Everyone’s favourite futuristic technology anthology series is back with a brand new, albeit short, season. With only three hour long episodes, it only makes sense that we cover the entire thing in one big article. In case the giant headline wasn’t enough warning for you, I’ll reiterate that this review will contain minor spoilers. No specific plot details will be mentioned, but overarcing styles and trends will be mentioned for each of the episodes. So without further ado, let’s get started on this review of the fifth season of Black Mirror.
Episode 1: Striking Vipers
This first episode features a lovely couple of Danny (Anthony Mackie) and Theo (Nicole Beharie) and is one of the only Black Mirror episodes to actually feature a happy ending for everyone involved. It’s somewhat of a slow buildup to the main point of the plot, as it starts with the couple in their younger years and sets the groundwork for establishing Danny’s love of gaming with his best friend Karl (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).
As we jump forward several years, we see that Danny and Theo now have a kid and are trying for another one. However, on Danny’s 38th birthday, complications arise shortly after Karl arrives at the party after having not seen Danny for a while. He gives him a gift of a fully immersive virtual reality game that is far beyond anything we have now (let’s getting cracking on this VR engineers!).
The game uses a simple chip attached to the side of the head, which Black Mirror fans will be more than familiar with. Unfortunately, the game that they decide to play, which is their go-to choice of Striking Vipers that we saw in the first scene of them gaming together, might be a little too immersive. After an unusual incident occurs (which, for the record, I saw coming almost immediately after they entered the game) it has Danny and Karl questioning what their friendship means as they begin to test its limits.
From there we do a little bit of jumping around into the future to see the aftermath of what this game has caused their lives to turn into. While this episode doesn’t feature the typical horror elements of Black Mirror, it does more than succeed in its mission to make you feel uneasy and question the friendships in your own life.
Overall, I give this first episode a rating of 3 out of 5 striking vipers.
Episode 2: Smithereens
Oddly enough, this second Black Mirror episode takes place in the past (although it’s hardly ancient history, since it takes place in 2018). The entire episode is essentially a long PSA for texting and driving. We follow a middle-aged man named Chris (Andrew Scott) who seems shifty to say the least and is working as a rideshare driver.
Unfortunately, this entire plot line is a combination of predictable, disappointing, and incredibly depressing. As Chris kidnaps an employee of the social media company Smithereens who turns out to be an intern named Jaden (Damson Idris), he gets himself into a standoff between the police where his only goal is to speak to Smithereen creator Billy (Topher Grace).
The buildup of this standoff is fairly entertaining, but unfortunately, it culminates in an unsatisfying ending that drives home the guilt of texting and driving (pardon that awful pun). For anyone uncomfortable with the topic of suicide, it is highly recommended that you skip this episode. Even for someone like me, it left me feeling distraught, which is not great for an episode that is otherwise mediocre at best.
Overall, I give this second episode 2.5 out of 5 smithereens.
Episode 3: Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too
This is the episode that had the most hype around it following the season 5 trailer release. But did the final product live up to that hype? If you ask me, I would say yes. I wasn’t sure about the episode until around 2/3 of the way through it, simply because it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. The episode transitions from drama, to horror, to comedy, back to drama, and finally settles on comedy again. Making something so dynamic work is hard to do, but in the end, this episode is able to do it fairly well.
The plot follows the lives of the two sisters Rachel (Angourie Rice) and Jack (Madison Davenport) as they struggle with the recent passing of their mother and moving to a new city with their father (Marc Menchaca). The saving grace for Rachel comes in the form of an AI miniature robot called Ashley Too, which uses the artificial personality of famous popstar and idol Ashley O (Miley Cyrus).
The show flips back and forth between the scenes of Rachel loving Ashley Too and Jack hating it, to the much more depressing scenes of Ashley O struggling to deal with her depression and possessive aunt Catherine (Susan Pourfar) who works as her manager. All is well (or as well as it ever can be in a Black Mirror episode) until Ashley O suffers a near fatal event that puts her in a coma. Upon learning this, the Ashley Too robot freaks out and goes through changes which completely alter what it is capable of doing. From there it’s a quest to help Ashley O recover from her tragic state.
Unfortunately, many critics do not agree with my positive review of this episode, going so far as to list this as the worst episode of the season. So let’s take a minute to address their concerns.
One of the biggest complaints by people is that it seems almost overboard regarding the lengths that Ashley O’s aunt and management team go to control her. However, I would challenge them to show me anything in most Black Mirror episodes that isn’t overboard. The entire show is built on the premise of technology and/or people going overboard and causing tragic consequences.
The other complaint is that it doesn’t deliver any thought provoking concepts throughout the episode. For the most part, I would tend to agree with this statement. The episode is fairly surface level, especially once it enters the comedy stages. However, I would argue that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While thorough mind fucking is definitely a trademark aspect of Black Mirror, it was kind of nice to have an episode that didn’t leave my brain absolutely wrecked afterwards.
Miley Cyrus’ performance is being hailed as an excellent portrayal, which I would wholeheartedly agree with. In fact, I don’t think there’s a single bad actor in this entire episode. And no review of this episode would be complete without mentioning the songs used. The tracks used in this episode not only fit the narrative perfectly, but are also genuinely good songs. I couldn’t stop myself from slightly bobbing my head along to both the pop and more rock version of the two tracks.
These songs are actually Nine Inch Nails tracks, which were slightly reworked and recorded with Cyrus’ vocals. Anyone who saw her performance of Say Hello 2 Heaven at the 2017 Chris Cornell tribute concert will not be surprised to learn that she absolutely rocked this heavier track. A small little fun fact is that her small quip of “I see you singing along” is actually seen both in her live performance of that song at the 1:56 mark as well as the beginning of this Black Mirror episode during her interview scene.
So if you’re ok with a more light hearted and less serious episode of Black Mirror, then you can really enjoy Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too.
Overall, I give this episode 3.5 out of 5