Black Mirror, a Netflix Original that premiered in 2011, has been met with critical acclaim over the course of its existence and garnered a lot of popularity. The series even spawned an interactive “choose-your-own-adventure” film, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, also produced by Netflix. Now, Netflix released a new season with just three episodes. “Striking Vipers” follows two old friends as they make interesting new discoveries in an extremely immersive VR game. “Smithereens” features a Londonite cab driver as he kidnaps an intern for one of the biggest social media companies in the world. Finally, “Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too” is about an introverted teen who finds a friend in a doll designed to replicate her celebrity icon, Ashley O, but it becomes more complicated when the titular character Rachel becomes involved with Ashley’s personal crisis.
The influence of the iconic 50s TV show The Twilight Zone in Black Mirror’s creation is undeniable. The beauty of The Twilight Zone is how it was able to tell compelling sci-fi tales and construct a full, lush story in every 20-minute episode. While The Twilight Zone was able to create these stories in short episodes, Black Mirror draws its series out to hour-long episodes, and that results in stretches of fluff in nearly every episode, and especially every one in season five.
“Striking Vipers” has a strange concept, and a big name in Anthony Mackie of Marvel fame, but it wasn’t executed very well, and I felt the story was strained to fit the runtime. I also was confused at the lack of any real thematic substance. “Smithereens” was a definite improvement. The storyline wasn’t very dense either, but the central performance from Andrew Scott is gripping, and makes the whole episode very exciting. There’s an excellent tension to this episode, but again, it does draw out a bit too long, and the conclusion is quite unsatisfying. “Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too” is the most ambitious episode of the season, featuring Miley Cyrus as well as multiple original singles from her as “Ashley O.” The story of a pop star wishing to change her image draws interesting parallels with Cyrus’s actual persona. This episode’s story is actually very tightly packed, making for a snappy watching experience but robbing the episode of much of its full potential.
The fifth season of Black Mirror is short, and the three episodes it does have aren’t very substantive. Mostly basic, sometimes interesting, but ultimately, not really worth watching.