It is quite rare that an accessory in black mirror is for a simple show – and that includes the books the characters read.
Season 6 third episode, “Beyond the Sea,” uses page-turners as clues, foreshadowing characters’ fates and revealing their innermost thoughts through what they read. The episode sees Aaron Paul and Josh Hartnett as astronauts Cliff and David, who complete a six-year mission in space together. As technology dictates, they each have “Earth replicas” of themselves that allow them to continue their lives with their families at home during the mission. But all ends in tragedy.
What clues could have helped us predict the horrible event of this episode? Look at the books!
Here are the four books featured in the episode and why they were included.
When we first meet Lana, she’s sitting in her living room devouring 1968 by British-Canadian writer Arthur Hailey. Airport, a book set in a night at a fictional airport in Chicago. In the book, airport general manager Mel Bakersfeld has a strained relationship with his wife due to her demanding job, which resembles what happens between Lana and Cliff.
valley of the dollsJacqueline Susan
Near the episode’s tragic conclusion, Lana confesses to Cliff her desire for physical intimacy with her husband and her feelings of isolation in their country home. Of course, if you pay close attention, you already knew that from what she had read.
Earlier, Lana is captivated by the deliciously sinister 1966 novel by Jacqueline Susann valley of the dolls. While Dolls is known for its portrayal of the darker sides of show biz, its female leads also struggle with rocky marriages, sex, loneliness, mental health issues, and female friendship in New York City. Lana describes it to David as the “guiltiest” pleasure when he notices her reading it, and during this exchange we learn that unlike David, “Cliff doesn’t really read.”
Credit: Nick Wall/Netflix
For Lana, valley of the dolls offers him an escape; it gives him a taste of his old life in the city and all of his social interactions. Lana makes her loneliness clear in her request to Cliff for a party at their house with the locals, which he rejects. In fact, even David notices Lana’s isolation in the country before Cliff.
“Cape Ann is going to be cosmopolitan enough for her?” David asks Cliff while he’s on the space station. “I only met her once, but she hit me like a butterfly.”
The Illustrated ManRay Bradbury
We know David loves sci-fi because he recommends it to Lana, but we also get a look at one specific title that has more to do with the series as a whole. Bored and anxiously awaiting David’s return after using his replica Earth, Cliff finds a book on the control panel: Ray Bradbury’s 1951 Classic Collection The Illustrated Manwhose 18 stories undoubtedly share creative DNA with Brooker’s series.
Credit: Nick Wall/Netflix
This book is obviously important enough for David to take with him on a six-year mission in space, but more than that, it’s Charlie Brooker’s nod to the icon of dystopian fiction whose the cynical vision of the dangers of technology is more prescient than ever.
The moon is a harsh mistressRobert A. Heinlein
The books become the main point of connection between Lana and David; they even visit a bookstore in town together after Lana reveals, “There aren’t many books in the house.” David picks out a book for Lana and predicts she’ll love it – and he’s right, you can see she’s already halfway through it a week later.
The book is the 1966 novel by Robert A. Heinlein The moon is a harsh mistress, a libertarian sci-fi tome about an anarchic colony on the moon that wages a revolution against its earthly oppressors to gain independence. This lunar society notably has two men for one woman – much like our protagonists in “Beyond the Sea” – and the story foreshadows the fate of Cliff and David, who will both eventually become independent of their terrestrial counterparts by violence.
So this is it ! You should judge books by their covers, at least in black mirror.