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Netflix’s Black Mirror is back for its fifth season. This generation’s The Twilight Zone, writer Charlie Brooker along with producer Annabel Jones have given audiences some of the most fascinating and original sci-fi to air on any platform.
Series five follows on from last year’s highly acclaimed Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, an interactive choose your-own-ending film – unlike anything shown on the streaming service before. However, because of this previous entry, the returning season is only three episodes long.
In interviews, Brooker has stated that Bandersnatch, due to the work involved, was the equivalent of making three normal episodes. In that respect, the length of season five needed cutting back in scale. This time audiences are presented with three stand-alone stories – ‘Striking Vipers’, ‘Smithereens’ and ‘Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too’.
Black Mirror has mutated over time, becoming less twisted in its tales of technology – injecting more light-hearted, positive elements into each new season. This hasn’t dulled the show. In fact, the series has always remained awe-inspiring, addictive viewing. Can Brooker’s hot streak continue?
Based on these three episodes, the answer is a clear astounding yes! Black Mirror is back with a vengeance to entertain – delivering three claustrophobic, nightmarish but also funny visions of a twisted world.
#1. Striking Vipers
Season five kicks off with the tenderness of Striking Vipers, a tale of two college friends who reunite after many years in the most bizarre of circumstances. Anthony Mackie stars as Danny, a middle-aged married man who seeks refuge from what he sees as a mundane existence.
Through a submersion into the world of virtual reality, he finds another existence. Here he gets to live out his sexual fantasies with ninja avatar Roxette (Pom Klementieff) – controlled by his friend Karl (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).
From here the lines between Danny’s virtual world and his actual world begin to blur, with the episode exploring how pre-established conventions of love and sex will probably change with the rise of technology. There’s also a question of whether Danny’s actions are unfair to his wife (Nicole Beharie) since his affair is not technically real.
The reconnecting of Danny and Karl through the episode’s game-like yet strangely tangible VR universe is well-done. Plus with its ambiguous ending, ‘Striking Vipers’ has a subtlety which is sometimes lacking in the more direct episodes of Black Mirror. All in all, it’s a great entry back into Brooker’s strange world with all the series’ classic ingredients firmly in place.
The second of the three and perhaps the weakest of the season, ‘Smithereens’ stars Irish man Andrew Scott (Fleabag, Sherlock) as cab driver Chris. He waits daily outside the offices of a tech company called Smithereen for a certain type of customer. Chris has a plan and needs a way to reach the company’s CEO Billy Bauer (Topher Grace). One day, he finally gets his opportunity as Smithereen intern Jaden (Damson Idris) requires his services.
On the surface, the story offers nothing new. But it’s told in such a unique way that the episode immediately becomes enjoyable viewing – even as it plows over some familiar ground covered in previous episodes, such as ‘Nosedive’ or ‘Hated in the Nation’. Again, issues surrounding our lives and the use of social-media and how increasingly one can’t exist without the other come to the fore.
#3. Rachel, Jack and Ashley, Too
This final episode is the one garnishing most of season five’s attention, no doubt for the inclusion of pop princess Miley Cyrus.
A story of adoration and obsession, art imitates life for Cyrus. The premise is exquisitely executed. Music sensation Ashley O becomes split between the private life she detests and the person she projects as a pop icon.
On top of this, an AI version of herself called Ashley Too is branded to market which, like any other of its type, holds a degree of Ashley O cute phrasing. Think Barbie meets Westworld. It is when the Ashley O obsessed Rachel (Angourie Rice) receives an Ashley Too doll that the stories all collide brilliantly.
As the pace quickens, the humor becomes more surreal. However, the biggest twist is Cyrus’ intoxicating performance – aided by stellar work from Rice, as well from Madison Davenport as Rachel’s sister Jack. This one will go down as one of the best of Black Mirror, with the episode’s reinvention of Nine Inch Nails’ tracks something that must be seen to be believed.