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.

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?

 

The Twilight Zone: “The Comedian” Review

Disclaimer: The following review contains spoilers. To watch the free pilot, click here

As a fan of the original Twilight Zone, I thought I would give the revival a try. I heard it would be helmed by Jordan Peele so it was in competent hands. Unlike many writers of political satire in the post-modern age, he is talented enough to take on such a project. After all,  he already has two movies under his belt, both of which have been critical and box-office hits and contain great social commentary.

The pilot for this reboot is about a failed comic, Amir, whom, after a chance encounter with a legendary comedian, is granted the ability to make people laugh. But there is a catch. Everyone he jokes about disappears.

So…what did I think?

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Okay, well, it wasn’t awful but it wasn’t good either.

To its credit, the message is very Twilight Zone-isque and the metaphor of people being “unpersoned” is effective in helping to convey it. Conceptually, it’s a thought-provoking perspective on comedy and how making oneself so available to the public takes away a person’s sense of self.

The execution, however, was a bit derivative.

For starters, the main character isn’t likable from the offset. Sure, he isn’t supposed to be funny (that’s the point), but rather than sympathize with him for his lack of talent in a craft he so clearly admires, I thought he was just a pretentious neckbeard. Not misunderstood, not flawed, but a fedora-hatted neckbeard that thinks everyone should recognize his brilliance because his comedy “means something.”

To add to the general unlikeability of this person, even after he makes his girlfriend’s nephew disappear, he doesn’t really care. It’s true that he freaks out at first, but it seems like he’s more upset that he can now break reality, rather than the fact that his girlfriend’s sister’s child is gone forever. That kid did nothing to him and he quickly shrugs it off like it never happened.

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This makes it much more difficult to feel any grief for him when he comes to his fate at the end of the episode.

Moving on, I realize that the Twilight Zone is meant to be a drama and the most important thing is that the story’s message is properly conveyed, but come on. They couldn’t have made it a little funny? This was an episode about a comedian performing at a comedy club in an episode about trying to make people laugh written by a comedy writer.  I know Amir isn’t supposed to be good initially, but hell even a broken clock works twice a day. Couldn’t the curse have made him just a bit more witty so it’s not as much of a chore to sit through?

I realize it’s a short format so there’s less time to work with, but the characters in this story suffered a noticeable lack of development, especially Amir’s girlfriend. As a result their relationship isn’t well defined, so it’s difficult to care when they end up breaking up. We learned that they were apparently on the rocks before they took a trip to Paris but we didn’t see any evidence there was anything wrong with their relationship prior to this scene. And how can an extravagant vacation cure relationship woes? Have you ever travelled to a foreign country with someone you’re at odds with? That sounds like a bleeding nightmare.

Not to mention, certain scenes with her made no sense. I initially thought it was a dream sequence when she stormed into the theatre and started shaming him in front of his audience.

“I found this book! It’s only filled with names! I don’t even know who most of these people are!”

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Okay……

…….and?

It’s a notebook not a Death Note.

It’s weird but it doesn’t warrant confronting someone in the middle of a crowded theatre  while they’re performing on stage. According to the curse’s rules, anyone he mentions will be whisked out of existence. No one else besides Amir is aware this is happening. So why such a hostile and public reaction?

Seriously, who does this?

The intended “emotional pay-off” wasn’t much of a catharsis either.

The episode tricks us into thinking he’s going to make his girlfriend go “poof” but in reality he turns his own ability inwards and unpersons himself. The reason why this doesn’t work all that well is, when you think about it, he really didn’t lose much as a result of his curse. Other people did.

His girlfriend lost her job, his girlfriend’s sister lost her child, countless other people had their sons and daughters wiped from existence. But what did he lose? A relationship. That’s it. He lost his live-in girlfriend. She didn’t die, she just left him.

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It would make sense if he showed any signs of being self-sacrificing before, but he didn’t. His ego is the size of a hot weather balloon from Day 1 and it only gets worse the more fame he achieves. So why would it make a difference to him if he had to break a few more eggs to make his fame omelette?

From a character perspective, he would have to lose a great deal more in order for him to be motivated to make that final call. Especially when taking into consideration–apart from his girlfriend working at a diner as a result of his actions– we don’t really see any truly negative consequences for him having snuffed out these people.

It would have been more effective, in my opinion, if his girlfriend actually cheated on him as he suspected she might and, in an act of self-righteousness, he unpersoned her only to regret it and effectively commit suicide to undo all the damage he had done.

Would that have been more predictable?

Maybe.

But it would have made more sense.

Overall, this was an episode with a decent premise that just flopped.

Other people seem to enjoy it, but, in my opinion, Black Mirror is a much better spiritual successor to the old Twilight Zone. It focuses more on the technological side of society, favoring the sci-fi elements over the fantastical. Nevertheless, the themes and social commentary it presents hit home much more accurately than this episode.

If nothing else, you won’t have to subscribe to yet another bs streaming site in order to watch it.

Thoughts on “You” a Netflix Series

WARNING: THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE SHOW “YOU”. IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE SHOW AND PLAN TO DO SO, STOP READING NOW.

P.S.  I wasn’t aware it was a novel until after I started watching the series, thus, all of my opinions are based solely on the Netflix show.

