Black Mirror’s fifth season prompts the usual introspection that’s become the show’s hallmark, and its characteristic sense of unease is still present in spades, but now the budget is bigger than ever, and so are the standings of the stars it attracts.
The best bit of Black Mirror has always been its ability to reflect a world as it almost is and alarm us by explicitly showing what the worst of our tech habits could easily mutate into if left unchecked. That’s still the case with Season 5, but unlike earlier episodes that were prone to leaving one reeling, the trio on offer this time around are at once subtler and more realist.
That makes them easier to binge without the need to watch some nerve-calming and faith-in-humanity-restoring fare between episodes. Black Mirror’s always offered astute social commentary, and that’s still the case, it’s just that now the horror factor’s been dialled down. For some fans that might well come as a relief.
Being standalone episodes you can watch them in any order, but we started with Striking Vipers, an episode that considers the impact of virtual lives on real ones, with a gentle tip of the hat to movies like Strange Days, and previous Black Mirror episodes San Junipero (still our favourite, ever, and we’ll fight anyone who says otherwise) and USS Callister.
Fans of 90s fighting games like Mortal Kombat will love the Striking Viper’s contemporary reimagining of the format, and stars Anthony Mackie and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s magnetic performances help make the episode, in our humble opinion, the standout of the season.
Next up there’s Smithereens, with the always irrepressible Andrew Scott (of Sherlock, and more recently Fleabag, fame) playing an on-demand driver in London. Smithereens is set in 2018, packed with replicas of familiar services like Uber, Facebook and Twitter, and a brilliantly tense bit of storytelling.
It’s also the most realistic and familiar episode of the new season but manages to offset its uncanny mirroring of our perpetually connected lives with some deliciously scathing ranting, and comedic quips from minor characters.
Poor little rich girl/rich little poor girl
It’s a little like Hannah Montana with curse words at times (or a Disney Movie directed by Banksy).
The episode you’ll probably see the most promotional material about – thanks to Miley Cyrus’s role as bubble-gum popstar Ashley O – is Rachel, Jack and Ashley, Too. Shot in Cape Town, South Africa, it’s the least substantial of the season, but nonetheless an hour well spent.
Sure, it’s a little like Hannah Montana with curse words at times (or a Disney Movie directed by Banksy), but the episode still manages to lightly baste some meaty themes, including the fickleness of celebrity, the perils of artificial intelligence, and the timelessness of a pink bob wig (ala Closer, albeit without the romantic nihilism).
The fifth season of Black Mirror is its least dystopian yet, but maybe that’s because the real world’s bonkers enough as is. It’s also the show’s most star-studded outing. But none of that stops it being one of the most insightful and visually lush shows on TV today.