Following the release of Bandersnatch, the first “Choose Your Own Adventure” movie on Netflix, comes Season 5 of Black Mirror. For the unacquainted, Black Mirror is an anthology series that has technology as its core. In other words, each episode is a new story of its own, and involves the use of technology in some way – usually negative, in order for people to realise the impact that such usage of technology may have.
With expectations high for the new season after a long wait, I couldn’t help but watch it as soon as it was released! Season 5 brings audiences three thought-provoking new stories, each involving different technologies and themes.
Episode 1: Striking Vipers
This particular episode follows the story of Danny (played by Anthony Mackie), who reunites with college buddy Karl over a VR version of their favorite video-game from back in the day, Striking Vipers. When their late-night gaming sessions yield an unexpected discovery, tensions rise between the two (and their other interpersonal relationships).
The big question in Striking Vipers is pretty much “Is cheating in virtual reality the same as cheating in real life?” It’s one of those Black Mirror episodes with a lot of sex, but it’s fresh in the sense that it explores the complexities of sexuality in real life versus in a virtual world. That, and mild spoiler alert: the relationships being dealt with in the episode aren’t all heterosexual.
Personally, I felt that the episode does have tension to it, but feels weak when compared to previous Black Mirror episodes with similar elements. One of the best lines in the entire series is in this episode, though.
Episode 2: Smithereens
The story for this episode is told through the perspective of a London ride-share driver, who kidnaps a worker from a social media company in a bid to contact the company’s founder.
While the premise may not sound like much, this is arguably one of Black Mirror’s more interesting episodes. Set in the year of 2018, Smithereens doesn’t involve any of the cool, futuristic technology typically seen in Black Mirror. Rather, Smithereens aims to show audiences just how fast information can spread via the use of social media, and how social media makes personal data so much more accessible.
With high tension maintained throughout the episode in a relatively unique setting and manner of operation, it’s an episode you should definitely give a watch. While some might pass off the ending as “weak”, it’s definitely the most bleak ending this season.
Episode 3: Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too
Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too follows the story of Rachel, a lonely teen that’s a die-hard fan of Ashley O, a pop singer played by Miley Cyrus. For her birthday, she receives an A.I robot doll named Ashley Too, which speaks like the celebrity. Things spiral quickly for Rachel as the life of the real Ashley O unravels.
Without going much into detail, this episode is arguably the least “Black Mirror” episode ever produced. There’s a training montage and a car chase, which… oddly enough, plays out like a Disney movie with an unusual focus on technology and a slightly darker undertone. In fact, it does feel like a darker parody of a Disney movie, especially when you consider the tropes and imagery scattered throughout the episode, and the seemingly deliberate casting of Miley Cyrus (who plays her role splendidly).
On a whole, the episode does serve to give commentary on the darker sides of the life of a celebrity. Though a lot of people disliked the episode’s tone and plot based on what “Black Mirror” is supposed to be, it’s a refreshing episode with a heartwarming (though cliche) ending.
If anything, Season 5 is a much lighter version of what Black Mirror was in its past few seasons. It still uses technology in its plot lines to make its viewers think, and there are still messed up things going on in each episode – just not as messed up as before. With episodes that are lighter in tone, it’s a great way for new audiences to get into Black Mirror.
That said, for fans of the series, it’s best to watch this season with an open mind. After all, if you’re expecting to get emotionally wrecked by a bleak ending or to question technology as we know it, this season doesn’t bring it. If you can put that expectation aside and accept the tonal difference in these episodes, or if you’ve wanted more light-hearted episodes in the first place, then Season 5 of Black Mirror is for you.