Joan is Awful ending explained: what's going on at Streamberry?

Joan is Awful: Salma Hayek wearing a yellow hoodie in Black Mirror season 6
Salma Hayek plays TV Joan in the Black Mirror episode Joan is Awful. (Image credit: Netflix)

Joan is Awful is the first episode of the highly anticipated Black Mirror season 6, which has finally arrived on our screens after a tense four-year wait.

The hour-long episode follows a woman named Joan (Annie Murphy) who realizes her life has been adapted into a TV series starring Salma Hayek and it's safe to say she isn't been portrayed in a particularly good light.

In fact, the TV show which is streaming on the fictional Netflix-esque service Streamberry documents her life in real-time, including all the terrible decisions she makes throughout the day, and she's forced to watch as her life starts to rapidly crumble around her.

But it turns out that the Joan is Awful show is even darker than we thought, leading to exposing shady corporations and plenty of twists, turns, and laughter along the way. Fans are used to some quite dark themes in Black Mirror but this one is definitely filled with lots of comedic moments.

So, what happened at the end of Joan is Awful? Spoilers ahead as we recap what happened in the first episode of Black Mirror season 6...

What happened in Joan is Awful?

The episode picks up fairly normally, with Joan waking up and getting ready to go to work. She ends up having a fairly eventful day at the office where she's forced to let an employee go, leading to an awkward and emotional conversation before the devastated employee is escorted out by security.

Throughout the day, Joan had been getting texts from her ex-boyfriend Mac (Rob Delaney) and she tells her therapist that her relationship with fiancé Krish (Avi Nash) is "safe but boring" and that she often lies about how he makes her feel. 

Following the session, Joan gives in to pressure and agrees to meet Mac at a bar, where the two share a kiss. She's quick to rush off, realizing it was a mistake, but Mac tells her where his suite is and that he's there for a few days.

Trying to put the day behind her, Joan goes home to Mac and the two have dinner and settle on the couch to watch TV, a routine that is also familiar to the millions of fans watching Black Mirror this week.

She is shocked to discover a new title called Joan is Awful, featuring a thumbnail of actress Salma Hayek who has the exact same hair and outfit that Joan is wearing that very moment.

Disturbed yet intrigued, the duo decides to press play and Joan is horrified when the exact day she has just experienced plays out before her and Krish, including the firing, the candid therapy session, and the kiss with Mac, exposing her darkest secrets to her fiancé.

Krish gets in the car and leaves Joan, not believing her when she tries to claim it's fictional and didn't happen how the show suggested it did. She soon discovers that whatever she does will play out that way in the mysterious Streamberry series.

Ben Barnes and Salma Hayek in Black Mirror season 6 'Joan is Awful'

Ben Barnes and Salma Hayek as the Streamberry versions of Mac and Joan. (Image credit: Ana Blumekron/Netflix)

Unsurprisingly, Joan loses her job following the very public humiliation and even encounters members of the public who tell her she's "disgusting" after watching what she did on TV. 

Joan heads to her lawyer's office. She is told she technically signed over the rights to use her life as a TV show on Streamberry when she made an account with the streaming service. This is a clever jab at the fact that people do not read the full terms and conditions when they are signing up for things (a mistake that we probably shouldn't make going forward!).

It gets even more complicated, as Salma Hayek signed over the rights to use her image, meaning the show is entirely CGI generated and uses a digital likeness of the actress, meaning they could make her do anything they want and they don't have to waste time filming scenes with her.

Joan's life has been tracked through her phone this whole time, with the powerful Streamberry algorithm able to turn her life into a TV show for public consumption, mirroring that of targeted advertising we often see on our devices.

This causes Joan to hit breaking point and she realizes she needs to get Salma Hayek's attention and do something really awful so she'll be so horrified that her digital image was forced to depict that. 

Cue the scene that real-life Salma Hayek was talking about where she teases she thought she'd "get in trouble". Joan binge eats a number of cheeseburgers from a fast food restaurant and drinks a laxative medicine soon after, before dressing up in a cheerleader outfit and drawing a penis on her forehead.

Then she gatecrashes a church wedding and the laxative takes effect with truly horrifying results, we're sure you don't want us to describe that to you. As expected, Salma's digital image recreates the moment on screen and the actress is less than impressed by the crude, blasphemous use of her image.

Much like Joan, Salma attempts to consult with a legal team and Streamberry is having none of it, telling her that she signed away the use of her image and they are legally within their rights to do whatever they want with the CGI version of her.

Desperate to put an end to this, Salma Hayek tracks down the real Joan, and the two hatches a plan to break into Streamberry's headquarters and manually put a stop to the TV show for good.

Annie Murphy looking at a phone in Black Mirror season 6

Annie Murphy as Joan in Joan is Awful. (Image credit: Netflix)

The two gain access to Streamberry's offices and listen in on a conversation between the CEO and a journalist. She explains they are creating "experimental entertainment, computer-generated material" with a quamputer located at the end of the corridor that is able to create shows much faster than manual television production. 

She explains the machine is an "infinite content creator" which is able to create "entire multiverses into existence", giving them access to so many possibilities to entertain viewers.

Joan was used to test the system as she is an average person and "boring". The plan is to then launch it to create tailored content for each of their viewers, so everyone will have their own [Name] is Awful series. When asked why "awful", the CEO reveals people prefer to hate-watch and respond better to negative content.

This is where things get even crazier. Joan and Salma break into the quamputer room where they find the assistant looking after the machine (played by Michael Cera).

After seeing a clip of herself on screen Joan asks what is going on, to which he reveals she is not the "Source Joan' and is just one of many Joans in the multiverse the quamputer has created. 

Michael Cera's unnamed character reveals she is actually a Joan played by a digital likeness of the actress Annie Murphy, and that he is played by a digital likeness of Michael Cera. Nobody here is real and they're just part of an even bigger project.

Even Salma Hayek isn't real and is just a digital version of herself. Horrified by the revelation, "Joan" realizes that this life is not hers and that the "Source Joan" has controlled everything up to this point.

Armed with an axe, she approaches the quamputer and is urged by the CEO not to destroy it. However, it is not this Joan's decision, and the decision has already been made by the real-life Source Joan, leading to the destruction of the sinister machine and all of the different multiverses that were spawned for entertainment purposes. 

Source Joan (Kayla Lorette) has freed herself from her infinite digital realities. She is arrested for breaking into Streamberry and placed under house arrest, and an end scene shows she is doing a lot better now.

She is dating again, feels more confident, and has a quiet job in a coffee shop where she feels able to do something she loves. Annie Murphy arrives at the shop, who was revealed to be her accomplice in stopping Streamberry, and it is implied the two became friends following the ordeal. 

Dive further into the Charlie Brooker's dystopian storytelling with the best Black Mirror episodes of all time.

Lucy Buglass
Senior Staff Writer

Lucy joined the team in 2021, where she writes series guides for must-watch programmes, reviews and the latest TV news. Now she works for our sister site TechRadar in the same role. Originally from Northumberland, she graduated from Oxford Brookes University with a degree in Film Studies and moved to London to begin a career writing about entertainment.

She is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic and has a huge passion for cinema. She especially loves horror, thriller and anything crime-related. Her favourite TV programmes include Inside No 9, American Horror Story, Stranger Things and Black Mirror but she is also partial to a quiz show or a bit of Say Yes to the Dress