TV Review - Black Mirror: Season 5
Anthony Mackie (Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Hurt Locker) stars as Danny, an office worker who marries his college girlfriend and has a son. He loses contact with his roommate. He used to bond with his roommate though over marijuana and video games. Their favorite is a two-person fighting game called Striking Vipers, which is akin to Street Fighter. After years go by and he gets older, Danny becomes resigned to a mundane and boring, suburban existence as a parent. Things change when his roommate who's been absent from his life for some time returns for his birthday barbecue with a new game.
Like in Season 4 and the episode titled "USS Callister," Danny and Karl are able to enter a virtual reality world that feels and looks totally real. Unlike that episode, this one has no interest in exploring the depths or limits of this virtual reality. They fight in the game, but the physical damage doesn't ever do real-world, physical damage, but they can feel the sensations as if they were real. The game therefore exists merely as a fantasy realm where they can be avatars of various characters, including animals. Where the episode goes is supposed to reveal something about the two men and perhaps modern life, but I wasn't convinced.
Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert!
It's never clear if this was Karl's plan all along. It's not clear if Karl gave Danny this VR game in order to lure him into having sex through their avatars. The first, two times, it's Karl's avatar who initiates. Danny goes along because it must feel good, but he's always the hesitant one. It then becomes like a drug addiction or porn addiction, but Danny is able to walk away, whereas Karl obsesses. Yet, it starts to affect both, as both men detach from their real-world, female partners, but Karl is more into it, which suggests Karl has latent homosexual tendencies. It's not to say he's gay but he could be the Q in the LGBTQ.
That episode was probably the most romantic. "San Junipero" also created a kind of digital closet, but the point was that the two women in the center of that episode were overcoming a physical limitation that they would have acted upon in the real-world if they could. That's not the case for Danny and Karl. There is no physical limitation, but when they do kiss in the real-world, it's treated as not feasible or desirable. The only sex therefore is the heterosexual sex between Lance and Roxette.
The other wrinkle is the fact that Karl's avatar is a different gender. Danny's avatar is the same gender as himself. Karl is put into another body presumably experiencing things he's never felt before. This would be fertile ground for someone who is transgendered. Yet, Brooker's script never considers what the true difference is in Karl's feeling as himself as opposed to his feeling as a woman, specifically the feeling of instantly not having his penis but instead a vagina. Does he have orgasms and does those orgasms result in ejaculation?
On a side note, Danny is a Black man. His avatar is an Asian man. Brooker's script never explores the idea of what it would be like for a Black man to all of a sudden become an Asian man. There is a moment where Danny who allegedly isn't in good physical shape comments on the fact that Lance is super-muscular. However, much like Tom Hanks' character in Big (1988) who checks out his penis after finding himself in a new body, it's odd that Danny doesn't check ever out Lance's penis. Not to sound crude, but a Black man and an Asian man might have different penises. Given that this episode is about sex and sexuality in theory, that should have at least been a joke, if not an actual dramatic point.
This season of the show has only two other episodes. The second episode is "Smithereens," which is an episode about guilt and grief. It goes to extremes basically to criticize social media companies and people's seemingly addiction to them. The third episode is "Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too," which features Miley Cyrus, playing a version of herself that turns out to be pretty funny. It simply felt too long as it takes too long to get to its comedy.
Running Time: 1 hr. / 3 eps.
Available on Netflix.