Thus revealed, the creature buried its nose in the tire-tilled soil...
June 11, 2019
Black Mirror S5 Review

Just my thoughts on the three episodes in Black Mirror Series 5.

E1, "Striking Vipers"

Easily the best episode of the season, and layered enough that continuing to ponder the episode continues to yield further insights. That might in part be that I found the episode particularly relatable in that, when I was an adolescent, my primary activity with my friends was playing video games -- and almost exclusively fighting games, as depicted in this episode. And... that was mostly it. We didn't much talk about anything else and weren't particularly close in terms of our real lives (so in a way it's not terribly surprising that my friends abandoned me so easily when our lives grew to include components besides school and video games), but we'd sit shoulder-to-shoulder going head-to-head in Super Street Fighter II or TMNT Tournament Fighters or Mortal Kombat II or One Must Fall 2097 or Battle Arena Toshinden for hours on end. And it was good. Really good. Like, once you get into a groove with an opponent whose skill effectively mirrors your own -- and whom you've fought enough times to "read" in particular ways, and vice versa -- it's a kind of mutually gratifying contest where every feint and thrust and moan heightens the intensity and brings you closer and to win is to win and to lose is also to win. And while admittedly I haven't had tons of experience with sex -- and at that time I was hardly interested -- I don't think it's an inappropriate metaphor for a really great match between two players who've thoroughly experienced the ins and outs of each other's technique.

So while I'm not sure the episode is particularly effective as a commentary on queerness (black or otherwise) or even infidelity, it strikes me as an especially intriguing metaphor for a particular type of friendship. Like, Danny and Karl, the two main characters, have supposedly been friends for a long time -- so long, in fact, that the episode refuses to explicitly state how long. Yet their few conversations seem clipped and shallow; their brief verbal encounters resemble the one Danny has with his wife's friend's husband whom he'd never met before. Danny's wife repeatedly comments to the effect that men are bad at friendship. The one thing they appear to share is their appreciation of a particular fighting game and the closeness they feel when engaging each other. So now that they're adults, and now that VR enables them to take the game to another kind of closeness -- and given that their limited conversations seem to be about dating and sex; their friendship doesn't seem much deeper -- it strikes me as logical that they would take the game where they take it. And it's such an wonderful metaphor in that respect that I can't imagine Charlie Booker wasn't drawing from his own experience with similarly limited friendships in his youth.

E2, "Smithereens"

And now we come to the afterthought portion of this entry, since I have incredibly little to say about this episode. I didn't like it at all. I found it boring and often unpleasant, and the payoff -- which I actually did appreciate -- didn't at all justify the slog up to that point. Then the episode wasn't even confident enough in its sensibilities to share its conclusion with the class. Least favorite S5 episode for sure. Probably among my least favorite episodes of the entire series.

E3, "Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too"

Mixed feelings about this one. It started off in a place I really, really liked -- enough that it actually made me want a toy based on the episode, and off the top of my head I can't think of any other Black Mirror episodes that unlocked that achievement. And then at around the halfway mark the episode does a 180, and it just doesn't at all feel like it fits with what came before it swerved away from "interesting" en route to a happy but decidedly unsatisfying and fairly pedestrian ending. So... meh? I'm now much less interested in making an Ashley Too custom figure. 😛

-posted by Wes | 6:46 pm | Comments (0)
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