Some people find stories told through a mentally-disturbed character’s perspective distasteful.

I’ve never been one of them.

I adore stories with morally dubious protagonists and their unnerving compulsions and I knew from the first moment I heard Joe talking to Beck via voiceover that I was going to get my fix.

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I’m not new to stories like this so I was expecting to see all the usual tropes: the criminal mastermind, the hard-boiled detective who is on his tail unbeknownst to him, the grisly murders, etc. However,  I was surprised with the creative choices the story took, especially in regards to Joe’s character.

Unlike in many shows of this caliber, Joe is not an evil genius a la Walter White or Hannibal Lector. He has an above average IQ, sure, but his M.O. is more impulse-based than the characters I just mentioned.

When he kidnaps Benji and places him in the glass prison downstairs, he has no idea what to do with him and doesn’t formulate a solution until later.

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Similarly when he “plans” to kill Peach, he simply runs up on her and beams her in the back of the head with a rock.

In Central Park.

In broad daylight.

And then doesn’t take two seconds to make sure she’s actually dead.

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I thought Joe’s lack of preparedness made his character more life-like and kept the story grounded in reality.

On the other hand–and this is just my personal opinion–I think they made Joe’s character a bit too affable. I know some psychopaths are able to blend in with people with reflexive ease, but I thought he was too in-the-know when it came to normal human behavior. There was the occasional slip up, like when he saw an elderly couple and he said “that will be us” to Beck even though this was only their first or second date. But, overall, he functioned just fine and was even willing to conform to most post-modern societal norms like oversensitivity to certain off-color comments.

I’m torn if I should praise or condemn the show for giving us only slivers of  Joe’s backstory. On the one hand, not giving away too much kept the plot from being bogged down by too much exposition. On the other hand, what we got was a bit lackluster in my opinion.

What Mr. Mooney did to Joe was disturbing in principle, but we didn’t get a real taste of what Joe experienced psychologically while under Mooney’s care. We basically saw him being locked in the cage, and then in the next scene he was fine with no visible signs he had undergone some disturbing metamorphosis. No vomit-stained shirt, no disheveled hair, no crazed look in his eyes. On all fronts, he seemed to be fine. Only now he was conforming to Mooney’s warped sense of love and protection.

Stockholm Syndrome doesn’t just happen. It is the mind’s last resort to keep from giving into utter despair and research has shown that it only works on about 8% of victims. I think the story could have benefited from delving just a few minutes more into this psyche in those moments.

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There aren’t that many “You” gifs on Google so here is a cat representing Joe being trapped in the Mooney’s bookstore basement.

As for the love interest….

I frequently vacillated between liking Beck and thinking she was terrible (even compared to Joe who is a literal serial-killer). This continued on throughout the series where she went from being a flake, to having an affair, to breaking up with him for no reason (at least none she knew of, yet). I still don’t know whether or not I like her as a person. Nevertheless, I still think she was a well-written character in spite of my own personal hang-ups with her many faults.

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All things considered, Beck is a very accurate representation of a damaged person and I have to applaud the writers for that.

People like her do sabotage their own happiness because they are afraid they are undeserving of it. They will cheat, they will lie, they will project their insecurities onto other people and go out of their way  for friends that cause them psychological harm. We see this in her blind loyalty to Peach. I think that’s what can make her character so irritating at times. I’ve known people that are exactly like her and so I want to reach through the screen and slap her.

In a truly warped way, Joe made her the best she could be. By forcibly removing all the negative people from her life, he made it so she could focus on achieving her dreams. I would like to say she would be strong enough to eventually cut all these people out of her life on her own accord, but considering how demurring she was in the face of Peach’s constant interference, it’s not clear if she ever would have become a published author.

I know it’s messed up, but I admit that I shipped Joe and Beck together.

Even when she found out the truth about him, I was still hoping for a Stockholm-isque romance between them.

They should have scrapped the ending where she died and made the whole second season about them covering up Joe’s past crimes and evading the intrusive hand of the law. It could have been like Bonnie and Clyde but with more psychological damage.

I know! I know!

It’s problematic and I bet there would be a butt-load of controversy over how this was a harmful representation of a relationship—

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–but…dammit if they aren’t cute together.

It doesn’t help that literally every other male character in this show acts reprehensibly towards her to the point where the freaking serial killer looks like the healthiest option.

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As for the ending, I thought it was a bit disappointing.

Beck was literally at the top of the stairs, screaming for her life and then…boom! He grabs her and we cut to the aftermath where her book is being sold at record rates at the bookstore following her death.

I wasn’t crossing my fingers for a torture-porn session, but come on people. If your show has an MA-rating you might as well go for broke.

Besides, Beck was a main character. To kill her off-screen feels kind of cheap. I forgave them when they didn’t show Peach’s last stand to its grisly conclusion because she was a side-character, albeit an important one.

But this was Beck!

They killed the douche-bag cop on screen, why not Beck who is way more important?

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Okay, I wasn’t that distraught about it but…still.

Also, I’m not sure what to make about Candace being alive. I’m not sure if season two is headed in a positive direction. Based on how good this season was, I’ll at least give it a shot.

8/10