As soon as you see the opening Black Mirror credits, you simultaneously do and do not know what you are getting yourself in to. You know it will be dark. You know it will mess with your head. What you don’t know is how exactly it will get you there, with each episode offering new visions of the not-so-distant future and how humanity’s interaction with technology can create disturbing and surprising consequences. The much-anticipated season five delivers on all fronts, with a slightly more playful tone than previously seen.
Black Mirror has become synonymous with being slightly life-ruining, with the grim visions portrayed often leaving audiences shaken to their core. Black Mirror has also become an adjective in itself, describing any instance of bleak technological takeover. Don’t get me wrong, some of my favourite episodes are the most disturbing (shout out to season two’s ‘White Christmas’ and ‘Be Right Back’). However, the show’s more humorous and heart-warming episodes are often the best received, such as season three’s ‘San Junipero’ and season four’s ‘USS Callister’. Season five injects moments of humour and playfulness, demonstrating the show’s versatility and how it does not need to be consistently depressing in order to create a shocking impact.
Episode one, ‘Striking Vipers’, is a successful opener, exploring the impact of hyper-realistic gaming on a married couple’s relationship. Black Mirror has dedicated previous episodes to exploring the future of gaming, but never before like this. I won’t go into too much detail about the central premise for fear of spoiling the compelling twist, but let’s just say the episode covers a range of topics such as how virtual reality (and even virtual polar bears) can pose challenges to everyday relationships.
‘Smithereens’, the second episode, creates a darker tone as we follow taxi driver Chris, a man with a vendetta against technology and a troubling secret in his past. Chris is played by Andrew Scott, who has already had a phenomenal year due to his brilliant performance in Fleabag. In ‘Smithereens’, Scott delivers once again, giving a heart-breaking and complex performance, allowing us to empathize with Chris despite his dangerous actions. This episode is by far the hardest to watch, not only because it is the darkest but because its subject matter is closest to the bone: a society where we are all addicted to our phones.
‘Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too’ is the final episode of this short season. The most light-hearted of the three (light-hearted for Black Mirror, not actually light-hearted), this episode shows Miley Cyrus as pop-sensation Ashley O (a sort of meta Hannah Montana), a performer who creates a robot Ashely O (called ‘Ashley Too’) with an exact copy of her personality, allowing her fans to interact with her daily. Social media already makes us feel like we know our favourite celebrities, and this episode takes this a step further by having Ashley O directly interact with fans. Miley Cyrus delivers an engaging performance, heightened by the fact that she knows all too well the lifestyle of being two people at once (not so much a singer and a robot but more her real self and her on stage persona). The episode takes us behind the singer (and the robot) to see the reality of Ashley’s situation: a depressed performer who wants to write more down-to-earth, moving music but is prevented by her overbearing aunt/manager. I was happy to see this episode avoid the cliché of robot-gone-evil, and it delivered through many funny moments as well as amazing visuals. It was also nice to see some Easter eggs, such as the song ‘Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)’, which has featured in every season so far.
As soon as I’d finished the season, I automatically checked Twitter for people’s initial reactions and the inevitable Black Mirror ‘out-of-context memes’. However, as the last episode I watched was ‘Smithereens’, I recognised that I had fallen into the trap set up by the episode, portraying us as a world chained to our screens (although I felt slightly better when I noticed that many tweets expressed that they had done the same thing I had). It just seemed wrong to be on my phone the second it had finished, however, the show itself is not necessarily anti-tech (it would be hypocritical if it were, considering it is on Netflix). The show’s head writer, Charlie Brooker, has stressed that the show is not trying to present technology as inherently bad, but rather suggests technological development is inevitable, whilst creating compelling and (sometimes) fun predictions about where we could end up.
While season five may not have contained my favourite episodes compared to other seasons, each episode was successful in that they were shocking, mind-boggling yet entertaining in their own way: all the things Black Mirror should be.
Words by Lucy Ingram