“Joan is Awful” is the first episode of Black Mirror season 6, and it presents quite a puzzle, thanks to the crafty writing of Charlie Brooker. Here’s an explanation of the episode’s plot to help you make sense of it.
So basically, here is what is happening in that black mirror episode.
In real life, a woman named Joan signed off rights to her identity (image, persona, etc.) to a movie company named Streamberry, which bears similarities to Netflix but is fictional. With the aid of a quantum computer known as a Quamputer, Streamberry produces a movie based on the daily life of real-life Joan (we’ll call her source Joan). This foundational concept is key to understanding the entire episode. Each day, Joan’s life is turned into nightly entertainment on Streamberry, with alterations to details like the dialogue and even the actor portraying Joan in the film.
In the computer-generated Joan-based movie, the real-life Joan is portrayed by the digital copy of Annie Murphy, known as the fictive level 1. In this Black Mirror episode, you watched the fictive level 1 of Joan is Awful, which means you watched the first iteration as the digital copy of Annie Murphy plays Joan. When Annie Murphy was destroying the movie-generating computer, we saw glitches, which further proved we were watching the fictive level of Joan and not the real-life Joan.
After the computer was destroyed, the fictive levels were destroyed, and we saw real-life Joan. All the sad experiences Annie Murphy went through while playing Joan in fictive level 1, the real-life Joan also went through it. The Job loss, relationship break up, hate, failed legal attempt, real-life Joan went through all that – although you did not see it because the episode was based on the fictive level 1.
Fictive Level Explained
So we already know that we were given the fictive level 1 of Joan is Awful to watch by Netflix.
The fictive levels are like infinity mirrors; it is like that experience of standing between two mirrors, and in the mirror facing you, you see a reflection of yourself that sees another reflection of yourself, and it goes on to infinity. Now imagine if an actress is replacing the face you have in each reflection in the mirror.
In the movie, they achieved different images of Joan in fictive levels by having individuals sign off rights to their image and identity even till the buttocks hole; Streamberry had rights to everything about the individual.
Black Mirror has frequently explored the creation of digital clones from individual DNA samples, a concept also utilized in the episode “Joan is Awful.”
So Streamberry got rights to real-life Joan, level 0, not fictive, and created a movie off of her, where the real-life Joan watches herself being played by Annie Murphy in fictive level 1.
In fictive level 1, Annie Murphy, who plays Joan in fictive level 1, watches herself being portrayed by Salma Hayek in fictive level 2.
In fictive level 2 (the fictive level which Annie Murphy is watching on TV), Salma Hayek, who plays Joan, watches herself being played by Cate Blanchett. The iteration continues.
Who is Cate Blanchett?
Cate Blanchett only exists in fictive level 4, which fictive level 3 Joan (Salma Hayek) is watching on TV. She is not a real actress, even in real life. The Quamputer made it up to give a character to fictive level 4 Joan. This is why in fictive level 1, the fictive level you watched, Salma Hayek said, “f*ck her,” because Cate Blanchett apparently does not exist.
What Happened After the Quamputer was Destroyed?
Real-life Joan decided to destroy the quantum computer, which means other interactions of Joan in their fictive levels also destroyed the quantum computer in the level. Once the quantum computer was destroyed, the show went off, real life got arrested and placed on house arrest, same as real-life Annie Murphy.
Was Fictive Level 1 Real Life? And was Salma Hayek in Fictive Level 1?
No, fictive level 1 is not real life, and yes, Salma Hayek was in fictive level 1
In this level, Joan is portrayed by Annie Murphy, who watches Salma Hayek’s version of Joan on TV. Since her daytime life becomes the film’s script, Annie Murphy’s Joan in fictive level 1 decides to smear Salma Hayek’s Joan, the one shown on TV.
The non-tv Salma Hayek was infuriated because her image was used for a disgusting public display in the church. As a roman catholic, Salma Hayek sought legal action, which failed because she signed off her image too. So she had to meet Annie Murphy (Joan in fictive level 1) so they could find a solution to the issue by destroying the computer generating the movie.
The solution they did find. Because real-life Joan collaborated with real-life Annie Murphy for the same reason fictive level 1’s Joan collaborated with Salma Hayek. The actions of real-life Joan were to destroy the quantum computer, and she did. And so did fictive level 1’s Joan, hence the glitches which showed Salma Hayek as Joan at some point. According to fictive level 1’s Joan, the events of her breaking the computer have already been decided by source Joan.
In terms of the cast:
- Kayla Lorette plays the real-life Joan
- Annie Murphy plays Joan in fictive level 1
- Salma Hayek plays Joan in fictive level 2