Black Mirror Season 5 Review
Updated: Jun 10, 2019
"A lot has changed since Black Mirror‘s 2011 series premiere shamed viewers for our addictions to various screens. The iPhone was only four years old at the time. Instagram had just celebrated its first birthday...But by far the biggest difference between the show’s early years and now is viewers’ increased awareness of the perils of technology...Details that have come to light since Black Mirror‘s fourth season appeared, 17 months ago, have made the social media giant’s unchecked power a topic of daily conversation. Now, we’re reckoning with a very real tech dystopia of our own."
Before even watching Striking Vipers, I had high expectations because the last Black Mirror episode centralized around Video Games (aside from the choose-your-own-adventure film, Bandersnatch) was Playtest- my absolute favourite episode thus far. Striking Vipers takes a completely different turn than Playtest, toward romance rather than horror. Two best friends bond over a VR version of their favourite street fighter game and deter from gameplay to explore their sexualities through their exaggerated video game avatars. I did enjoy this episode but it lacked the gasp factor that seems to always hit at the end of episodes. Striking Vipers was wrapped up in a bow far too perfectly for my liking. Although, every time Black Mirror does the "plugging in" act and the character transforms into this lifeless being entirely consumed by technology, it sends a chill down my spine. It is amicable that Black mirror featured an LGBTQIA+ relationship as the central topic, except it seemed to fall a little short. As stated in a Digital Spy Article,
"...queer people and queerness is always neatly hidden away in virtual worlds – places they can't impact or interrupt the lives of everyone else."
This shows a parallel to the series' most popular episode, San Junipero. Black Mirror is supposed to be a look into the future, but with this episode, it seems as if it is taking a step backward for queer representation. Overall, it is a cool concept, being able to take on a whole new body, whether that be changing from male to female (or to a white bear???(which may have been a reference to the season two episode White Bear)) and feeling all new sensations limitlessly. Which is not unlike the technology in San Junipero in whichyour body is in peak performance every time you plug in. Unfortunately, this episode fell short of my expectations.
To my surprise, this was my favourite episode of the season. It is relatively low tech for Black Mirror and follows a ride-share driver, Chris, as he seeks a sort of revenge/closure against a huge social media corporation (looks like Twitter, but seems to fall more along the lines of Facebook). He takes an intern hostage and demands to speak to the CEO to discuss the addictiveness of his app and how it is toxic to society, searching for closure and blame before ending his own life (presumably).
As noted in a Vox article,
"...it comes across like a thesis statement for the series as a whole, one creator and writer Charlie Brooker has been saving up to deploy until now. The trouble is that, as thesis statements go, the message of “Smithereens” is both redundant and a little weak; it ultimately feels like a sophomoric, slippery slope argument, with little nuance beyond “social media is bad,” unlikely to edify anyone who’s been following news of the tech world lately."
Aja Romano, Vox An element of this episode that I thoroughly enjoyed, although I believe it was meant to be disturbing, was the ability for the corporation to produce far more information on Chris than the police could and develop strategies, back-door listening, and, as described in the episode, a way of playing god. The show is a nihilist satirical commentary on society within the sway of Gestell. I feel as though at this point in time, I am powerless to the domination of technology so I have no choice but to accept it and succumb. So rather than feeling disturbed, I was fascinated because it does not feel so far off that tech companies have the ability to enter "God Mode" and tinker through every sector of our individual lives. This episode was full of cliches and the message that we're all addicted to our smartphones, it is even set in present day, but did that stop me from checking my Twitter feed the second credits began to roll? No.
Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too
If you ask any of my friends, they will tell you that I have been uncontrollably excited about this episode from the moment that it was rumoured that Miley Cyrus would be part of the season five cast. The trailer had me reliving my Hannah Montana fuelled childhood and I could not be more pumped. I started with this episode because I could not contain myself any longer but, it was extremely underwhelming. It plays to classic film tropes of the princess trapped in the castle and makes obvious parallels to Miley's Disney channel upbringing. Miley plays an exaggerated Hannah Montana character named Ashley O, and she is a pop star promoting an AI doll (basically half-doll half-Alexa) that is basically a replica of her brain with all negativity excluded (similar to White Christmas in which you could upload your consciousness to a little device). Behind the curtain, Ashley O is depressed and trapped in a restrictive contract under the tyrannic rule of her manager/aunt. Her team is drugging her and keeping her locked up until the drugs put her into a coma and it is up to two young teens to save their pop idol. This whole episode felt extremely childish- as if the Hannah Montana writers wanted to do a thriller Halloween episode completely saturated with teen angst. You could not imagine my disappointment. This storyline had so much potential, and seemed to be an inside look on the cruelties of contracting under huge corporations in the entertainment industries. Many fans connected Ashley O to Avril Lavigne, Britney Spears, and of course, Miley Cyrus and their struggles within the industry.
There just seemed to be too many ideas happening at once, and (specifically in the beginning) the editing was lacking, it was far too drawn out. There was persistent emphasis misplaced on the teen girls family and struggles when there could have been more expansion on Ashley O. There were parallels between the mice the girls' father kept in glass cases (not unlike Ashley O's glass mansion) his desire to protect them rather than drug and kill them that was later reflected in Rachel and Jack's behaviour-but I felt that this was even a stretch, and not entirely necessary to the plot.
As noted in Time,
"...instead of keeping viewers up at night with political hellscapes and other horror-movie scenarios, season 5 rarely departs in a meaningful way from what’s possible now."
Judy Berman, Time The whole episode felt silly, but thankfully, there is a Miley Cyrus song to sum up my feelings for Black Mirror after this episode, I probably shouldn't say this but at times I get so scared, When I think about the previous relationship we've shared, It was awesome but we lost it, It's not possible for me not to care.
Let me know what you thought about this season! xoxoAlysha Autumn