody can prove it, and tech companies will also deny it. Still, many people experience the weird occurrence of talking about something they want to buy with a friend and, minutes later, seeing ads for it on the internet and apps on their phones.

Whatever the technology that makes it happen, it could be the basis for tracking you using dystopian tech that records and streams your every movement to live servers.

Quantum Computing And AI

Today's AI is nothing compared to what kind of AI training we could do when we have access to Quantum Computing. AI tools would be able to improve a lot faster when taught using a Quantum computer.

When Joan arrived at the computer room and realized she was not real, I lost interest, I admit. It was a weak reason why Joan did not try to tinker with the permissions she grants to apps on her phone, for example.

In today's phones, even if you signed an agreement with a company that allows them to use your recordings, you could still block those permissions on your phone. And as a manager in a software company (implied by firing a software engineer that worked on algorithms), I would have expected Joan to know how to block access to the microphone and camera. It would have made for a more sinister story if she had tried and failed to do so. But not even trying makes it seem like the story could have been avoided if she had been a little tech-savvy.

If you had told me that Joan not being tech savvy enough is one of the reasons the episode happens, then by all means. I get that. But the story doesn't feel justified to make that claim. Don't make her work as a manager in a tech office and then not know how to operate basic functions on her phone.

Besides that point, the entire recursiveness of the show inside show and "souls" that reside in the computer is a pretty dystopian outlook of life. The manager of Streamberry feels very disillusioned and detached. When she tells the reporter that a show about her is also launching on Streamberry in a few days, that was a really great WTF moment. In a way, the villain feels a bit cartoonish.

Again, the writing feels like it could be better. Still, when we all realize what we've been seeing so far is generated by a computer, it's a weak excuse to accept that the writing was "AI-generated" and that this isn't a top-tier TV show that many people watch worldwide.


Overall, Joan is Awful delivers good lessons that we should take to heart: Don't blindly accept agreements for the apps you download to your phone, Take AI with a grain of salt, and learn to make use of the permissions on your phone to prevent every app from using your microphone, camera, or other aspects of your phone and accounts.

The episode itself includes some remarkable moments to watch. Salma Hayek and Annie Murphy are excellent, and the action sequence at the end brings it all together for an episode that everyone can enjoy. I guess my own experience as a software engineer makes me question the logic more than the average Joe who isn't versed in code and the technology used to make us all maintain the lifestyle we have.

BTW, Netflix launched this website, You Are Awful, where you can create an "awful" version of yourself, just like the show. Just don't forget to read the terms of service, yes?

What did you think about the episode? I'd love your opinion about the episode's points about privacy, legal agreements, streaming services, and more. Comment below, and let's chat about it!