WHAT IT’S ABOUT
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
Black Mirror is an anthology television series created by English screenwriter Charlie Brooker. Each episode is a self-contained story that explores technology and its effects on human behaviour, especially the way tech triggers our darker impulses. Season five consists of three episodes.
Episode 1: ‘Striking Vipers’
Danny (Anthony Mackie) is a happily married family man. His life takes a sudden turn when his old friend Karl (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) gives him a virtual reality sequel to a fighting game they used to play. When they play that night, their consciousnesses are transferred to their in-game avatars as their bodies lie unconscious on their couches, similar to the show’s depictions of VR in the season four episode, ‘USS Callister’. They fight, and as their bout ends, they get attracted to each other and have sex in the game. Danny is disturbed, yet finds himself unable to stop. His wife Theo (Nicole Beharie), noticing that he has become distant, confronts him on their anniversary.
Episode 2: ‘Smithereens’
An intern, Jaden (Damson Idris), who works at a tech company called Smithereen, a Facebook-like social media network, is kidnapped by Chris (Andrew Scott), who could win the award for world’s worst Uber driver. He’s quickly spotted by cops and the ensuing car chase strands them in the middle of a field. Chris demands to speak to the CEO of Smithereen (Topher Grace) in order to rant about the social network’s addictive quality as it has ruined his life.
Episode 3: ‘Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too’
Set in the near future in California, the episode follows the three titular characters. Rachel (Angourie Rice) and Jack (Madison Davenport) are teenage sisters coping with their mother’s death. Jack does this playing her mom’s favourite alternative rock songs on bass and Rachel by obsessing over pop star Ashley O (Miley Cyrus), who she begins to view as a role model. Rachel also becomes obsessed with Ashley Too, a smart speaker similar to Alexa, based on Ashley’s saccharine public persona. The sisters discover that the speaker is not as innocent as it seems and that Ashley could be in danger.
This season of Black Mirror lacks the show’s characteristic edge. Brooker has committed to film moral extremes to which few film and television makers will venture, and it is for this taboo-breaking reason that the show is loved. However, in these episodes, more closure is delivered to characters and the endings, while they’re not exactly happy, are distressingly upbeat. It feels as if you’re looking more into a grey-ish mirror than a black one that presents nightmarish scenarios of the future. For instance, Andrew Scott delivers an intense performance, but when we finally get the reveal of his character’s motives for the kidnapping, they fall very far short of a typical Black Mirror twist. Similarly, the visually spectacular ‘Striking Vipers’ is rather docile notwithstanding a delicious premise. When it comes to ‘Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too’, Brooker seems to have held back instead of robustly exploring the frightful possibilities of smart speakers.
Even though this season doesn’t live up to the brilliance of previous episodes, it offers terrific performances and it entertains. Though this is probably not what Brooker intended.