Black Mirror season 5 review: Underwhelming and not living upto its own legacy
7.3 Good Black Mirror season 5 consists of three episodes: Striking Vipers, The Smithereens, and Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too; but none of them have the impact that the earlier seasons had.
The well known anthology series Black Mirror from Netflix is back with its fifth installment. Black Mirror season 5 consists of three episodes: Striking Vipers, The Smithereens, and Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too; but none of them have the impact that the earlier seasons had. Instead of delving deeper into our relationship with technology and how it’s transforming us as a society, these episodes are engaging only in bits and pieces, dealing mostly with superficial observations.
Among the three episodes Striking Vipers was the best. It is the one which addresses some profound questions. Starring Anthony Mackie as a man trapped in a dull suburban marriage and his friend who’s living the city life engaging in dating apps. Two friends (Mackie and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who play this VR fighting game, and in the virtual world instead of fighting they explore an alternate sexuality. It addresses issues of how virtual reality may affect real lives.
What is interesting here is that in the virtual world they engage in male-female sex. They always choose the same avatars – quite heteronormative even in the virtual worlds. But that also opens up newer questions of how a man can learn to appreciate sex as a woman. The two gaming buddies are allowed to have their intimate rendezvous while the wife of Mackie’s character (Nicole Beharie) is free to have flings of her own during that time. So it is appreciable how they allow unconventional or non-traditional relationships.
Smithereens centers on a visibly disturbed and disgruntled app-cab driver (Andrew Scott). This app-cab driver kidnaps at gunpoint a young intern (Damson Idris) from the huge social network company. He doesn’t demand money or any other material benefits as ransom but to speak with the head of ‘Smithereens’, the social network company (played by Topher Grace). The episode is highly predictable, and plays out like any hostage situation drama. And by the time it reaches it’s emotional climax, it becomes so predictable that it fails to create any impact.
Though it emphasizes how social networking sites aggravate situations rather than bringing them under control, it also refers to the fatal effects of social media addiction, yet it doesn’t really say anything new. The billionaire owner of Smithereens half-heartedly mentions that his social network wasn’t meant to be so addictive, that it got out of his control. If you can remember Nosedive, another Black Mirror episode about the effect of social media on modern lives and the sense of validation from it, that episode was far more impactful, had a sharp critical eye and unsettling. “Smithereens” was more about a guilt-ridden man’s unburdening to an elite CEO.
Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too is a teen-drama of sorts, with Rachel being the loner at school who finds comfort in a ego-massaging doll, Ashley Too, modeled on her favorite popstar Ashley O (Miley Cyrus). Ashley O, on the other hand doesn’t appreciate her aunt’s domineering management style over her career, and on protesting she is overdosed on drugs and put to coma. The aunt goes on to retract songs from Ashley’s mind by brain-mapping and creates a virtual Ashley O, created by 3D projection. There were quite a few interesting possibilities that the episode could have addressed, for instance the impact of creating a doll with the part consciousness of a real human being, and its effect on reality or the effect of its meaningless ego boosting. Instead it focuses on the sham of stardom, the bleak interior of the life of a popstar. And it ended quite predictably again with the victory of good over evil, restoring normalcy, quite ‘un-Black Mirror-ish’.
If these episodes are judged as standalone ones, or someone starts watching Black Mirror with these episodes, they will not find them too bad. But if you remember the legacy of Black Mirror, the bleakness, the shocking and sharp cultural criticism of technology and human behavior, this season doesn’t live upto it.
The author Sneha Pan
I drink tea and I know things.