Note: as always there be spoilers ahead!
Since the release of Bandersnatch I’ve been clamoring for more Black Mirror, and in June Charlie Brooker, Annabel Jones, and Netflix granted my wish true. So, with a break since season 4 and the quite-different Bandersnatch, how does this season compare?
Like any Black Mirror episode, this one touches on many current and near-future technologies, including VR and immersive gaming. It also, with a predominantly black cast, touches upon something else: the sub-culture of Down-low. Now, in this day and age, especially on a “network” (ie streaming platform in this case), it’s not outlandish to address a non-heterosexual fetish/idea/culture, but even in a show with an episode focused on a lesbian relationship (San Junipero, in my opinion still the best episode of this series), a male minority homosexual relationship is still quite a leap, at least in my eyes.
In this episode, college friends Danny and Karl reunite at a birthday party for Danny. The two are almost complete opposites now: Danny the family man and respectable career, and Karl still the bachelor. Karl gives Danny a birthday gift, the VR fighting game Striking Vipers. When Danny begins to play, Karl sends a play request and the two begin to spar, enjoying the competition and re-kindling friendship. However (this is Black Mirror, you were waiting for the “however” right?) the realism goes too far when one of them plays a female character, and while fighting the two begin kissing and become romantic. While odd at first, neither can deny how real (and good) it feels, and before long both are addicted to this unforeseen side of the game. Their relationship with each other, along with each relationship’s with women, is the heart of this episode. It think it handled it in a mature and interesting manner, and overall this is a strong episode.
In this episode we get what I feel to be “true” Black Mirror, with a plot and feel very similar to Shut Up and Dance. A cab driver, Chris, takes his passenger hostage and demands to speak to the CEO of the company, the Twitter-like Smithereen. Blaming him and the company for the death of his wife, this episode focuses on the dynamic between Chris and Billy over the phone. Chris is stuck in a field surrounded by police ready to end the hostage situation, while Billy is off on a technology-free retreat and only through his employees’ phone and laptop does he access Chris’ info and social media history. The dialogue is prime Black Mirror, never letting the viewer have relief and keeps him or her interested all the way until the very end. Overall this may not be an exciting episode, but it’s exactly what Black Mirror is, and for a newcomer to the show it would make a perfect first episode to watch.
Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too
While Striking Vipers might be the most divisive episode of this season, this episode has probably garnered the most negative criticism and outspoken reviews. In my opinion it’s not terrible per-se, but it’s certainly the weakest episode of this season, and one of the weakest Black Mirror episodes period. The writing, acting, and overall plot just isn’t interesting and didn’t get me to emotionally invest like pretty much every other episode has done.
I am very happy we got a few additional Black Mirror episodes, as varied in quality and re-watchability as they are. As someone who really enjoyed season 4 and Bandersnatch, I had pretty high expectations for this new season, and I can’t say that much of it was met. But, I do hope the viewership and overall reception will indicate to Netflix to let Charlie, Annabel, and crew to continue making new episodes, tackling new and otherwise evolving issues in our technologically-advancing world.