Season 5 of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror has been getting mixed reviews. I agree that the three episodes in the new set aren’t as strong as some of their previous counterparts but it’s still innovative and interesting television, and shouldn’t be written off completely.

They’ve actually inspired me to go back to the beginning and review a few of the best episodes over the years so I’ll start examining those soon. For now though, to Season 5, Episode 1 – Striking Vipers.

Two estranged college friends reunite in later life, triggering a series of events that could alter their lives forever

Anthony MackieYahya Abdul-Mateen IINicole Beharie

*Minor spoilers*

Karl and Danny are old buddies from college. They’re also gamers who enjoy playing the fighting game Striking Vipers in their down time. The pair always play as Lance and Roxette. Danny (Mackie) lives with his girlfriend Theo (Beharies) – and one night the pair pretends to be strangers in a bar to spice up their lives. After they’ve done the business back home, Danny gets up and goes to play Vipers with Karl, who is crashing on their sofa.

Fast forward 11 years and the landscape looks very different. Danny and Theo are still together, married with a five-year-old. At a birthday barbecue for Danny, hosted at their house, Karl arrives after a long period of the friends having lost touch. He brings a present: Striking Vipers and a virtual reality kit which is needed to experience the game as it is now intended.

Ooooh!

That night the pals have a game wearing the kit, which transports them into the Striking Vipers world while their earthly bodies lay motionless in their respective homes. Danny’s surprised and exhilarated to find that not only is he fully immersed in his character’s environment, he can also experience pain from the fighting blows.

When they’re done fighting, Roxy (Karl) and Lance (Danny) share a passionate kiss – Danny and Karl then promptly leave the game, shocked and appalled at what they’ve done. But one thing leads to another and the characters start having a sexual relationship within the confines of the game. All the while the men can’t get enough of their virtual affair. At one point Danny remarks that he guesses they’re gay now and Karl responds that he thinks what they have goes much deeper.

“That’s us gay now.”

Danny starts to grow distant from his family, and when Theo calls him up on his strange behavior, he tells Karl they have to stop the affair. This is not before his wife tells him that she gets plenty of offers thanks very much and likes the attention she gets from sexy strangers – so he’d better shape up. (To paraphrase).

Well for a while the boys don’t see each other but things change when Theo throws a surprise dinner for Danny and invites Karl. The pair are frosty at first but then Karl admits that he’s tried everything to recreate the affair Lance has been having with Roxy. To no avail. I don’t want to spoil the conclusion but it stands to reason that the friends decide to meet and work out whether there is a true attraction between them in the flesh.

I’ll let you find out which way it goes. Striking Vipers was an interesting premise to start with – delivering quite the emotional dilemma. It examines masculinity, friendship, sexuality, monogamy – and it does so with the same bittersweet sheen of my favourite episode of all time, San Junipero.

One of the biggest issues with Black Mirror is that I find myself double guessing everything and expected this to take a much darker turn. I’m glad it didn’t in the end and I enjoyed the way it turns outs.

It was also cool to see Mackie in a different role to Falcon, who I’m just not that crazy about.

Episode details:

Striking Vipers
Year: 2019
Director: Owen Harris
IMDB Rating: 6.9/10
My Rating: 3/5

What are you watching?

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