“Black Mirror” is an anthology series that is quick paced and mood driven and alternates between playful, eccentric phobias of our modern and future technology.
A show that gave new meaning to anthologies and twisted conceptual architecture has finally sunk so deep into its own subsidiary that the likelihood of a season 6 or even me wanting to return to the Netflix-based show seems, at this point, unlikely.
The focal point of the original series was that, if technology is a drug, then what, precisely, are the side effects? Its theme is dominated by the technology we use in everyday life, the stuff we find on almost every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand, the cold, shiny screen of information, the iPad, laptop and smartphone. Each narrative took the everyday essential into the dark
“Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too” inevitably succumbs to the oh-so-sickly sweet happy ending format that we have come to expect “Black Mirrors” of doing better.
realms of big brother, elevating it to the next level of paranoia, changing the lanes of the social media platform ‘LIKE’ button (“NoseDive”) before tackling the world of the online multiplayer (“USS Callister”).
Each episode used a fresh way of analysing our need for feed, the techno horror of everyday, placing it into all-new settings with all-new relatable characters. It was an approach that worked successfully to begin with but from “Bandersnatch” onwards the ledge became a slippery place to be and the show lost its grip entirely.
Season 5’s self-contained episodes are “Striking Vipers”, “Smithereens” and the promising, yet oversold, “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too,” starring the tongue-swagging, breast baring, potty mouth of pop, Miley Cyrus. Each segment brought back themes that helped bring attention to the series while in the early days of airing on channel 4. This time around, however, the lightning in the bottle has truly lost its spark.
“Striking Vipers” follows Danny and his friend, Karl, who introduces Danny to the world of virtual reality fighting, “Striking Vipers X”, in which the participants can feel the physical sensations of their character, thereby making the perception of the game feel more grounded. During one online ass-whipping Danny and Karl, aka Roxette, end up kissing and after a while their online personas take it to the next level. In the real world their friendship quickly deteriorates. One evening, when the friends get together, Karl tells Danny that since their online encounters he has been unable to recreate in the real world the same sensation he felt while having sex with him online. They once again venture into cyberspace for sex, which eventually spills out into the real world, only to realise neither of them felt anything, which subliminally asks the question about the online sex industry with its unrealistic expectations and crossing the boundaries because you’re safe within the futile, fixated romance of virtual reality. The episode is not a complete snooze fest and its direction is interesting. It studies same-sex attraction as its primary function in the real world and its simulated reality where real-world restrictions and prejudices don’t exist.
What I found most interesting about the episode is how it parodies the hyper-macho “Mortal Kombat” and VR technology that’s become so prevalent in the video game realm today. But its surface-deep story arch has been done before, many times and with better success. The subversive ideas of VR has played out in almost all media genres and one of the better hour-long specials came from the 1994 Saban TV series “VR Troopers”, which explains away whimsically the development of VR, a dimension that can exist alongside our own. “Striking Vipers” capitalises on the idea with the injection of prejudices faced by same-sex attraction. It’s a sloppy, shoddy regurgitation of the established VR trope that tries to pass off its slipshod structure as a free-wheeling, sexy hour-long format.
“Smithereens” is an overindulgent piece of the “Black Mirror” pie. The story lacks the depth of the earlier show with wordy over-reliance on speech railing. The episode’s story tries to be provocative while at the same time probing both its characters and the audience, but it fails to do either with any success. The story follows Chris, who works as a taxi driver for an app called Hitche. Chris blames himself for his fiancée’s death after she was killed in a car crash where he was driving while looking at his phone. Now in group therapy, he meets a single mother whose daughter committed suicide a few months prior. After a session Chris and the mother bond, but Chris’s world is overthrown again when the mother’s daily attempt to access her daughter’s Persona account fails and she is locked out. Infuriated by the power technology has over our lives Chris sets out to right the wrong in the world and get the grieving mother her much sought password from the social media giant.
The final episode saw a major media push and starred Disney-retired, MTV stripper, all-singing all-dancing, no shit talking “mother fu*#ing” Miley Cyrus. “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too” wins hands down on style and direction but fails on almost every other level. We have three variations on one happy ending, which begins with our lead character meeting her maker, only after finding closure, which takes the inexplicably awful form of Cyrus’s discovery of the guitar. Her passion enrages her handler and a meal later Cyrus is gone. Well, not exactly, because almost every child around the globe owns a Cyrus-personality-possessing Amazon Echo, a furby-like robot.
Upon hearing that her real life counterpart is dead the Cyrus Echo becomes really, really ticked off and before we know it the Cyrus Echo has enlisted her handlers and set out to relinquish her comatose mortal body and set it free. And this is where the episode’s real problem lies. Its big message is that young creatives are at the mercy of their handler and, in this case, almost bankrupt, but again the bankrolling, blackballing of the pain of celebrity and its inner workings has already been done to death. In the past few months alone we have been given “A Star is Born” and “Vox Lux”, let alone past telling such as “The Karen Carpenter Story” and “Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B”, and on some levels we can even group Cyrus’s own show, “Hannah Montana”, into the mix. When the episode does eventually break free of its self-appointed confines it does so in a way that’s stupid enough to find more relevance in 1970’s “The Partridge Family.”
“Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too” inevitably succumbs to the oh-so-sickly sweet happy ending format that we have come to expect “Black Mirrors” of doing better. Here it tags on a less than complete closure that could have quite easily been a leftover concept for “Jem”.
I’m not an avid “Black Mirror” addict and I came in a lot later than most. The show’s buzz had long gone by the time I binged on the first three series. It is evident the show has run out of steam by the time it reaches the formative entry and I feel it’s as good a time as ever for the show to take an extended leave of absence until it has something new to say.