Netflix debuted the much-anticipated fifth season of its sci-fi anthology seriesBlack Mirrorrecently, and while the program remains innovative and thought provoking, it’s possible that, five seasons in, it might simply be lacking fresh ideas.
(Some spoilers listed below.)
Black Mirroris the production of Charlie Brooker, co-showrunner with Annabel Jones, and he composes nearly every episode. The series explores the darker side of innovation, and it’s very much in the spirit of timeless anthology series likeThe Twilight ZoneBrooker developedBlack Mirrorto highlight subjects associated with humanity’s relationship with technology, developing stories that include” the method we live now– and the method we may be living in 10 minutes’ time if we’re clumsy.” The series debuted on the British Channel 4 in December2011, followed by a 2nd season. Noting its popularity, Netflix took control of production for seasons 3 and 4 in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
Season 5’s release was postponed by the speculative “pick your own adventure” standalone one-offBlack Mirror“event,” calledBlack Mirror: BandersnatchEmbed in 1984,Bandersnatchfollows the travails of a young programmer named Stefan (Fionn Whitehead), intent on making an interactive computer game based upon a fictional choose-your-own-adventure (CYOA) unique,Bandersnatch, from a tragic author called Jerome F. Davies. (Take a look at our spoiler-y Choose-Your-Own-Opinion review from previously this year. Or you might have a look at our CYOA “Tentacular, tentacular!” from 2011.)
Now season 5 is finally here, boasting an excellent cast that consists of Anthony Mackie, Miley Cyrus, Topher Grace, Andrew Scott, Nichole Beharie, Damson Idris, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, amongst others. It’s just 3 episodes, a return to its British roots (the first two seasons only had 3 episodes each). Personally, I favor less, much better episodes on TV in general if that’s what the storytelling needs. Unfortunately, in this case, just one of the three new episodes totally succeeds in catching that oldBlack Mirrormagic.
The weakest of the three is “Smithereens,” in which a ride-share driver named Chris (Andrew Scott, who played Moriarty in the BBC’sSherlockseries) takes Jaden (Damson Idris), a worker of a social media company called Smithereen, captive at gunpoint. As cops surround the cars and truck, Chris requires to speak with Smithereen CEO Billy Bauer (Topher Grace); tensions naturally install from there. Both Scott and Idris are excellent, particularly as we get a better understanding of what lags Chris’s actions. It’s an embarassment the episode as a whole feels muddled and unfocused as to what its main theme is meant to be. Is it that all of us invest too much time glued to our smartphones? Or that our extraordinary connectivity by means of social networks makes us especially vulnerable to privacy breaches? The episode briefly discuss both, however it does not actually have anything unique or meaningful to say about either.
” Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too” has a bit more intriguing premise. Pop star Ashley O. (Miley Cyrus) places on a perky public face for the sake of her lots of adoring fans, however privately she appears to be dealing with anxiety. The most current marketing gimmick from her aunt/manager, Catherine (Susan Pourfar), is Ashley Too, an Alexa-like doll spouting positive affirmations, whose AI is allegedly imbued with Ashley O.’s actual character. One of the dolls end up with a lonesome teenager called Rachel (Agourie Rice), anuber– fan in spite of her goth older sister Jack’s (Madison Davenport) unrelenting side-eye.
When the real Ashley falls into a coma, purportedly from an allergic response, Catherine uses all the neuro-data collected to make the Ashley Too dolls to develop a perfect hologram version of Ashley O.– one that is never tired, sick, depressed, or has none of the all-too-human failings of the genuine Ashley. That’s a technological future that’s currently here: one of Japan’s greatest pop stars is Hatsune Miku, who is part hologram (technically, a visual effect based upon the 19 th century “Pepper’s Ghost” illusion), part avatar, however at heart a vocaloid software application permitting fans to produce their own “tunes” for the pop star to “carry out.”
Requiring audiences to consider uncomfortably disturbing realities is what Black Mirror does at its finest.
There’s a whole amusing narrative thread including Rachel and Jack partnering with an unexpectedly sentient Ashley II doll on a gaffe-prone quest to find the pop star– yes, sometimesBlack Mirrorcan have a little fun. However eventually Rachel’s teenaged angst is quite garden variety. What actually drives the episode is the struggle in between Ashley O. and Catherine over who gets to manage the former’s creative future. Catherine desires the Ashley O. machine to keep draining the bubbly synth-pop hits; Ashley is itching to write music with a darker perceptiveness, more in line with her real self. Catherine honestlychoosesthe malleable, straightforward hologram variation, and she’s ready to go to extreme lengths to protect her vision for her niece’s musical tradition. No matter how sophisticated our future innovation gets, that’s a struggle that is classic.
Which brings us to the 3rd, and greatest, of the 3 episodes, “Striking Vipers,” which focuses on a married couple, Danny (Anthony Mackie) and Theo (Nicole Beharie), whose lives have actually settled into dull predictability after 11 years and a three-year-old child. On Danny’s birthday, his still-single buddy Karl (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) offers him a completely immersive VR version of their preferred video game,Striking Vipers(think shades ofMortal KombatandTekken 3). Let’s just state Danny finds some adulterous complete satisfaction in the VR confines of the game that has a negative impact on his already troubled marriage.
It would have been easy for Brooker to tell yet another story questioning whether sex in a virtual realm is “genuine” and hence technically “unfaithful”; we have actually seen it many times previously. Rather, the story’s primary twist requires some much more disturbing questions to the leading edge, about the nature of sexuality– just how much is purely physical and how much is in the mind?– sexual orientation, male relationship, just how much (if at all) one’s avatar shows the actual player, and so forth. Requiring audiences to ponder annoyingly troubling facts about our relationship to technology and to each other is whatBlack Mirrordoes at its finest, and it’s regrettable the other two episodes do not quite reach that level.
Black MirrorS5 is currently streaming on Netflix.