It’d be quite a stretch to say that Black Mirror season 6 has gone a bit subtle with its existential dread. What has, however, actually changed in the latest season of this one-of-a-kind sci-fi is how it maneuvers the delicious human follies we time and again come back to be treated to. The change in the demeanor of Netflix’s revolutionary and arguably most fearless show is glaring in how it intentionally decides to look away from the horrors it has handpicked for its beyond-disturbed characters. But make no mistake! Season 6 is just as nefarious with the predicaments it lands the characters in as Black Mirror has always been. The episode that stood out to me as a decidedly dark story of a seemingly normal person’s deadly corruption was Beyond The Sea. The Josh Hartnett and Aaron Paul starrer may have also pretty casually introduced a jaw-dropping easter egg that has fans all riled up. Let’s take a look at season 6’s only space-themed episode and see how it harks back to USS Callister.
The most pronounced similarity between season 6’s Beyond The Sea and season 4’s USS Callister is that the bigger chunk of the events occur in space, or at least a simulation of space. While the former uses the galactic theme as a means to make human suffering all the more excruciating, the latter envisages how the evil that infiltrates mankind can go out of its way to carry out its sadistic methods of torture. The subject matter being tremendously different doesn’t take anything away from the fact that both episodes place actual people at the center of it all and strip them down to their very primal states, which are devoid of any sense of right and wrong. What’s even more palpable is that both episodes employ convincing trauma as the source of the terror that emanates from the antagonists, albeit the gravity of Daly and David’s traumas being vastly uneven.
Even when you objectively consider the extent of pain they’re capable of putting people through, you know that Daly hardly had a remotely justifiable excuse for doing what he did. On the other hand, what David was made to endure while he was stuck in a spaceship up above would break even the most moralistic of us. But the differences between the antagonists aside, there are legitimate reasons for fans to be wondering if Beyond The Sea and USS Callister are actually connected. For starters, both episodes belonging to a dystopian world made it possible for humans to not just exist but live outside of the confines of their physical forms. Both go heavy with the trope of replicas being used as vessels to contain the complete human consciousness, capable of feeling the joys and pains of life. David and Cliff, having their real bodies up there in their spacecraft, led fairly normal lives in the oddly realistic replicas they were assigned. Whereas the ones that Daly had trapped in the digital spacecraft using his personal mod for Infinity were completely unaware of the torture their digital replicas were subjected to as they went on to live regular lives.
Speaking of replicas, how could we forget the irrefutable similarity between the chip Daly needed to switch in and out of his character in the Star Trek-esque game he had created in USS Callister, and the links David and Cliff used to send their consciousness back and forth? When Daly was immersed in the unimaginably brutal and evil game that he’d designed to torture his coworkers, the real Daly remained in the real world. It was only his vile consciousness that he would transport to the chaotic mod version of Infinity where he’d self-anointed himself as the leader of his miserable, tortured crew. Not too dissimilarly, David and Cliff were given links and personal keycards that they would use to go back home and live their lives as family men and only come back to address the matters at hand, if there were any. If you think about it, Cliff’s family’s fate in the end could only transpire because he was stuck in space tending to a problem that David made up. It’s sure to remind you of the plan the crew hatched in order to keep Daly stuck in the game long enough for them to blackmail the real Nanette and convince her to do the only thing that meant that Daly wouldn’t be able to replicate them again. The difference is in the respective motives. While the crew in USS Callister had all the reason in the world to manipulate Daly’s digital adventure, David’s action was fueled by a mix of effervescent rage and fatally destructive jealousy.
Now, it’s time to address the elephant in the room. The one mindboggling phenomenon that has brought you here. You might remember Aaron Paul’s sickening and hilarious cameo in USS Callister. In the episode, the crew only thought that by heading straight into the blackhole, their digital versions in Infinity would cease to exist. But that was hardly the case. When their spaceship emerged out of the blackhole, they were met with the daunting realisation that they were in the main lobby of the game. Sure, they’d freed themselves of Daly’s grasp, who was rotting out in the endless darkness of the digital galaxy alone, but the crew didn’t really escape the game. You might also remember that they’d received a call from a certain Gamer691, who’d threatened to destroy them if they weren’t willing to trade. Gamer691 was voiced by none other than Aaron Paul. The speculation that Cliff from Beyond The Sea could be the spiteful gamer in USS Callister does in fact, rely on the similarities between the themes of both episodes. It isn’t just that both are primarily set in space, it’s also that the Cliff we’ve come to know could easily be the gamer who’d found solace in the digital world of Infinity. The devastating loss he’d suffered, and the one bloodcurdling gesture he’d received from the man who took everything from him, indicate that he might not have ever moved on from his life in space. Even if you turn your eyes to the difference in the respective timelines, Gamer691 could be an older Cliff, still caught up in the trauma and perhaps battling a bad case of Stockholm Syndrome. Space is where he was stuck when everything he had on Earth was snatched away from him in the worst possible way. So it’s possible that even though decades had passed since his space mission was over, a life on earth was only agonizing for Cliff. If you ask me, Beyond The Sea is more convincingly a prequel to the story of USS Callister than a sequel.