I am a huge Black Mirror fan; I’ve been completely hooked since the show first started airing… However I have to admit – just like with most fans of the show – there are some episodes that just don’t quite meet the mark. Episodes that fail to bring something new to the table, or to grab my attention… So when I heard that the newest season would be just 3 episodes… I didn’t know how to feel!
Obviously this season follows the ridiculously good Bandersnatch; if you haven’t had the chance to play through Black Mirror’s choose your own story yet I would highly recommend it! Now onto this season (Spoilers)…
Season 5 opened with Striking Vipers – In a throwback to the technology used in USS Callister, two friends who had slowly become distant come back together in a rather explosive way. Anthony Mackie (Avengers) plays the main protagonist in this episode, Danny; we see his close relationship with college friend Karl, portrayed by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Aquaman), at the start of the episode, with it becoming apparent that the two have drifted apart later on. In a bid to rekindle their friendship, Karl buys Danny a virtual reality headset and the game Striking Vipers; a fighter-style game that when combined with the VR headpiece… You can feel every, punch, kick, and… Kiss? Now I knew that we were probably going to see another case of video game addiction, but I didn’t quite expect it to be like this.
Danny and Karl enter into a sexual reationship, purely in-game via their chosen avatars Lance and Roxette; eventually this begins to effect Danny’s relationship with his wife, Theo, with Theo even suspecting that he’s having an affair. This is something the show tries to tackle… Is this relationship porn? Or an affair?
Eventually Danny tells Karl he can’t do it anymore and breaks it off – I think this indicates, at least to me, that Danny feels as though it’s cheating. We see Danny in real life struggling over sending kisses in messages to Karl, and getting excited to hear from him, a lot like a budding romance. Karl, however, tries to make the ‘it’s more like porn’ argument; we can see that he’s addicted to it regardless. Karl tries his best, but Danny puts his foot down. Fast forward, Theo invites Karl over for dinner… And it’s awkward.
The night ends in Karl putting in another plea before leaving, saying that he’s tried it with other players and other characters but it’s just not the same. Again bringing us back round to the is the cheating question – At this point it certainly seems it. Danny asks him to meet him to settle it, the two kiss and… Nothing. Or so they say; but we will never know the extent of that. Eventually, Danny comes clean to Theo – She has also been feeling a need for something extramarital, and so they agree on one night a year futhermore solidifying that this was in fact cheating and not at all like porn… With Danny going into the game and Theo going out on the town.
This episode was a lot for me to unpack. It asks a lot of questions that I’m not sure I have the answer to. Such as Danny and Karls seemingly queer relationship – Although they only engage with each other as heterosexual avatars, it’s still and interesting dynamic. I like the episode, I certainly don’t think it was necessarily one of the best out there, but it was an interesting watch. Brooker stated in interview that part of the inspiration for this episode came from the exacerbated, tired, and sometimes surprisingly sexual noises that characters make in Street Fighter-style games.
I didn’t mind the recycling of the USS Callister technology to tell a different story – I know that others feel that Black Mirror is running out of ideas, but for me this episode wasn’t a confirmation of the pot running dry, because the story was completely different to that of USS Callister. I have no issues with the series exploring previously introduced technology or ideas in a new way – I think it’s very human and we get to see how different people may use the same thing.
Overall I did really enjoy watching this episode; it was a bit slower than other episodes and it’s certainly not the best episode they have ever done, but it’s interesting to watch. If I were to rate it, it would be a 7/10. Maybe not the best one to start with if you’re new to the series, but still worth a watch.
<p><div class=”high”>7.0 / 10</div></p>