Sci Fi / TV Series
Is It Worth Watching? The first episode at least. The rest are meh.
I have found, in every season of Black Mirror only one out of three episodes are good. In Season 1, it was 15 Million Merits; In Season 2, it was Be Right Back, and so on. The favourite is different for different people, but it’s very rare that all the episodes are a hit. Season 1, for reasons of novelty, just about managed that feat, but it’s only been downhill after that. Season 5 is no different. The three self-contained stories have the Black Mirror trademark of A-list actors with great acting, but the technology element which is the big pull of this series is missing in all but one. And that’s the only one worth watching.
This one stars Anthony Mackie (Falcon from The Avengers) as Danny and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Manta from Aquaman) as Karl. These two have been best friends all their lives; playing video games through the night, especially Striking Vipers, a martial arts game. (I remember playing one of those as part of Yahoo messaging service. Just shows my age!) Now, since Danny got married and had a son, the friends barely keep in touch and meet only once a year at Danny’s birthday parties. On his 38th birthday, Karl presents Danny with the latest version of Striking Vipers with VR technology. This is not your big welder-style goggles, but a little button which you stick on your forehead and whoosh! Your consciousness is transported into a virtual world where you can do anything and feel everything. Suddenly, what was meant to be simply late night gaming sessions, turns into late night gaming sessions with sex. ‘It’s just too fucking strange,’ says Danny, but it provides him with an escape that he’s been looking for.
Although Striking Vipers uses the boring-marriage-without-sex formula which is perennially used to defend digressions, it is the best story of the three. Not least because it portrays the extent to which progress in VR can effect relationships and, in turn, the society. I particularly like how on the outside the city and its buildings are shown to be run down, but inside the houses are kitted with futuristic pinball machines and VR video games. The themes for the game’s fights — a temple, seaside, jungle, Tokyo downtown, rooftops — are also beautifully shot.
Smithereens is a commentary on the perils of social media addiction, a bit like Nosedive (Season 3, Ep 1). It starts off interestingly enough, with Andrew Scott playing a driver for an Uber-style cab-hire, who only seems to take jobs outside a company called Smithereens. Why would anyone in their right mind call their company that? But the name does give out a general evil vibe, which is what they are going for. Scott kidnaps an intern from the company in order to gain access to the CEO so that he can air his grievances. Any suspense in the story soon dissipates as you realise that this is just another rant at what’s happening to us and our children with their noses always in their phones. The ending is contrived to make the story more interesting than it really is.
Charlie Brooker‘s great writing can be seen when Scott is having a go at the intern for wearing a suit. ‘Can’t tell the hierarchy from the way everyone dresses now!’ he shouts. Jokes abound on how no-one in a big company knows anyone beyond their immediate bosses or how social media companies know more about an individual than the police or how executives treat even a kidnap situation like a project to be discussed over a conference call. Funny, but true. As a social commentary it works well, but is not to the level of a Black Mirror episode. Kudos again for the casting as Andrew Scott is really the best actor to play this role. I’m sure without him Smithereens wouldn’t have been even half as good.
Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too
The best thing about Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too is the title. It gets you in. You want to know who these people are, but there’s nothing in store for you except disappointment. The technology connection in this episode comes from Ashley Too which is a Google Home/Alexa–style device, except it’s a toy embedded with the consciousness of the pop idol Ashley O played by Miley Cyrus. Ashley Too helps girls to do make overs, teaches them to dance, plays their favourite songs and other equally inane things. Until, of course, it is required to help real life Ashley.
It’s hard to see this episode for anything more than a come back for Miley Cyrus and an appreciation for her growing up in the limelight as Hannah Montana. The Ashley Too toy was annoying and the story of the sisters Rachel and Jack was too laboured. The episode tries hard to be funny, but isn’t. Rotten Tomatoes has voted it as the worst Black Mirror episode, which is a real shame because Miley Cyrus, herself, was not too bad.