Any other Black Mirror fans out there? Along with the rest of the world, I’m a pretty big fan of this show, though it’s always kind of a mixed bag in terms of writing. So I thought that now that I’ve seen all three episodes of season five and had a couple days to gather my thoughts that I’d put together some mini reviews for each episode. This post is chock-full of spoilers, by the way, so proceed at your peril if you haven’t watched the episodes yet.
Episode 1: “Striking Vipers”
The premise of “Striking Vipers” is that a man who has lost the spark of his marriage uses a VR fighting game to cheat on his wife with his best friend. This one’s a bit of a gender bender—the man’s friend, also male, uses a female character, so though the sex is heterosexual on the surface, there’s an underlying question of whether the two friends would enjoy a homosexual relationship IRL.
I enjoyed this episode, and it inspired a bit of a debate with my husband and some friends of ours (all big gamers) about what constitutes cheating. I think there was a bit of a missed writing opportunity here, though; I fully expected the husband to fess up to his wife and start having wild, raucous sex with her in the game, as opposed to the once-a-year sex-with-other-people compromise they came up with. I know some will disagree, but it feels pretty depressing for them to wait all year to have sex with other people, like it is some great treat to get away from each other. So overall this episode was okay, but I felt like the ending was a bit unsatisfying and would have liked to see things head in a different direction.
Episode 2: “Smithereens”
I enjoyed “Smithereens” the most of the three episodes, even though it dragged on a bit in the latter half. The premise is that a man kidnaps an intern who works at the social media company Smithereen and uses the hostage situation to demand to speak with Smithereen’s CEO. As is revealed later in the episode, a few years back the man was caused an accident that resulted in the death of his fiance; he had been checking the Smithereen app while driving, ultimately causing the crash. It’s because of the purposely addictive quality of the Smithereen app that the man wishes to speak with the CEO.
It’s the reasoning behind the man’s request that weakens this episode slightly. He admits that it was him who ultimately caused the crash, but still he finds a lot of grievance with Smithereen. This is the point where I started questioning the ultimate message of the episode. Yes, social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram are specifically engineered to be addictive, but this doesn’t mean that their users have no agency. Many things beside social media are addictive; if someone is an alcoholic and they cause a fatal accident while driving drunk, no one is calling liquor companies to complain. That fault rests with the individual.
So while I found this episode very engaging, especially how the government officials and Smithereen higher-ups worked to clarify and resolve the situation, the message of the episode was a bit muddled.
Episode 3: “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too”
“Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too,” also known as the Miley Cyrus episode, was decidedly the weakest of the lot—though this was not down to Miley’s performance, surprisingly enough! The episode follows two teenage sisters from a middle class family and a pop star who is at odds with her aunt, who is also her manager. The younger of the two sisters is a huge fan of the singer, so when the singer comes out with an Alexa-like toy, that’s the only thing the young teen wants for her birthday.
I was wholly prepared for this episode to delve deep into the ways that online personalities can simulate friendship. Think about it: the young, lonely teen girl is given a version of her idol that can keep up a conversation. There is such an opportunity here to explore how people find “friendship” with online personalities—for isn’t this the reason that streamers and vloggers are so popular? It’s because they are friendship (or even relationship!) simulators, to the point that some streamers might conceal their relationship status to keep up the illusion that they are single.
Yet instead the episode veers off into left field; the pop star’s maniacal aunt puts her in a drug-induced coma, then extracts songs from her brain for release. There are way too many “buys” in this episode; what I mean by that is that with speculative fiction the writer is given one unique, unrealistic aspect to explore that the audience will “buy,” and then of course the freedom to play with that “buy” for the rest of the story. Yet in this episode, we are asked to not only buy that a weak version of the pop star’s personality has been condensed into the toy, but also that the singer’s aunt is outright evil with no depth, that two teenage girls can hack into the toy’s “brain,” and that the aunt can prize songs from her niece’s brain and release them to the public with no audience blowback. Pretty unbelievable, right?
So while it was interesting to see Miley act, this episode just spiraled into ridiculousness and felt like a wasted opportunity.
Are you guys Black Mirror fans? What did you think of this season?