Charlie Brooker’s seminal speculative science fiction series Black Mirror brought the exciting romance of the genre back to our TV screen. What sets his writing apart is the impending possibility of the ideas portrayed that are more than likely to happen in our very lifetimes, unlike typical sci-fi dramas where the setting is often a hundred years into the future if not more, with little to relate with. Black Mirror returns to Netflix after a two-year gap which was filled by an intriguing experiment through which Brooker and team re-invented the movie-watching experience through the first-ever interactive production called Bandersnatch. Instead of being mute spectators, the audience suddenly had control in their hands and could actually decide the fate of the characters on-screen. This was unheard of, and became an interesting social experiment where an astute observer could see how people reacted to this “power” that had been bestowed to them. Would they act benevolently and try to keep the protagonist from harm, or would they push him/her towards destruction ? This very style of film-making is central to what Black Mirror and Charlie Brooker’s writing stands for. Putting the audience in a gray zone where one doesn’t know how to react to the technology at hand. Contrary to our speculation that technology is the great equalizer, it is still very much susceptible to the human condition.
Here’s our roundup of Season 5 with the episodes ranked from worst to best:
# 3 : Smithereens (Episode 2)
Chris works as a Hitcher driver, which is an app just like Uber. He usually stands outside the Smithereen offices, picking up passengers from there. Through his small-talks with Smithereen employees it is apparent that he is enamored by the company and its success. In his spare time, he also attends a self-help group which deals with personal loss and yet we never see him express himself. One day, he picks up a young man in a suit and takes him to a desolate place. When the confused passenger asks him where he was, Chris pulls a gun on him and asks him to call his boss and request him/her that the line be connected to the CEO of Smithereen Billy Bauer, else he would shoot him. What seems like a typical hostage situation soon turns out to be a heartfelt confession that brings out the dark socio-cultural impact of social-media websites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Having said that, the story is somewhat predictable and does not show you an aspect that we don’t already know. Even so, the perspective is highly relevant where we are seeing highly-social multiplayer games like Pokemon Go and PUBG being banned in many countries. The story however shows the creators of such social media platforms as benevolent creators who never wanted to make them as addictive as they are, which is actually contrary to reality.
# 2 : Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too (Episode 3)
Rachel is a introverted teenager who is finding it difficult to cope with the death of her mother who passed away recently. Her sister Jack barely talks to her anymore, and their father is a pest-controller who is always tied up at work. Rachel’s only source of inspiration is a young pop icon named Ashley whose songs about self-discovery and belief strike a chord with her. In a televised talk-show, Ashley releases an AI bot, designed in her likeness and named Ashley Too, for her fans, so that they can talk to her anywhere they want. Seeing her excitement, Rachel’s father and sister gift her a Rachel Too on her birthday. In a parallel arc, Ashley’s aunt who is her manager drugs her putting her into a coma when Ashley starts writing more realistic songs. Using a brain-scanning technology, Ashley’s aunt and her assistants keep her creative area alive and extract music from her. They also create her holographic likeness that could perform on stage, completely removing the need for the real pop-star. However, what Ashley’s consciousness is somehow downloaded onto Ashley Too, and now with Rachel’s and Jack’s help, they decide to rescue the real Ashley.
As outrageous as the premise seems, the idea of a holographic pop-star is interesting and quite feasible in today’s day and age. In fact, many world leaders including Modi have actually used a similar technique in their stage appearance where instead of being physically, they have addressed campaign gatherings through a holographic projection technology. We are also on the cusp of seeing “humane circuses” where all animals would just be holographic projections and no real animals would be used.
# 1 : Striking Vipers (Episode 1)
Danny and Karl have been close friends for years. While Danny settles into family life, Karl thrives as a bachelor. Many years later, they meet at Danny’s son’s birthday party and reminisce on the old days, and how life had changed since. Karl also introduces Danny to a virtual reality game called Striking Vipers X that they used to play together in college. Years later, the game has evolved to provide a far more immersive experience to the player than before, where you are not an external controller but the characters themselves. Through their new character personas – Danny as Lance and Karl as Roxette – they become sexually attracted to each other.
The story plays with the concept of sexual fluidity of human nature which conforms with recent research. Instead of the rigid moulds that society puts us into, human sexuality is far more flexible than we think it to be. Virtual Reality adds yet another layer of complexity where the boundaries of infidelity are blurred. If two people have virtual intercourse, are they actually cheating on their partners ? Is emotional detachment also cheating ? Is your real-life gender personality different from your online avatar ? We are not far from the time when we would need to confront these questions.
Season 5 did not leave us gasping at the ingenuity of Brooker’s ideas, which is a far cry from his previous seasons where episodes like Hang The DJ, San Junipero, Fifteen Million Merits left you with a looming sense of an unexplored perspective that walked the line between Sci-Fi and The Twilight Zone. Even though this does not feel like Black Mirror, it still remains highly relevant.