REVIEW: Black Mirror – Season 5, Episode 1: Striking Vipers
Since finding its new home on Netflix, the world of Black Mirror has certainly felt bigger, and with the wider audience reach came the longer seasons, the bigger stars both behind and in front of the camera, and grander scope. Series 5, however, is back to the 3 episode format and kicks off with Striking Vipers.
Starring Anthony Mackie, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Nicole Beharie, Pom Klementieff and Ludi Lin, this episode starts off like a pretty normal family drama. Anthony Mackie’s Danny is settled into family life with his sweetheart Theo (Nicole Beharie), but there is the sense that he feels a certain dissatisfaction with his life. When his former roommate Karl (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) presents him with a VR version of a video game they used to play together, things take a bit of a turn…because this is Black Mirror of course!
Striking Vipers X is a “Street Fighter”-esque game that sees users pick their avatars and battle it out. Karl favours ‘Roxette’, whilst Danny always picks ‘Lance’. The VR element sees the players zone out of the real world and virtually enter the world of the game, interacting with the other players as themselves under the guise of the avatars. There’s some fun Street Fighter riffs and a great visual sequence that evokes Scott Pilgrim, but things quickly escalate into something…well a bit more passionate, as the avatars kiss and eventually have sex.
Fans of Black Mirror won’t even bat an eyelid at this turn, and comparatively, this episode is pretty tame stuff. Believe it or not! As we see the virtual relationship between Karl and Danny (or Roxette and Lance technically) progresses into a very intense video game love affair, the episode poses some interesting questions about exactly what constitutes infidelity, and whilst the concept and premise is interesting, the repetitive middle section means it doesn’t quite develop all of these ideas as well as it should.
Tonally a bit all over the place, this episode is still pretty strong from a visual standpoint, and the performances are good on the whole. It would’ve perhaps benefitted from having more real-life interaction between Karl and Danny, however, that perhaps would’ve taken away from the intensity of their virtual relationship which does come from nowhere!
The under-developed concept means it also doesn’t quite stick the landing as much as it perhaps could’ve done, but there’s still no shortage of “what the $%@#” moments as you would expect with another episode from the mind of Charlie Brooker! Put it this way, you may never look at a polar bear in the same way again…