Do you ever wonder what makes you keep coming back to a show when you belong to a time that keeps you submerged in an ocean of entertainment? What hold does Black Mirror have on you when there’s no scarcity of sci-fi to scratch your dystopian itch? It’s because Black Mirror is the Mike Flanagan horrors of the universe of make-believe. Here, you’re treated to the most harrowing existential crisis in settings that soothe you with their improbability. Some like their entertainment to be brimming with unfathomable joy, while some prefer being reassured of the state of their own lives as they switch off the TV and shut the door to the fictional purgatory they’ve just witnessed. And if your taste resembles the latter, you’ve likely had an emotionally turbulent time getting through Beyond The Sea. And now that you’re thanking your stars for not having to walk a mile in Cliff and David’s shoes, let’s talk about Beyond The Sea episode that is arguably the most emotionally taxing of the lot.
What would Cliff and David be doing as functional adults with adorable families in 1969 had the year not been imagined this way? They’d probably have jobs that would have kept them closer to their roots, or, at the very least, tethered to their planet. But the men we see before us aren’t really David and Cliff, well, not in the physical sense at least. They’re the exceptionally lifelike robot replicas of the real David and Cliff, here to serve as the vessels of their consciousness when the real ones aren’t busy patching up the spaceship they’ve been residing in for the last two years. Beyond The Sea, like the majority of the Black Mirror stories, is hardly interested in spending time stewing in the science-y aspect of it all. What we’re essentially getting to know are the tremendous differences between the two people, stuck in a tiny spaceship and only unclenching their jaws when they’re around their families.
What Are Our Immediate Impressions Of David And Cliff?
Beyond The Sea is practically a work of art in the way it makes the most of the short runtime and adds impeccable, blink-and-you-miss-it layers to the details that are our only available ways to get to know the two central characters. Your first impression of David is predetermined to be fantastic. As smooth with the strokes of paint on the canvas as he is with pleasuring his wife, David is immediately a dreamy man liked by everyone. Cliff, on the other hand, is rather draconian as the patriarch of the gorgeous home he’s made away from the noisy city. A carefully prepped meal on the table being a must and demanding to be addressed as “sir” by his kid are just two of the things that tell you almost the entirety of what kind of husband and father Cliff is. And if you are still wondering if you should give him the benefit of the doubt, just read his demeanor around his wife and his treatment of her interests. He’s close to absolutely diminishing the beam of light and life that is Lana, and he doesn’t even blink as he crushes her mousy requests of bringing some color to their drab, dull life.
Why Is David’s Family Murdered?
Beyond The Sea initially tricked us into thinking that the David and Cliff we see maneuvering the spaceship are the replicas and the ones down on earth are the real people lending their consciousness to the ones up above. It’s only after Black Mirror deals its usual, doom-bringer card and turns the seemingly tranquil course of the narrative into a tragedy-stricken hell-ride that we even begin to ponder over the existential dread that has been there all along. A sociopathic group of cult members breaking into David’s home in the dark of the night could only go one of two ways. And when your eyes are set on the green slime pouring out of his severed arm, you know exactly why the lunatics have targeted his family. Right before the eyes of his helpless, tied-up replica, David sees his wife and kids get butchered by the freaks who’ve condemned his family for harboring a robot that, according to the murderous psychopaths, threatens the natural order of the world. If you could just imagine the unparalleled horror that gets permanently etched onto a man’s mind as he is stuck in a spaceship countless miles away from even the clouds, you would take a pause before judging any of his future actions. Add to that the plight of losing an irreplaceable replica and facing the challenge of being stuck in space for three more years and you’ve got a man who’s on the brink of going unhinged.
‘Beyond The Sea’ Ending Explained
Say what you want about Cliff; you can’t hold not being a good friend against him. Although, his intentions are partially motivated by his anxiety about the spacecraft’s safety, as two able hands and a set of watchful eyes are a must for its safe return. And being in the dark about just how familiar Cliff and David are with each other outside of the time they spend diligently fixing up the minor issues with the spaceship, we’re bound to draw our own conclusions about the same. From the looks of it, the reason why Cliff insouciantly gives David permission to use his replica and spend time in his house to get some fresh air is that he is disturbingly unbothered about his wife and son’s comfort. How Lana would feel having a stranger’s consciousness hop into her husband’s replica is the least of his concerns. Lana has gotten used to Cliff’s “what I say, goes” attitude well enough to keep mum. Initially, though, as we see the shared sense of warmth and understanding between David and Lana, we’re almost on the brink of wondering if the story could take a rather corny, romantic turn. And who could blame you for thinking that when David genuinely seems to be a far more well-suited partner for Cliff’s wife?
From a shared love for reading to a mutual appreciation for each other’s quirks, David and Lana’s odd dynamic foretells an absolutely devastating storm of emotional carnage that is bound to head their way if they take it any further. You can practically picture the all-around destruction that is to come when the line between desire and the reality of its origin gets blurred in David’s traumatized mind. It’s obvious from his treatment of Lana that he’s actively trying to replace what’s been ripped away from him. And for Lana, as long as the closeness was reasonably within the bounds of platonic companionship, all she was doing was trying to fill the emptiness and seeking the warmth that she wasn’t getting from her husband.
The thing about trauma, just like getting drunk, is that it doesn’t quite turn a person into something that hasn’t always been within them. It liquefies the cage that has been tirelessly holding the real version of a person, devoid of morals and inhibitions. Having his loss as the impenetrable shield against all the justified accusations has turned David into the worst possible version of himself. He is just as obnoxiously entitled when he attempts to coax Lana into being intimate with him as he is when he blatantly justifies it to her husband. What’s worse? Cliff isn’t necessarily threatened by their closeness. A man like him, who sees a woman as his belonging, has his sense of masculinity threatened when he finds out that another man has been eyeing his “possession”. All he can come up with to establish that David has crossed the line is repeatedly saying that Lana belongs to him. His “mine” echoes far louder than any word of affection he has ever referred to her with. He’s so blind in his convoluted sense of territory that he fails to see what’s been going on right before his eyes.
David never wanted Lana. All he’s been feeling, along with the crushing sense of loss, is all-engulfing jealousy. He’d been a far better husband to his wife than Cliff has ever been to Lana. So why does an undeserving man get to have a wonderful family when he’s lost everything that he held close to his heart? It’s this absolutely feral rage brewing in David that Cliff fails to sense. Just as he dismissed the severity of the action when David hit his son, Cliff, caught up in his tragically inflated sense of masculinity, doesn’t even entertain the possibility of David wanting to harm him. So, when he comes back from a false mission and hurries home only to be welcomed by the sight of a bloodbath, he has only himself to blame. If David couldn’t have it all, no one else can. As Beyond The Sea ends with David’s disturbingly undisturbed gesture at Cliff’s shattered form, all we see are two men who’ve no reason to get back to earth again. And as always, Black Mirror turns its back on the sci-fi trope of demonizing technology and proves that anything can be a weapon if it falls into the wrong hands. David and Cliff’s unimaginably disastrous fates could’ve just as easily taken place in a much more grounded setting. Fictional technology is just the territory where Black Mirror is comfortable constructing its scarring stories of existential dread.