BLACK MIRROR SEASON 5
Directors: Owen Harris, James Hawes, and Anne Sewitsky
Starring: Anthony Mackie, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Andrew Scott, Topher Grace, Angourie Rice, and Miley Cyrus
Writer: Charlie Brooker
Creator: Charlie Brooker
After Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, many people were left wanting more. Including me. The only thing that brought me any sort of comfort was knowing that Black Mirror was going to give us a season on top of its interactive trip in the coming months. However, while Season 4 of Black Mirror had spoiled us with an impactful seven-episode variety– Season 5 has arrived with a lowly three episodes, mirroring the first couple season runs. While a bit disappointing, the show’s creator, Charlie Brooker was surely selective for its 2019 return, right? Well…
With Season 5 we have three episodes: Striking Vipers, Smithereens, and Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too.
Striking Vipers is the series tackling of VR, but to another level–and not in the way that an episode like “Playtest” does. The episode focuses on two friends Danny and Karl, played by Anthony Mackie and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. After bonding over a fighting video game in their younger days, they reconnect over the newest iteration. But now technology has advanced, and they are at different places in their lives.
If you like Street Fighter, buckle up for a great homage. Many of the levels are very reminiscent of actual fighting game stages. They do a good job recreating that set-up. It does look a little goofy, admittedly, but it works for what those sequences serve. However, VR in this world does not require a headset. It uses a chip you place on your temple and basically moves your mind into the characters of the game while your real life body lies lifeless. However, the way Brooker uses VR for this story is NOT how I expected.
Black Mirror works the best when you are delivered that “Oh s**t” moment. When you realize what is really going on, you’ll be saying something similar. Right now, VR is still relatively new. It’s hard to fully imagine this future, but I can definitely see VR being used for the types of acts within this episode and becoming a real problem for people. Both Mackie and Abdul-Mateen II give good performances here, as does Nicole Beharie, who plays Mackie’s wife. Under a different tentpole and without this direction by Owen Harris, this combination of ideas could’ve fallen very flat. Luckily, more works than what doesn’t. I love that Brooker likes to explore the topic of video games and how we interact with them, both with “Playtest,” and with Bandersnatch, but I think “Playtest” still holds the top spot in that category for me.
Smithereens is the second episode in the season and is probably the most traditional in terms of the Black Mirror we’ve come to know. It is hands-down the most grounded of the three. The title “Smithereens” refers to the Faux-Twitter social media site that the episode centers around. I liked the way that this episode turns a literal hostage situation into a mystery. The protagonist, Chris, played quite convincingly by Andrew Scott, takes an intern of Smithereens and threatens to kill him unless he can speak to the CEO of Smithereens, Billy Bauer (Topher Grace)–About what? That’s what we’re left to unravel.
This episode is the most interesting to me because, while Chris has taken this innocent guy hostage (light spoiler), you can tell he doesn’t want to hurt the man he’s taken hostage. He’s not just some crazed maniac. Plus the entire time, we’re wondering what exactly Billy Bauer has done to Chris or what about Smithereens has caused Chris to finally snap. Listen, we’ve all dealt with some frustrating people on Twitter, but damn.
Ultimately, I think this episode feels like it has the most to say this season and, while it may not be remembered much in the looks department, I feel like its the most relevant of the bunch.
Lastly, we have Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too. It revolves around two sisters, Rachel (Angourie Rice) and Jack (Madison Davenport) and their relationship– but also Ashley O (Miley Cyrus) and her Manager, Catherine. This, unfortunately, is probably the weakest of the three. Not for lack of trying though. The biggest issue with this episode is its tonal shifts and the execution of its concept. The technology featured in this one is a sort of evolution of Alexa or Siri, but if she were vastly smarter. We’re talking transferring consciousness into a robot. The episode has very dark moments, but they are undercut by moments of real goofiness later in the episode.
Miley Cyrus does a solid job as Ashley O. It makes a lot of sense why she was chosen for this role. It’s not hard to imagine the parallel between Ashley O’s life here and Miley’s own life from when everyone knew her as Hannah Montana. Also, we get to hear her say “f**k,” so that’s something. The episode also feels like it could’ve been cut down a bit. There are points where it feels meandering. You’re just waiting to see how these two separate units are going to collide.
Also, the dad has a very eccentric job that seems out of place, and it’s clear the writers did that purely for one moment with the sisters later on. It felt cheap. However, what didn’t feel cheap was the Ashley O robot. It would actually make a really cool mantelpiece. Plus, I hope it wasn’t spoiled for you exactly, but Ashley O’s songs may sound familiar to you … That was one of the highlights for sure.
Season 5 of Black Mirror feels like they had some leftover ideas from previous seasons. They wanted to do something to fill that empty space in our hearts we all have for the thought-provoking series. It left me wanting more. While there are some great moments and glimpses at greatness here, I don’t think these three will be landing on many fan-favorite episodes lists.