Dropped rather unceremoniously on a Wednesday, Netflix’s science fiction anthology series added three more episodes to their canon with their fifth season. With each episode a little more than an hour with a star-studded cast, it makes for a faster watch that the previous longer season did. Add to the fact that these three episodes aren’t nearly as grim in comparison, this season is even more enjoyable than the others I’ve seen. Even with a lackluster middle offering, series creator Charlie Brooker returns with a season that is worth the watch.
Season five begins with “Striking Vipers”, starring Anthony Mackie (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Hurt Locker) and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Us, Aquaman). Abdul-Mateen’s Karl gifts Mackie’s Danny with the newest edition of the Street Fighter-esqe video game, which uses virtual reality to make the players feel the action in the game. While playing, it becomes an exploration of sexuality that frankly I didn’t see coming but fully enjoyed. Not quite on the level of “San Junipero” in quality and wholesomeness, “Striking Vipers” is still an interesting exploration of how virtual reality could allow people to explore things they otherwise wouldn’t be comfortable enough with themselves to do in the real world. It’s great to see Black Mirror shed it’s grimdark ‘technology is the root of evil’ stance once in a while to deliver great stories like this.
Following that is “Smithereens”, starring Andrew Scott (Sherlock, Spectre) and Topher Grace (The Hot Zone, That 70’s Show). Scott plays Chris, a taxi driver who takes an intern of Facebook or Twitter analog company, the eponymous Smithereen, hostage. The only demand is that he gets to talk to the founder and inventor of the app, Grace’s Billy Bauer. Yet another social media is bad or has bad effects on the populace episode, this story doesn’t do anything that hasn’t been seen before, and is a let down in comparison to the previous and following episodes. Furthermore, and though this is a point of personal taste, I’m not the biggest fan of Andrew Scott generally speaking, though his acting isn’t bad at all in the story told, it’s just an unoriginal story. “Hated in the Nation”, “Nosedive”, and “Be Right Back” all handle the pitfalls of social media better.
Lastly is “Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too”, starring Miley Cyrus (Hannah Montana, The Voice), Angourie Rice (Spider-Man: Homecoming, The Nice Guys), and Madison Davenport (Sharp Objects, From Dusk till Dawn: The Series). It follows Cyrus as Ashley O, a thinly veiled allusion to herself as a musician who is forced to be a giddy and bubbly pop star by an abusive circle of handlers, as well as Rachel and Jack, played by Rice and Davenport respectively, young girls whose mother had recently passed. While Jack becomes obsessed with the punk bands her mother loved, Rachel is a fan of the optimistic and empowering pop music Ashley releases, and asks her father to buy her an Ashley Too, a robotic friend with an A.I version of Ashley’s personality. While the story is disjointed, trying to spend as much time with the girls as it does with Ashley’s not so glamorous life behind the scenes, I enjoyed it as a crazy tale that bridges the gap between ridiculousness and that grim darkness that Black Mirror is known for. While the episode does drag on heavily with Ashley’s life as a controlled pop star instead of delving deeper into the spooky tech that allows her handlers to take music and lyrics directly out of her mind while she’s infirm, I still had a great time watching it.
After the strangeness that was last year’s ‘choose your own adventure’ movie Bandersnatch, it’s good to see a return to form with season five. Was it perfect? Of course not. Nothing is, but it did try to do some things that were interesting for the most part. I would love it if Brooker could move away from using video games and social media as the backing tech for his stories, however, as eventually there will be no more room for anything new there. That said, if you wanted to get your fix of anthology storytelling and tech-based Twilight Zone-style fiction, season five of Black Mirror is not one to miss.
All three episodes of Black Mirror’s fifth season are available for streaming on Netflix.
David Castro is a Puerto Rican writer from New York City. He has worked on the upcoming Undead supplement for Chill Third Edition and is working on launching a Patreon. You can find him on Twitter (@theinkedknight), on Tumblr (thedevilsyouknew), on Facebook (facebook.com/inkstainedstudios), and at davidrcastro.com.