S05E01: Striking Vipers – 7/10
S05E02: Smithereens – 5.5/10
S05E03: Ashley Too – 6/10

Different but still good. So far the fifth season of Black Mirror still manages to be entertaining, even if it has departed (somewhat) from its high concept futuristic roots.

“Striking Vipers” – Season 5 Episode 1 

By far my favourite from the three episodes. It tackles a familiar concept we know, virtual reality, but expands upon it to examine interesting consequences. Without giving anything away, two good friends connect in ways that threaten their understanding of reality.

Unfortunately, while I enjoyed the idea the most, I still felt that it could have been explored more. For example, many questions were never posed, such as: “is there really difference between sensations and experiences we feel in reality or through a simulation?”; “if not, then what determines reality from simulation?”; and importantly, “if both are the same, is it right or wrong to choose to live in one or the other or both?”.

The episode could have been fantastic if it debated any of these ideas but nevertheless, Striking Vipers is still great entry to the Black Mirror franchise. I came away thinking of further implications and how the lines between what’s real and what’s not could become even greyer in the future. 

“Smithereens” – Season 5 Episode 2

My least favourite of the new episodes. Smithereens is still entertaining but suffers because of how grounded the story is when compared to the rest of the franchise.

On that last point, I’m referring to expecting high concept futuristic ideas when I hear the name Black Mirror, which was not the case when it comes to Smithereens. Unfortunately, this meant for a disappointing episode, because when a series manages to set the bar so high for so long, that’s the standard every episode has to reach for and Smitherens can’t compete.

So, in that, I was saddened that Smithereens didn’t have those high concept elements compared to other episodes, but that thankfully it didn’t mean it was terrible. Just not as good as I thought it could be.

All in all, there are actually some interesting aspects. I enjoyed the way the events unfolded and how different groups of people were tied in together seamlessly. I thought the dialogue was clever and even at times quite funny. Plus, Smithereens can say it has the most emotional ending out of all three of the episodes in season 5 thus far; one of which stuck with me long after finishing the episode.

In any other series a decade ago, this episode would have been a 9/10. But in 2019, the quality of television set by not just Black Mirror but also other great shows (except Season 8 of Game of Thrones) is getting increasingly better. Which means, unfortunately, Smithereens doesn’t cut the mustard. Still good but not up there with the best.

Ashley, Too – Season 5 Episode 3

2nd best so far. Ashley, Too has some interesting ideas and confronting imagery, but is sadly brought down by silly clichés.

Like Striking Vipers, this could have been a great episode. There’s clever expansion of current technologies and is even darker with its themes. This entry feels more akin to a classic Black Mirror episode are there because many of the confronting high concept futuristic elements are there, but alas, it still manages to fall just short.

What brings it all down is the subpar B-story and the cliché characters.

Without spoiling anything, I get that there’s an interesting juxtaposition being made but the entire B-story is riddled with cookie cutter characters. Everything that happens in this side story are events and character arcs we’ve seen a million times before in other shows. At times it even feels strange because one second something interesting is happening, but then the next it feels stale and unoriginal.

All of which is surprising to see in a Black Mirror episode because the B-story in Ashley, Too genuinely feels like sub-par writing when you compare it to other episodes in the series.

I wish Ashley, Too focused a lot more on the A-story with Miley Cyrus’s character. Her arc, especially towards the last half, has some genuinely confronting and entertaining concepts. I also enjoyed her performance and felt like she was a fitting choice to play that role as it could relate to her life in the limelight.

Overall, like the other episodes, Ashley, Too is still enjoyable. By now you might gather that the current theme in the fifth season of Black Mirror so far is everything is good but just not great. There’s potential to take the next step to something bigger and better, and I have hope the rest of the season takes that leap.

 

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