Season 5 of Black Mirror comes in two equally-matched instalments, equal in their merit and their ability to hit the sore spot. The third episode, while hot on the premise, is weak on writing and execution.
It’s not the future. It’s not something that will happen 20-30 years down the lane. It’s not the end of the world. Black Mirror season 5 is set in the here and now. Off the bat, the new season has got nothing to do with the Marvel or DC universes, as previously teased by series creator Charlie Brooker. Season 5 of Black Mirror comes in two equally-matched installments, equal in their merit and their ability to hit the sore spot. The third episode, while hot on the premise, is sadly weak on the writing and execution.
As is the case with all previous Black Mirror seasons, the fifth edition also dives into the pits of the human soul, keeping the flipside of technology in focus. From virtual reality and open-world games, to social media addiction, to the price of success in the online influencer-led world we live in today, Black Mirror Season 5 reflects on all of it and more. Some might argue that previous episodes of Black Mirror, like 'Be Right Back', 'Nosedive', 'Whitechristmas', 'USS Calister', and more, have been more cutting edge, and they would be right. However, Season 5 stands out in the way it draws parallels to electronic consumerism, unaccountable technologists, and the over digitised society of today. Here’s our review of the three Black Mirror Season 5 episodes.
What was rumoured to be the Marvel-DC Crossover unlike any seen before its time, is possibly the best of the new lot of Black Mirror episodes. Mortal Kombat and Tekken meet Witcher 3 in this tale not too far from the future of VR open-world gaming. If you thought Facebook’s vision of virtual conversations was intriguing, the concept of social VR gaming depicted in Striking Vipers would blow your mind away. Currently, VR games cater to converting hand gestures and other movements into actions in a virtual world. Now imagine if you could completely immerse yourself in the matrix, with the ability to actually feel sensations you experience in the virtual realm. Striking Vipers strikes that very eventuality.
Anthony Mackie (Falcon, Captain America) and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Black Manta, Aquaman) are the two protagonists, estranged friends, who play a VR open-world fighting game called Striking Vipers. The game comes with an accessory, a VR add-on, which simulates not only virtual reality but also makes players feel physical sensations they experience in the game, without any real consequences. So if one punches the other in the game, they can each feel the punch and the hit while playing, but exhibit no visible damage in real life.
The strengths of the episode shine in-game. From transcending the boundaries of open world gaming to infusing nostalgia of classic fighting games, the episode has it all. The fight sequences, complete with ultras and combos reminiscent of Mortal Kombat and Tekken, are played out to perfection. The realism and attention to detail of the fights in the game is the bait that gets viewers hooked. The endless possibilities of the open world and how the two players interact within it are what makes Striking Vipers unusual, yet relatable.
This is perhaps one of the few Black Mirror episodes that, in the end, warms the heart to the unfamiliar concept of virtual physical reality. When the two protagonists aren’t in their virtual world, reality starts to feel incomplete. The concept of virtual is better than real is very well explored, giving lead characters the ability to experiment and take on dangerous challenges without ramifications. It’s the very reason why people game in the first place; to get as far away from reality as possible. However, as much as one would like to believe in the fact that their gaming addiction (just like any other) has little effect on their surroundings, behaviour, and the people around them, it’s almost never the case. This is what Striking Vipers succeeds in presenting and then flipping in the form of an unexpected ending. Those who like to rate Black Mirror episodes on the basis of how good or bad they are, will find themselves putting this one up their with the greats.
Data and privacy, in this device-driven social media era that we live in, are endangered concepts. Yet, the log-out button is the hardest one to hit. With each new leap in consumer technology, we inadvertently end up giving more and more control over our data to major tech corporations, which in turn, have the ability to analyse and follow our lives in great detail.
Smithereens highlights these very problems of the social media generation. The episode presents the story of a cab driver named Christopher (Andrew Scott) who uses the ride hailing service he works for to his own advantage in order to settle scores with a social media company called Smithereen. He picks up passengers from the company’s office using the ride hailing service, with an intention to kidnap a top-level executive who can make him speak to the CEO of the company Billy Bower (Topher Grace) on the phone. He has a piece to say to Bower and he manages to pick up Jaden (Damson Idris) an intern at Smithereen to fulfil his intentions. Things go south when the police chase Christopher’s car into a field and a hostage situation develops. The rest of the episode is centered around how the police and the Smithereen handle negotiations with Christopher.
The premise is simple and half way through the episode, viewers might be able to predict the motives of the protagonist, however, what is really eye-opening, even though some of us know it, is just how much of our lives we give away to social media companies. The whole Facebook-Cambridge Analytica fiasco plays out in front of your eyes as you see the microscopic consequences of putting out information about yourself on out there on the interweb. There’s also a dig in there about how technology companies snoop on users and listen to their private conversations. While the subject matter might sound too familiar, it is the execution of the events that take place in the episode which keep the thrill going. The realisation that tech companies have more power than legal authorities is quick. Watch out for “God Mode”, it’ll creep the hell out of you.
Miley Cyrus’ much talked about Black Mirror debut happens in the third and last episode of the season. Ashley O (Miley Cyrus), a wildly successful pop-star introduces a range of robotic dolls, created using cues from her own personality. Imagine a much smarter Amazon Alexa in a small, doll-like robotic frame. The AI doll is then purchased by a shy teenager (Angourie Rice) who becomes obsessed with it. What follows is a ridiculous story which forces viewers to question why it really belongs on Black Mirror.
The idea is to highlight the lonely and micro-managed life of an internet influencer, Ashley O in this case, and juxtaposition it to the life of a lonely teenager. At some point, the AI doll malfunctions and the teenager, with the help of her sister (Madison Davenport), manages to unlock Ashley O’s true personality in the doll, in the process of fixing it. Together, they head on a quest to rescue the real-life Ashley from her made-up life.
There really isn’t much to see here and there’s definitely no Black Mirror kick to it. Some might see the merit of the episode as a standalone feature film, but as part of the series, this one definitely sticks out like a sore thumb.
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