black mirror season 5: the weakest link
Black Mirror released its fifth season on June 5 (ironically) consisting of three episodes: Striking Vipers, Smithereens, and Rachel, Jack and Ashely Too. This Netflix series has established itself to be an abstract look into the world of technology and its ultimate potential. This season presented itself as a promising one, but the heat was certainly turned down a bit in a few areas.
Diving into the first episode, Striking Vipers, Anthony Mackie plays Danny, a bored, suburban husband unsatisfied in his marriage to his wife, Theo played by Nicole Beharie. He reunites with his old college friend, Karl (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who gifts him with an immersive gaming system along with a Mortal-Kombat-esque game the two played during their college days. Things get steamy when, instead of fighting each other, the two get involved in a virtual reality sexual relationship. The writing felt far more surfaced and while I applaud it for tackling the issue of black masculinity, I wished it had done a better job of digging deeper. I wanted more exploration of why black men feel that showing each other affection is considered “gay” and more insight of the “polyamorous” relationship the three ended up in. Everyone may have won something at the end of the episode but I felt like the writers took the cheap way out. Targeting monogamy, infidelity and desire— this episode failed everyone and every concept in it.
The episode most aligned with the Black Mirror universe was Smithereens. It took place in London, had no recognizable American or British talent, and set the tone just like any other Black Mirror episode. This episode follows the life of a man named Chris (Andrew Scott) who has lost his fiancée in a car accident due to his phone addiction. Chris developed a vendetta for the tech company Smithereen, who made the social media app he was using when he lost control of his car and blames them for making their app addictive. When I saw where the episode was heading when Chris made a big threat against the tech company, the story fell bland. I lost any and all sympathy for the main character and was simply not interested anymore.
Chris did a terrible thing, something that we see in the news everyday. Nothing felt different to me enough where I felt like I had to be on Chris’s side. The ending was left open, which I felt just added to the confusion of what exactly the message of the episode was. Sure, technology can do harm, but are we right in blaming the developers for making it? Users direct their anger to developers for how they themselves use an application, but do not take time to reflect if they are using it sensibly. I commend Chris for wanting to speak with the Smithereen app developer to talk about bettering it, however, this was not the way to go about it. This felt like the writers had taken the argument straight from the timeline with no attempt to actually expand. The writing contained no sort of climax and fell flat alongside no character development for emotional attachment.
In the third and final episode, Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too, it details the life of a pop star who isn’t content with the happy-go-lucky image she is portraying. Played by real life pop-star, Miley Cryus, Ashley Too has been living this type of lifestyle for some time now but finds herself wanting to change her image to fit the person she is becoming. Not liking her attitude, her manager and aunt, Catherine (Susan Pourfar) decides that Ashley Too herself isn’t needed anymore while advanced technology exists— a hologram. Putting the real Ashley Too in a coma, Catherine moves on with her evil plan of creating a virtual version of Ashley that doesn’t have feelings, doesn’t get sick and can be streamed in a thousand places at the same time. Rachel (Angourie Rice) a devoted fan and her sister Jack (Madison Davenport) rescues the real Ashley and stops Catherine minutes before her plan can be executed. The feeling derived from this episode was similar to a kind of Disney Channel original movie— and not the good kind. Miley Cyrus wouldn’t have been my first choice as Ashley Too and her acting left much to be desired. The only strong performance came from Angourie. She’s the youngest actress out of the cast and was the only character that made me feel her pain. The feminist message Ashley Too was trying to portray fell on deaf ears, as we all know how Miley Cyrus gets down in real life. The episode felt drawn out and completely unnecessary— we would’ve been better off with just the first two episodes. Catherine would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids.
Overall, season five just wasn’t good to me. If I had to rate it I’d give it a whopping two out of five stars. I expected more of that Black-Mirror shock and twist but was left empty-handed. I want less predictable endings and stronger performances from the actors responsible for these roles. While underwhelmed, I look forward to seeing what the show brings to the audience in the future. I’m really hoping they haven’t become victim to their own success.