Owen Harris, the director of that beloved episode (as well as Be Right Back) returns with another more sensitive offering in Striking Vipers. What makes this new story particularly involving is the sustenance of the belief that technology can be used to help and support our emotional makeup – rather than always hindering it – but most importantly that even in increasingly digitalised and sterile realities, the appearance and feeling of another human body still holds irreplaceable importance.
The episode begins with Danny (Anthony Mackie) and Theo (Nicole Beharie) acting out a roleplay scenario in which the couple tentatively flirts at a bar. They make eye contact and swap jokes, he orders her drink. Cut to them on the dancefloor, cut to them making love. Fast forward a few years and they’re trying to conceive, and this is when their passion lessens and the anxieties of Striking Vipers increase.
Danny seeks release by playing video games, and when his buddy Karl (Yaya Abdul-Mateen II) gifts him a new VR combat game for his birthday, the stakes increase and things get physical.
Anthony Mackie and Yaya Abdul-Mateen II in Striking Vipers
There’s less romance, less flowering desire and tentative relationship-building than in previous Black Mirror love stories, but the smart scenario skilfully posits an estranged reality that dreams of dystopia without losing sight of the tactile commitments that came before them.
Details are amplified, a shoulder rub is a crucial plot point and kissing is scripted and shot with urgency. It’s more about watching and listening to bodies than finding the words to avoid them, which means that the previously sophisticated discourse on sexuality and its transcendental emotional value is somewhat simplified here – but what the script loses in verbal sensitivity, it gains in corporeal rewards.
The three lead actors perform tremendously, flitting from insecurity and jealousy to tenderness and impulsive lust smoothly. Mackie and Beharie in particular convincingly portray the strain of saving face and offering generosity to a partner even when it feels like your self-doubt is eating you alive. Every touch has intent, and there’s always a hundred looks saying more after every word.
In terms of the unravelling of the dystopia, there are few major shocks once a will they/won’t they gives way to the they did/they still are. But Harris sharply uses virtual reality as a springboard to explore the crevices between psychological care and physical love, drawing out a story that asks to keep yearning more than it just simply satisfies. It focuses, like San Junipero, on the potential of a Black Mirror dream instead of a nightmare.
|What||Black Mirror season 5: Striking Vipers, Netflix review|
05 Jun 19 – 05 Jun 20, NOW STREAMING ON NETFLIX
|Website||Click here to watch on Netflix|