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Black Mirror Season 5 Episode by Episode Review

Black Mirror

“shattered”by MC =) is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

There was a short span of time where I didn’t think it got any better than Black Mirror.  As mentioned in my article discussing the works of Warren Ellis, I love when creators muse over the repercussions that might result from technology in the future.  Seasons 1 & 2 of Black Mirror did this about as well as any science fiction I’ve ever consumed.  It also did it in a way that pulled no punches, often to violent or sickening degrees.  Charlie Brooker and company could do no wrong in those first two installments.  If you have any interest in the type of thing I’m describing above, you need to watch those episodes NOW.

After season 2 however, the rush of ideas seemed to subside, and the show settled into good but unspectacular quality.  I even found the occasional episode to be just plain weak, which would’ve seemed impossible in the early days.  I even fell out of season 4 about halfway through.  The show was still fine and just as unique as ever, it just wasn’t as cutting or subversive as I had once found it to be.

Season 5 provided a great opportunity for me to get back in the swing of things though.  Maybe the show even found a second wind.  Below is an episode-by-episode review of Black Mirror season 5.  My personal comments about the season overall will follow. VAGUE OVERALL PLOT SPOILERS BELOW:

Episode 1:  Striking Vipers

Virtual Reality

This episode tells the story of two male friends who loved playing a fighting game called Striking Vipers when they were young.  The faux video game is a dead ringer for the newer Street Fighter iterations in look and style.  The name might have even been inspired by Fighting Vipers for the Sega Saturn.

Years pass and both men are now in their late ’30s.  Danny is married with kids, while Karl lives the bachelor life.  At Danny’s 37th birthday party, Karl gives him a new but familiar gift: the latest game in the Striking Vipers series, and this one has a virtual reality element.  They enter the game together and soon realize that VR avatars present a unique opportunity for their friendship that was previously impossible.  Their relationship, as well as that of Danny and his wife, are pressed to their limits.

This episode poses some incredibly interesting questions about virtual reality.  In full VR complete with total sensory input, is it possible to develop bonds with people that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to in real life?  How is your behavior (and its consequences) in VR different or the same as it is in real life?

As an avid gamer, I have to admit that I found the premise a little ridiculous.  I can buy that VR may eventually seem just like real life.  What’s problematic is the idea that a game developer wouldn’t just let you do anything you wanted in-game.  This as opposed to simply programming only the things you were intended to do in the game as designed and intended.  Black Mirror has never been huge on the particulars of the tech in each episode, and for good reason.  The stories often take place so far in the future that it’d be pointless to try and ground everything in reality.  In the show, there is often only a semblance of the tech we use today.

I still found this episode to be somewhat flimsy for the reasons above and others.  Karl’s actions that kick the plot into gear don’t make total sense.  The plot also takes a little too long to get going as well.  You sense some padding up front, which again, wasn’t always the case with this show.  Not the best that Black Mirror can do, but I’ve seen worse.  A serviceable episode.

Episode 2:  Smithereens

Cab Ride

Episode 2 involves a protagonist who is an Uber driver for all intents and purposes.  He parks exclusively in front of the headquarters of social media giant Smithereens, in the mold of Twitter or Facebook.  All the fares he accepts are from people exiting the building, hoping to give a ride to an employee of the company.  Finally, he finds one, and it becomes clear what his intentions actually are.

I want to write more about this episode but it doesn’t lend itself to much else without big spoilers.  The thing is that there isn’t a whole lot to spoil.  We know this guy is up to not good pretty early on, and the result is an “are phones bad?” question that seems very trite.  I’ve seen this episode being hailed as very strong in more than one corner of the internet.  I don’t see it.  It’s fairly one note, and doesn’t have anything original to say.  I don’t have any desire to revisit it and it didn’t make me think.  Mostly a miss.

Episode 3:  Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too

Pop star

The final episode of season 5 involves a mega pop star named Ashley O (played by Miley Cyrus) and Rachel, a 15-year-old super fan.  An interactive robot companion is released that mimics Ashley O’s personality, and Rachel gets one immediately.  The robot feels like a surrogate best friend to Rachel, who is having trouble making friends at her new school.

The other plot line involves Ashley O herself and her aunt, who manages her career.  It’s apparent that Ashley isn’t happy, and her entourage uses prescription drugs to keep her in line.  When they find out that Ashley isn’t taking her meds, they begin to take more drastic measures.

I actually thought Miley Cyrus was pretty good here.  It was also a change to see her in relatively normal, every day hair and makeup.  Aside from her performance, this episode kept my interest until the final act where it takes some downright silly and absurd turns.  Even for Black Mirror, the leaps and leeway taken with technology are just impossible to believe.  Combine that with some bad acting and character motivations and this one amounted to a lot of promise that didn’t deliver.  I felt like I was watching a Spy Kids-esque vehicle by the end.

Full Season in Review

These three episodes did nothing to make me feel like Black Mirror has a whole lot more to give, at least by the standard it set for itself early on.  I view it now as a sort of science fiction candy with some smart ideas sprinkled on top occasionally.  Don’t get me wrong, that’s not all bad.  It’s a decent show.  It’s just not the show I heaped praise upon for two seasons and change, but a mildly fun diversion.

IMAGE CREDITS

“virtual reality” by Alberto Cinco Jr. is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

“Inside the cab”by dawnmichele is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

“Game of Thrones Card 1 (404 of 590)”by Mark Turner is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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