Created by Charlie Brooker, the eerie, futuristic and, at times, depressing anthology series Black Mirror is back. Season five gives Netflix subscribers the traditional Black Mirror technology, but the episodes seem tamer than usual. The fifth season is shorter than the past seasons, mirroring the three-episode length of season one, but the episode run time is longer —around 70 minutes to be exact. The episodes feel like a film, which is not unexpected of Netflix. Here are the episodes of Black Mirror’s season five ranked from OK to great:
The second episode in the season’s plot hits a little too close to home. A London rideshare driver, Chris Gillhaney (Andrew Scott), kidnaps and holds hostage Jaden (Damson Idris), an intern who worked at Smithereens, which is Twitter and Facebook’s lovechild of a social networking platform. The episode has a couple of meanings behind it, like ask your Uber driver questions, or put down the phone every once in a while.
The episode was a little disappointing in that there was no grand technological mojo. The most the computer techs did was listen to Gillhaney’s conversation through the phone. Demanding to speak to Bill Bauer (Topher Grace), the CEO of the company, Gillhaney holds a gun to Jaden’s head. Turns out, Gillhaney is responsible for his fiancée’s death and another driver because he was distracted from driving, thanks to a Smithereens notification. It’s tragic but all too familiar. The ending was just as disappointing as the entire episode as well. Too distraught over the death, Gillhaney releases Jaden and promptly shoots himself.
2. “Striking Vapors”
The season opener comes just in time for Pride Month. The episode introduces old college roommates, Danny (Anthony Mackie) and Karl (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), playing Striking Vapors, a video game similar to Mortal Kombat. Danny is now married to Theo (Nicole Beharie) and became a family man in the suburbs after college. The two roommates reconnected when Karl gifted Striking Vapors, now an updated game with ultra-realistic VR capabilities, for Danny’s birthday. The two don’t play; they wind up using the game for a nightly booty call. When Karl tries to talk to Danny about it, Danny says he’s not gay and cracks it up to being drunk, at least the first time. When Danny finally tells Theo about his secret, the two came to an agreement: Danny can hook up with Karl on his birthday through the game, and she can have one night without her wedding ring and go to the club.
The technology in the episode is all-too-realistic, and it gives a new meaning to VR headsets. When the two played the game, they were transported into the game’s characters and could feel everything the characters felt. The technology was the exact same to “USS Callister,” a previous Black Mirror episode, where Robert Daly (Jesse Plemons) played Space Fleet with his unwilling coworkers.
1. “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too”
The technology in the episode explores brain mapping and holographics in the entertainment industry. Miley Cyrus stars as Ashley O, the Hannah Montana-esque pop star who is tired of being exploited by her aunt Catherine (Susan Pourfar) for fame. Ashley comes out with Ashley Too, a mini Ashley robot that takes on her personality. The robot is supposed to teach consumers dance moves, sing for them and give advice. Social outcast and superfan Rachel (Angourie Rice) gets a robot for her birthday, and Ashley Too soon becomes her only friend; however, Rachel’s robot is a factory model. The filter that mimics Ashley’s personality to sound more commercialized and pop-star is broken, and the robot speaks unfiltered and authentically. Rachel and her sister Jack’s (Madison Davenport) worlds are rocked when they have to help the real Ashley. For the past six months, Ashley had been in a coma because Catherine purposefully poisoned her food, and Catherine makes an album out of Ashley’s brain activity and plans to present it with real-life holographs of Ashley. Luckily, the plan is foiled with Rachel and Jack’s help.
The episode is a little too complex and plot heavy, but as far as the trademark tech angle, it is the most realistic episode within the season. The robot takes on the age of Amazon Alexa and Google Home but with more personality and human capabilities, whereas the holograph emphasizes not needing the physical performer at the venue and the perfect concert experience.
The season as a whole is gentler and almost more positive than past seasons. Black Mirror is known to be dark and unsettling, specifically the show’s opener, “The National Anthem,” and season four’s “Arkangel.” Two of the episodes in the fifth season were semi-upbeat, and this episode even resulted in Ashley O and Jack playing in a band. Black Mirror’s interactive Bandersnatch, which was released in 2018, made waves for its easter eggs and set a precedent for future ventures for the show. Overall, season five of Black Mirror lived up to those expectations, but the technological aspects the show is so known for could definitely improve in future seasons.