Black Mirror is back! And yes, at first it seems very disappointing because like the first two seasons there are only three episodes but with season five comes three hours of solid entertainment.
The first episode in the Science-Fiction anthology series may be the most “Black Mirror-ish” episode of the entire season but it is also the weakest, but that’s not to say that it’s terrible, no, Striking Vipers is a beautiful episode with one of the most interesting relationships we’ve seen in the show for a while.
The episode follows Kris (Anthony Mackie) as he begins a complex online relationship with another player through, what I can only describe as a sexy fictitious version of Tekken, which begins to affect his daily life.
The episode is at it’s strongest with its acting, especially Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who plays Karl, gives the best and most organic performance with extreme ease.
What is unfortunate about this episode is that it’s held back by being what seems to be a now traditional “romance” episode, Season Three had “San Junipero,” Season Four had “Hang the DJ” and Season Five has “Striking Vipers” … it’s becoming very repetitive at this point.
When it comes to the second episode, Smithereens, I thought it looked the dullest, but it turns out to be not only the best episode of the fifth season but one of the best episodes of any season.
The episode follows Chris (Andrew Scott) who works for a ridesharing company similar to Uber or Lyft, but he’s been waiting outside the same building every day until one day when he picks up a young intern, Jaden (Damien Idris) and holds him hostage until he speaks to (Topher Grace).
If Netflix should submit just one episode to the Emmys, it has to be Smithereens. Once the episode gets started, it becomes such a rough and nail-biting ride until the very last second.
Andrew Scott gave it his all as the calculating villain Moriarty in Sherlock and in Black Mirror he portrays a very different type of villain and he is phenom-i-nal! I cannot express just how amazing Scott is and thanks to fantastic casting, he doesn’t steal too many scenes because almost everyone else in the episode is great as well.
Damien Idris may be playing a subdued man being held hostage at the back of a car, but he still manages to make his quiet performance loud. With the lack of lines, he makes up for with his emotion and what’s interesting is how well he can act with just his eyes.
There were three things that I did not enjoy about this episode: Topher Grace who is just as uninteresting as his character, the ending which I felt was somewhat anti-climactic, and the third will be elaborated at the end of this review…
In “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too”, Rachel (Angourie Rice) is a huge fan of Ashley O (Miley Cyrus) and when it’s announced that Ashley O would be releasing a new smart-toy called the Ashley Too, she has to have one, much to the annoyance of her sister Jack (Madison Davenport).
It’s such a shame that this season is only three seasons long because “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too” has no distance from “Smithereens” and while still breathing heavily from that episode I didn’t have enough time to process how good this episode was as well.
This is the only episode where the entire cast is great and it’s helpful that it’s mainly focused between three characters.
To some, it may come as a shock, but Cyrus is excellent, and her performance is unlike what I’ve seen of her in the past, she manages to give a true dramatic range and neatly blends in with her co-stars. I was skeptical with her casting thinking she would be front and centre and while she is central to the plot, the writers have done a great job by making her the focus of the episode but giving Davenport and Rice more screen time.
While Madison Davenport doesn’t have too much to do until half-way through, but she gives an exceptional performance for what she has and she plays bossy older sister, Jack, perfectly fine.
You may recognize Angourie Rice from The Nice Guys or for her bit-part in Marvel Cinematic Universe where she portrays Betty Brant in the Spider-Man movies. I’ve seen Rice in fair few things now and it’s so nice to see her finally get a deserving leading role because she is a fantastic actress that hasn’t been given her time to shine yet and her performance in this episode may be simple but it shows she does have the chops for a leading role in a coming-of-age drama.
While the fifth season of Black Mirror is great, British fans may be dismayed knowing that the beloved “British Twilight Zone” has pretty much gone full-American at this point. This hasn’t been so much of a problem with seasons three and four because it was an even split with around half of each season’s episodes being set in either the US or the UK. But with only three episodes this season is very American-centric with only Smithereens taking place in the UK, and despite that, it still has many scenes set in the US and the plot weighs heavily onto Americans trying to save the day…
It’s difficult to grade Black Mirror as it’s an anthology series and each episode is so different, so I’ve graded them individually and given the season an average score (rounded-up) based on my episode scores.
Black Mirror – Season 5: 8/10
Striking Vipers: 6/10
Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too: 8/10