Black Mirror: Season Five Thoughts

SPOILER ALERT FOR SEASON FIVE OF BLACK MIRROR

I consider Black Mirror to be one of the greatest sci-fi shows ever made. Its portrayal of the effect technology has on the human psyche has made for some one of the most insightful and realistic stories I have ever come across.

It has the ability to both haunt and inspire in equal measure, doling out some harsh truths about the fallibility of man all while creating interesting storylines and environments that will have you reeling for days.

That being said, this season was some serious meh.

While other episodes have shaken me to the core and left me soaking in the bathtub for hours in contemplation, this seasons helpings of dystopian doom lacked some serious flavor.

Let’s start with Striking Vipers. 

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When I heard this episode was going to be about virtual reality, I wasn’t impressed. Yes, the thought of virtual reality escalating in quality to the point of being on-par with reality is an intriguing concept in theory, however, it’s one that has been played out in most forms of media. I wasn’t sure what else they could possibly add to the conversation given the bevy of other stories that have explored this very topic.

Then the two heterosexual males started boning each other.

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As the story unfolded I experienced that familiar sense of foreboding that pervades all episodes of Black Mirror, the burdensome knowledge that shit is about to hit the fan and there will be nothing but wreck and ruin that awaits all involved.

Dany was going to lose his marriage. Karl might be experiencing  gender dysphoria (this wasn’t explored in as much depth as I was hoping). I had to pause and consider what the writer was trying to convey. Are we who we are only if we are in a certain body? If we existed in another body would we truly be ourselves, or do our souls merely adapt to the vessel that they are placed in?

At first, it’s merely a means of achieving a sexual high, that is until Karl accidentally says the “l-word” which presents them with an ultimate question. Are their virtual reality feelings real?

They seek a resolution to this conundrum, yet the answer isn’t as clean-cut as they think.

I don’t take issue with the ambiguity of Karl and Dany’s feelings for each other. The problem I have with this episode is that they get away with their adulterous acts completely unscathed.

Karl and Dany have a love affair that goes on for ages and there are essentially no consequences. Dany stays married to his beautiful wife with a baby on the way and Karl is still living the bachelor life without a care in the world

I’m not opposed to a happy ending (especially in a show with such a dark, nihilistic tone), but the ending doesn’t feel deserved. There should be at least some negative repercussions to emerge from this.

Dany’s wife should have left him or he should have left her. Maybe Karl could have gone to Dany’s house on a whim and confessed his undying love to Dany only for Dany reject him out of principle, thus ending their friendship and leaving both of them feeling hollow and miserable.

Either one of these would have better than just letting them have their cake and eat it too.

A story devoid of consequences is one devoid of meaning.

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The next episode Smithereens was the best in the bunch, in my opinion. It was fast-paced, topical, and  provided the sort of thought-provoking commentary on social media I have come to expect from this show.

This episode’s greatest strength is there is no villain. The alleged antagonist is just a broken man; a victim of his own careless mistakes.

It’s so easy for the audience to put themselves in his position and acknowledge that at any moment we could become like him. How many of us have looked at our phones while on the road whether it was to like a tweet or send a text?

What makes it all so terrible is how relatable his situation is. He lost the person he loved most in the world because he was addicted to his phone. Like he tearfully explains to the founder of Smithereens, he killed his fiance over a cat photo.

These sorts of tragedies occur all the time and will continue to happen as long as social media is there to distract us.

It looks at social media companies and their drive to make their wares all the more addictive, subconsciously persuading us to risk our own lives and the lives of those we care about just so we don’t have to be bored for a few minutes.

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My thoughts on this episode summarized

As a side-note, the use of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You by Franki Valli playing over b-footage of pedestrians habitually looking at their phones was genius. Black Mirror has always been clever with their choice of easter-eggs and foreshadowing and this inclusion was just superb.

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I liked Rachel, Jack and Ashely Too the least as it started with a fascinating premise only to degenerate into a mad-cap after-school special.

In the first act, we are introduced to Rachel, a lonely high school girl that is developing a quasi-obsessive relationship with her Ashley O doll, depending on it for self-validation and friendship. Meanwhile the real Ashley O is spiraling into an existential crisis that is leading her down a path of self-destruction. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition between the flowery fiction that is the Ashley sprite and the genuine article which is much bleaker and provides inspiring commentary on the entertainment industry.

For some reason I can’t possible understand, the second half completely drops this and becomes incompatible with the pre-existing message. It was like this episode was written by two different people who couldn’t agree on what the point of the story was supposed to be. 

Why build up the episode to be about a lonely, teenager girl who is developing an unhealthy dependency on a piece of tech if you’re just going to bench her in the end? The issue they introduced in the beginning of the episode never gets resolved. Does Rachel ever find the confidence to stand on her own? Does she find a way to believe in herself enough to overcome her loneliness? We don’t know. But here’s Miley Cyrus crowd surfing!

I didn’t care if Ashley O regained consciousness (they never explained how that happened btw), I wasn’t invested in her. I wanted to know what would become of Rachel if this dependency continued and the implications this would have on her developing mind.

Lonely people seeking companionship in technology is a real issue that should be talked about and makes an interesting story.

This was just predictable and, frankly, stupid.

If I was a creative writing teacher, I would give this a C. It’s watchable but it could have been so much more than it was.

The same could be said for most of the season. It had good ideas but it was not nearly as good as its predecessor.

Dammit, are there no British based programs that haven’t let me down?