THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER – In Black Mirror’s “Mazey Day,” creator Charlie Brooker stretches his genre muscles while taking audiences to a more familiar kind of dystopic nightmare.
The story stars Zazie Beetz and Danny Ramirez as Bo and Hector, respectively, two paparazzi photographers who find themselves struggling to make ends meet. Bo has stepped back from the invasive grind of capturing the “perfect shot” — a means of grappling with how her (at times misogynistic) profession can rip apart its unwilling subjects for a paycheck.
But with rent due and Hector on her doorstep with a potential payout too good to be refused, Bo gets back in the game and the duo set out to capture what is actually happening with a young actress named Mazey Day (Clara Rugaard), who has seemingly imploded within Hollywood and disappeared from public eye. It’s one last job — in more ways than one.
The season six episode, set in the 2000s, dabbles in the supernatural, acting as the kind of nuanced monster metaphor Hollywood has played with for more than a literal century. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Brooker shared that the episode was a creative decision to go beyond the world of cautionary and satirical tech tales while still never quite crossing over into “Red Mirror” — supernatural and horror-esque Black Mirror adjacent storytelling.
“That one, I flip-flopped between making it a Red Mirror and a Black Mirror. And then I thought, ‘Fuck it, it is Black Mirror — because otherwise we were blowing the slightly outrageous twist that happens there,’” he said. “I was just trying to experiment a bit with what Black Mirror was. I don’t want to sit here feeling like I’m in a box where I have to write an episode about NFTs or whatever’s on the tech pages today. That’s not what the show was ever intended to do. If you look at our first episode, you can tell it was obviously designed to be startling and surprising and weird. So I was trying to sort of reconnect a bit to that.”
Despite the genre shift, “Mazey Day” itself isn’t that far removed from his other work across the show’s sixth season. Like “Loch Henry,” disturbing, almost humanity-less behavior is captured on camera. Alongside “Beyond the Sea,” the supernatural episode ponders how desperation and power imbalances shape relationships between two people. Similar to “Demon79,” it asks what it means to choose your own fate in the face of a dark future. And just like “Joan is Awful,” it questions where the line between media and private lives should be drawn.
Ultimately, like many of Black Mirror’s episodes, it grapples with the (dubious) nature of consent and who or what a real threat or “monster” is through its unexpected twist. In the case of “Mazey Day,” the answer seems to be literally and figuratively on both sides of the camera lens. While speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Beetz highlights how Bo and Hector’s work crosses an expected and respected line when it comes to working in both Hollywood and journalism.
“There’s a difference between a reporter having a consensual conversation with somebody who is like, ‘I am open to answering questions and I can also choose to not answer something,’ versus somebody nonconsensually taking pictures of you and making money off of it,” she says.
While Bo and Hector arguably do not cross that line to the same degree as their white male counterparts Nathan (David Rysdahl) and Duke (James P. Rees) — who in a deeply unsettling scene refuse to stop taking photos of Mazey as she lays dirty, barely clothed and chained to a bed and wall — they do still agree to remain in a profession that makes monsters of them and their subjects. That is, until the trained eye of Mazey — who in the episode’s twist turns into a literal werewolf — is set on them, leaving them desperate to be out of her sights.
“In terms of monstrosity, I actually think my character is sort of filled with self-loathing, and I think that is a lot of her emotional drive,” Beetz says of how Bo, a woman who photographs other women without their consent until one final twist, embodies a sense of monstrosity. “I certainly think there’s money involved. I think that there is a little bit of a lack of empathy for somebody who has more privilege than her involved, and choosing to not empathize with that person’s situation to certain degrees — because I think my character wavers. But I think self-hatred propels a behavior that isn’t necessarily conducive to the good of mankind.”
Ramirez’s Hector exists somewhere between Bo and and their two fellow paps as a character arguably more selective than Bo with his empathy. “I think everyone having a shadow self — the dark qualities that drive them equally to the good qualities that drive them — is on full display in this episode,” he tells THR of what the episode explores with Hector. But for the actor, “Mazey Day” offers a more tragic exploration of what might guide someone’s choices.
“I look at it more as a tragedy than a monstrosity in regard to the way the system itself is laid out,” he says. “Anyone that engages in the system is on either side of it. You could justify someone being mad at their privacy being invaded, but you could also justify someone like Hector or Bo crossing that threshold because we are in a society where you need money to pay the rent.”
The motivation for the choices, according to Ramirez, is an important distinction to make when discussing the action of the photographers and the actress. “At some point, the question that you ask yourself is, ‘What am I willing to cross this moral line for? Is it to put food on the table?’” he explains. “The moment you open it up to that, I think it becomes even more complicated because, at what point is it survival and at what point is it following some moral code? It then gets into the gray area of, if you know that you’re entering this profession, you know that this comes along with it. So I think entering it that way just made every player in this story a tragic figure.”
For Rugaard, while the motivation does matter, the question of morality remains strong. “From someone who has chosen a career path like Mazey, there’s this sort of Faustian bargain that comes with that, and you’re choosing to step into the public eye to that degree,” she says.
But like many “monsters” and Hollywood creatives, she’s not always actively seeking out the type of attention she receives — the kind of scrutiny and pressure that can transform you. “I don’t think that anyone really understands what is at risk and to what degree your privacy is going to be threatened,” Rugaar tells THR. “She just wants to exist in the world undisturbed, peacefully. She’s a lonely person, but she’s also in a world that’s full of people who commoditize and worship her.”
Black Mirror season six is streaming on Netflix.