After a nearly year-and-a-half long hiatus, Charlie Brooker’s science fiction anthology series, “Black Mirror,” finally returned for its fifth installment with three new episodes. The new episodes are reminiscent of the first two seasons in length and in tone, missing much of the flashiness present in the third and fourth seasons. Each episode runs roughly an hour in length, making a binge-watch session fairly easy to accomplish.
With a long amount of time separating the release of the fourth and fifth seasons, fans naturally had high expectations going into these new episodes. While the overall ideas are unique and original, the writing isn’t as up to par compared to what it’s been in past seasons, and the episodes end on abrupt terms that fail to give satisfying conclusions. Most “Black Mirror” episodes end on depressing or confusing notes, but it’s hard for season 5 to evoke any sort of strong emotional punch. Though the fifth season may suffer when it comes to compelling stories, dangerous and futuristic technology still drive the narrative for each episode, making the show consistent with past seasons.
The first episode, “Striking Vipers,” stars Marvel actors Anthony Mackie (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”) and Pom Klementieff (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) alongside Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (“The Get Down”) and Nicole Beharie (“Sleepy Hollow”). It’s focused on two best friends who used to be roommates, Danny (Mackie) and Karl (Abdul-Mateen II), who play a virtual reality video game together which results in them discovering hidden truths about themselves and their relationship. “Black Mirror” has had episodes primarily about relationships in the past — including fan-favorites “San Junipero,” “Hang the DJ” and “Be Right Back” — but the featured relationship in this episode is somewhat unorthodox for the show with its unusual exploration of sexuality and appeals to various types of audiences.
Some of the best parts of “Striking Vipers” are its special effects in the virtual reality game. When Danny and Karl play it for the first time, the details in their characters and surroundings are so clear that it seems like they’re in real life, yet there’s a hint of animation to clarify it’s still a game. Additionally, the camera movements are shaky and focused in a way that mirrors how the screen moves in normal video games. As the episode continues, the effects wear off, but they remain impressive nonetheless.
The second episode, “Smithereens,” feels most like previous episodes of the series and is arguably the best written of the new season. It centers around a man named Chris (Andrew Scott), a driver for an Uber-like company called Hitcher. He usually picks up passengers outside Smithereen — the headquarters for a corporation similar to Twitter — and always asks whether or not his customers work there. He never seems to get the answer he wants until he picks up Jaden (Damson Idris), an innocent employee of the company. Upon finding out he works for Smithereen, Chris kidnaps him and holds him hostage, demanding to get in contact with the company’s founder, Billy Bauer (played by “That ‘70s Show” actor Topher Grace).
“Smithereens” is the most tragic episode of season 5, and its ambiguous ending leaves its audience with the most questions. “Black Mirror” is known for its commentary on technology and the way society uses it, and “Smithereens” does the best job at highlighting how wrapped up people can become in social media, missing real life to the point where significant moments in their lives are viewed as nothing more than a notification.
The last episode, “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too,” is about a teenage girl’s infatuation with her popstar idol, Ashley O. (Miley Cyrus). The protagonist, Rachel (Angourie Rice), just moved to a new school with her father, Kevin (Marc Menchaca) and sister, Jack (Madison Davenport). Feeling alone and without friends, Rachel spends time with an electronic doll-like figure called “Ashley Too,” which serves as an artificial intelligence replica of Ashley O. The episode takes several twists and turns, and while Miley Cyrus does a great job in her role, it almost felt more like a Disney Channel movie rather than a “Black Mirror” episode. Though not the best of the new season, “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too” still has a unique story and plenty to offer.
“Black Mirror” season 5 is still worth the watch for dedicated fans, but none of the three new episodes will likely be regarded as one of the show’s best. Nevertheless, Brooker’s series remains insightful and sublime and will likely gain more popularity in the coming years.
Contact Kira Baldau at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.