Cybernews podcast #06: Decoding Black Mirror: Demon 79 arises, Boney M. style


The final episode of the new season of Black Mirror contains no innovative technology whatsoever. Despite this, Demon 79 is still great as an homage.

As a tribute to 1970s British horror, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is still the best of the best, at least for me. Inside No. 9 was just recommended to me by a colleague, and I have a feeling it will come close.

Demon 79, I thought, is another classic and even comedic horror homage. Again, there’s no tech – but, quite typically for Charlie Brooker, the creator of the series, the episode is very political. It’s also a sort of immigrant revenge slasher.

Tune in to "Through a glass darkly: Black Mirror explained," our exclusive podcast where Cybernews writers dissect all of your favorite episodes.

As a disclaimer, I’m a Lithuanian in his late thirties. I didn’t grow up in 70s Britain. But I’m also an Anglophile and I’ve read a lot about the racism in the country back then. The National Front, a far-right, fascist party, was very real and actually quite popular.

Deglorifying the past

This is why the very tone of Demon 79 caught my attention – as a social commentary on this tense era, it’s convincing.

Nida, a mild-mannered Indian woman, is constantly subjected to barely disguised racism from her co-workers at a shoe shop. All around her, anti-immigration politicians are promising to make Britain great again.

We’ll come to the lovely demon, which proves that this episode is the starkest departure from the norm in the anthology, later.

That’s because for me, Brooker’s idea, or at least a part of it, worked very well. Some scenes might tickle nostalgia but there’s no push to long for the glorious past. It’s actually the opposite – who would want a return to racism, bigotry, and nuclear anxiety except for the actual racists, bigots, and warmongers?

No wonder Nida chooses to accept Gaap’s invitation and steps into the unknown with a smile on her face.

Ah, yes, Gaap the demon. Awakened by Nida’s blood on a domino talisman – with the classic White Bear symbol on it – and trying to save the world from nuclear armageddon, you know. Typical Brooker 1.0 when you think of it.

You wouldn’t ponder too long about your murderous ways when there’s someone in silver platform boots and giant fluffy shoulder pads whispering friendly lines in your ear.

He once owned a TV listings spoof called TVGoHome, and the premise of one fake show You Must Be Choking! sounded like this: “Startling new game show hosted by Sandi Toksvig. A panel of blindfolded celebrity guests eat small live mammals, then attempt to identify them by regurgitating the bones into the cupped hands of a horrified child.”

Brilliant, eh? Demon 79 is less terrifying, of course, as Gaap, played sublimely by Paapa Essiedu, is a very chatty Boney M. type, working on his career in hell with Euro-disco in the background.

A new world hatching

The famous German-Caribbean disco group actually enters the episode earlier when Nida skips the grim news on television for the Boney M. quartet. The three-minute song “Rasputin” is Nida’s escape from reality.

Gaap’s appearance turns his mission – to make Nida kill three people over a three-day period in order to avoid the apocalypse – into an almost festive adventure, riddled with hilarious bureaucratic rules from the demonic overlords.

It’s only fair. You wouldn’t ponder too long about your murderous ways when there’s someone in silver platform boots and giant fluffy shoulder pads whispering friendly lines in your ear. Lonely and isolated no more, Nida embraces companionship.

There’s a very fat “but” in my head, though. I’m still not sure whether Nida really had a demon by her side – she had sharp fantasies about murdering the bastards of the world even before summoning Gaap so what if all this is just a fantasy? What if Gaap is just a figment of Nida’s imagination and a sign of her deteriorating mental health?

It’s certainly possible, and there are clues. Yes, the conclusion of the episode – the nuclear apocalypse – appears to show that everything prior to that was real.

But still, in the episode, Nida is shown reading a book called “Creative Visualization: Use the Power of Your Imagination To Create What You Want in Life.”

This is a real book – a bestseller written by Shakti Gawain and published in 1978. The book aims to educate people on the cognitive process of generating mental imagery to change how they view the world around them.

So maybe Nida really imagined it all, on purpose, to make the world a better place, at least in her mind. Yes, the annihilation hit the world in the end but the tense global news that Nida was watching might have made her mind conclude the end was nigh anyway.

Demon 79 is certainly different. I’m not sure I liked it, but I did not not like it, if you know what I mean. One of the title cards at the start of the episode reads “A Red Mirror film,” so I guess Brooker is trying to branch out, so to speak.

Then again, the episode is not entirely a separate entity. Nida is actually given a glimpse of the dystopian future that includes the robotic dogs from Metalhead – so this is the same Black Mirror world afterall. It’s just that this world is vast, it seems. This is promising.