With an anthology series such as Black Mirror, having a few duds is understandable because when an episode works, it’s great. While the three episodes of Black Mirror season 5 did feature some interesting ideas, none of them felt well-executed to me.
Due to the fifth season of Netflix’s Black Mirror having only 3 episodes, I thought they were going to be longer. But they weren’t and Striking Vipers, Smithereens, and Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too offered me interesting ideas that needed a bit more time to be properly fleshed out.
The first episode left me with a whole lot of questions. It talked about sexuality mixed with virtual reality. It wasn’t anything like the amazing San Junipero or USS Callister though. The entire thing, especially the resolution, left me frustrated.
Danny (Anthony Mackie) and Karl (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) are two best friends who begin an affair over a VR fighting game. Why does a fighting game allow its players to have sex with each other? Shouldn’t VR hookups be their own gaming titles?
When you climax in VR, what happens to your physical body? Are you just spoiling your pants in the real world? So many questions.
There was also the thing about swapping genders in the VR world. I would have liked more of an explanation about sensations a man feels when playing as a woman character (and vice versa) in VR and whether or not those sensations linger when you’re out of VR.
And I’m not sure if it’s just me, but I think Danny and Karl lied when they said they didn’t sense any sparks when they kissed each other. Was the episode talking about the stigma in the African-American community about how you can’t be black and queer? To me, Danny and Karl couldn’t get together because they felt ashamed of who they were. That’s why, even in VR, they decided to change their entire appearance.
As for the resolution, it didn’t make sense to me. Why would Theo (Nicole Beharie) agree to such an arrangement? If it’s passion she wanted, shouldn’t there have been a VR game which could have allowed her to pick up men at the bar instead of doing it in the real world?
Striking Viper was an overall mess for me. The ideas were there, but the episode wasn’t interested in exploring them.
The second episode was the better of the three in my opinion. Andrew Scott gave an incredibly emotional performance as Chris. The story felt the most current. We have been hearing about not texting while driving for a long time now. However, apps are being designed for continuous engagement. For many people out there, using apps (including gaming) is an addiction or at least, something very close to it.
Smithereens did a good job of showing us both sides. We had Chris who experienced devastation from using the Smithereens app and we had Billy Bauer, a tech genius who created the said app. I’m not sure, but Billy’s predicament kind of reminded me of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.
Zuckerberg gave Facebook to the world, but he doesn’t seem to be in complete control of it. He’s just the company’s face (like Billy) while the social media platform has grown into a separate entity always thirsty for attention and power.
The plot was very predictable to me. However, I enjoyed how the events transpired because of Scott’s impressive acting skills.
The ending of the episode was amazing. After all of the intense drama, Scott’s death was nothing more than a notification popping up on various phones. People read it and went back to living their lives.
Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too
The third episode left me frustrated because of how great it could have been. Miley Cyrus was amazing as Ashley O. Her voice work was Ashley Too was great. Cyrus needs to do more acting and voice-over work.
The plot talked about how pop sensations (and similar celebrities) are merely puppets for TPTB (The Powers That Be). There was a lot I enjoyed about the episode, but when it turned into a ‘let’s-save-Ashley’ rescue mission, I grew disappointed. Also, Ashley Too not turning into an evil manipulative doll left me disappointed, too. I thought she was going to say something creepy when Rachel was alone with her. There was so much that could have been done with the material.
When Catherine was talking about replacing Ashley O, I thought she was going to begin managing a new pop star to show how easily replaceable Ashley O was. But no, she introduced a virtual version of Ashley O instead.
The episode felt like some self-insert fanfic where a fan has to be the one who gets to save their favorite celebrity. It was too childish and weird. A whole lot of it wasn’t predictable to me, so, at least, this episode had that going on for it.
Anyway, am I still looking forward to more Black Mirror? Yes, I am. You should watch the new episodes too. You might enjoy them.
But still, fingers crossed, the overall reception of these three episodes lets the team deliver better content.
Farid has a Double Masters in Psychology and Biotechnology as well as an M.Phil in Molecular Genetics. He is the author of numerous books including Missing in Somerville, and The Game Master of Somerville. He gives us insight into comics, books, TV shows, anime/manga, video games, and movies.
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