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Black Mirror season 5 review: substantial, but leaves us wanting more

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*Contains spoilers*

The great and talented writer Charlie Brooker is back alongside producer Annabel Jones with three new episodes of Black Mirror. Yes, 3. I was disappointed with this low number, but considering the production that went into Bandersnatch, I put my greed to one side and took what I could get.

Striking Vipers. Smithereens. Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too. The names are, as ever, very ominous and give little idea as to what actually happens in the episodes. As soon as the trailer was released, I was excited to binge my way through these hour-long episodes and share my precarious thoughts.

So, let’s delve into the series, beginning with…

Striking Vipers

The first episode of season 5 brings two college friends and roomies, Danny and Karl (Anthony Mackie and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) back together years later. Their friendship is reunited over their love for an old video game, appropriately named: Striking Vipers.

Since they last played the game, it’s taken on a major update, introducing VR technology, allowing you to experience full sensations within the game. From backhanded punches to flying head kicks, Tekken has definitely taken a back seat in the rankings against Striking Vipers.

Danny and Karl play the game as their favourite characters: Lance and Roxette (Ludi Lin and Pom Klementieff). But as they play and enjoy each other’s company, fighting is forgotten and their relationship takes a sexual turn. Danny is in a committed relationship with his wife, Theo (Nikki Beharie) and Karl is a matured bachelor – what does this mean for their friendship?

This episode made me realise how much I love Black Mirror. The depth within the narrative, the weird, futuristic plots, the amazing casting; Bandersnatch was an appetiser to what was to come and I’m glad I waited for the main course.

It’s an interesting take on how modern technology can either enhance or disrupt relationships. The connection made within the narratives and different subplots tangling off was genius. You can do nothing but applaud Brooker for his creativity. Addiction is now taking many different forms and I think it’s only a matter of time before something like this is created.

It also raises millions of questions, including ones about sexuality (an ever-changing, developing topic):

Are they gay now?

Were they always gay?

Does it matter?

Can they still be friends?

Is it cheating?

Of course, like most Black Mirror episodes, these questions are for the audience to answer. And after the interesting ending suggesting an ‘agreement’ of sorts, Twitter was on fire:

What do you think about the ending? Do you think it’s cheating? We’d probably put it under the category of ‘weird kinks’. And bestiality…

Trivia alert: the poster for Striking Vipers is very similar to Barry Jenkin’s Moonlight – a film that also explores complex sexuality.

 

Smithereens

Smithereens follows Chris Gillhaney (Andrew Scott), a taxi driver with an agenda who becomes the centre of attention on a day that rapidly spirals out of control.

Andrew Scott is brilliant from start to finish. He has that element of surprise within his acting abilities, one that was shown within his role as Jim Moriarty in Sherlock and understandably why he became a James Bond villain as C in Spectre.

It feels as though his acting is so far away from the actual script that was given to him. He acts rapidly and effortlessly; the ideal specimen for an episode of Black Mirror.

Unfortunately, as much as Scott shines, that’s the only thing that keeps the episode alive. The storyline is very lacklustre, flat and bland.

When you’ve watched Black Mirror as religiously as we have over the years, you’ll understand what we mean. We understand the ‘technology taking over the world’ stance and how Brooker wanted to make us see the world for what it currently is, but from his previous work, this is an episode that could have been preempted in series 1.

And that’s not to say series 1 was bad, Smithereens lacked any substance and the message or moral behind the story felt very one dimensional. It’s hard to invest with this episode as easily as other ones such as San Junipero or The Entire History of You. It felt predictable and quite frankly, disappointing after such a positive start to the series.

 

Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too

Lonely teenager, Rachel (Angourie Rice) yearns to connect with her favourite pop star, Ashley O (Miley Cyrus).

So when Ashley O releases new merchandise in the form of an AI doll (Ashley Too), which has every element of Ashley O’s personality built inside of her, Rachel is instantly sold. Rachel’s sister, Jack (Madison Davenport) isn’t entirely impressed with the decision.

Soon enough, Ashley Too starts to control a lot of Rachel’s decisions, from hair and make-up to her confidence levels. Is the doll saving her from loneliness or taking over her life?

Initially, we wondered why Miley Cyrus was cast in an episode of Black Mirror, but it all makes sense as the story unfolds. The narrative is the ultimate fuck you. It’s a nice change from the dark endings we’ve all been used to over the years.

It still had that element of surprise and with the crafty intertwining narratives from Brooker. It’s a clever way to show two different stories of loneliness: Ashley O is famous, but totally isolated while Rachel is still in mourning over her mother’s death.

Many opinions have been floating around the episode, calling it a ‘Black Mirror version of a Disney movie’.

Yes, it’s a big change from previous episodes and it’s definitely more of a light-hearted affair in comparison, but you have to be pretty half-minded to not accept something different. It’s evident that Miley Cyrus put some of her own stories into the character and that’s what made the narrative even better.

For starters, Striking Vipers was a tasty, morish beginning, the main course in Smithereens left me wanting more and Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too was that sweet palette cleanser we needed.


Black Mirror: season 5 was a substantial 3-course series we needed to get us through the weekend.

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