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Black Mirror’s ‘Past the Sea’ is a slow-motion tragedy within the depths of house

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“Past the Sea” is the rarest breed of Black Mirror episode: the type pushed by empathy. Carried by a solid that features Aaron Paul, Josh Hartnett, and Kate Mara, it’s equal components character examine and Twilight Zone creeping horror — a narrative targeted much less on the sequence’ typical social commentary than on three individuals whose unattainable state of affairs results in an inevitably tragic finish.

The episode is ready in an alternate 1969 the place two astronauts are halfway by means of a six-year mission. Though their our bodies are caught in a cramped spacecraft, they spend most of their time inhabiting a pair of lifelike telepresence “replicas” on Earth. David (Hartnett) maintains an idyllic life along with his spouse and two youngsters, taking his Neil Armstrong-esque movie star graciously. Cliff (Paul) has a much more brittle relationship along with his taciturn son and his lonely spouse Lana (Mara), who he’s uprooted to stay in a distant farmhouse. The mission proceeds easily till a horrific tragedy destroys David’s household and his duplicate. And to maintain him from despair, Cliff lets David start taking brief jaunts in his physique again residence.

It’s instantly apparent it will finish badly, and “Past the Sea” doesn’t subvert viewers’ expectations. As a substitute, most of its 80 minutes are dedicated to the connection between its three leads. David and Cliff begin as foils: the previous an enthralling, laid-back Californian, the latter a stiff, suspenders-wearing sq.. David works to develop a rapport with Lana — intuiting her unhappiness, recommending books — whereas Cliff is inattentive and withdrawn. However David’s distress calcifies right into a rising resentment of Cliff, whose relationship with Lana proves stronger than it appears to be like. Hartnett captures David as by turns suave, assured, and desperately misplaced, whereas Paul offers an understated efficiency enjoying (in duplicate type) each astronauts. Mara is equally stoic, sustaining a way of guarded composure at the same time as the stress escalates.

Sequence creator Charlie Brooker has mentioned “Past the Sea” was initially set within the close to future, and the ’60s interval setting may simply have felt like window dressing. There’s the occasional element that feels just a little too on the nostril, like Lana passing her days by studying Valley of the Dolls. Pragmatically, although, it creates house for some important suspension of disbelief — eradicating the applied sciences that might make its characters’ isolation much less all-encompassing. (You continue to have to simply accept that mission management would have seemingly zero enter on a large catastrophe and be nearly fully hands-off with its astronauts’ irreplaceable robotic our bodies.) The setting additionally pushes the episode into an unusually heat visible fashion, even within the vacuum of house. And it offers us a brief however nice look from Rory Culkin enjoying a stand-in for Charles Manson.

Lana (Kate Mara) and Cliff’s duplicate (Aaron Paul) again on Earth.
Picture: Nick Wall / Netflix

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And to its credit score, “Past the Sea” doesn’t lean on 60-year-old cultural norms to show its characters into caricatures. Black Mirror’s default perspective is certainly one of indifferent superiority: its best-known episodes are morality performs about unlikable individuals making silly, cringeworthy decisions beneath the dehumanizing affect of know-how. However “Past the Sea” is strikingly beneficiant towards Cliff and David, at the same time as each males inflict struggling on one another and Lana.

That’s partly as a result of they’re caught in a horrible disaster that neither one selected or deserved. Nevertheless it’s additionally due to Paul and Hartnett’s weak performances and since Brooker’s script leaves house for us to interpret their motivations sympathetically. The episode subtly conveys how weird the duplicate expertise have to be, together with ideas that Cliff has a lingering discomfort along with his android physique. It leaves ambiguous how a lot any given act of kindness or coldness is definitely simply self-preservation; Cliff’s determination to isolate his household, as an illustration, turns into extra comprehensible after David’s tragedy.

A number of Black Mirror tales have explored the intersection of grief and artificial our bodies, and “Past the Sea” has shades of “San Junipero” and “Be Proper Again” specifically. However the drama is unusually grounded in its performances relatively than its premise. It’s much less clearly metaphorical than one thing like “Be Proper Again,” which used lifelike robots as an exaggerated stand-in for a beloved one’s digital footprint. “Past the Sea” often is the type of Black Mirror episode least more likely to make viewers exclaim, “This is rather like Black Mirror!” upon seeing some future dystopian know-how — however that makes it probably the most satisfying episodes to observe for its personal sake.

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