Netflix dropped the fifth "season" of Black Mirror yesterday with three new episodes that explored the show's dystopian premise of "what if phones but too much" (h/t: Daniel Ortberg).
As in previous installments, Black Mirror holds up an, I dunno, dark-hued reflective surface to contemporary society and its relationship with technology. Reviews of the latest batch have been mixed, but our team of Mirror-gazers found something worthwhile in all three episodes.
Black Mirror isn't great because it's surprising—although it has used surprise frequently over the course of five seasons and a movie—it's great because it's inevitable. It poses questions we should have already asked, answers them with a logic we choose to ignore, and that's when the gut punches begin. "Striking Vipers" isn't wrestling with new questions: Are online relationships real? Is who I am when I'm online really who I am? If so, do I tell the people in my life what I'm doing there? And the answers "Vipers" arrive at are much the same as the ones we already have (and lie to ourselves about) now. It just frames those questions in a new enough way that some viewers (and specifically, awkward, repressed men unwilling to honestly engage emotionally) might better see themselves reflected. BOBBY ROBERTS
In an interview on Fresh Air, Charlie Brooker, the creator of Black Mirror, chided his own complicity in our current tech-centric times, lamenting that the first thing he does in the morning is grab his smartphone to see what has happened in the world while he was asleep. That same idea forms the foundation of “Smithereens,” a powerful, if slightly heavy-handed installment. Charlie, a brooding rideshare driver (played by Andrew Scott, aka the "hot priest" from season two of Fleabag) abducts an employee of a social network called Smithereen (Snowfall's Damson Idris), demanding he put him in touch with the Mark Zuckerberg-like head of the company (Topher Grace, looking like an amalgam of a dozen tech bro archetypes). Elements of this episode could be cynically dismissed as an overwrought PSA against distracted driving—and our distracted culture as a whole. But what keeps it together is a seriously committed and devastating performance from Scott and the little truth bombs and sly jokes that Brooker sneaks into every corner of the hour, like the various shades of mourning a loved one, how services like Facebook and Twitter are engineered to pluck our brain’s opiate receptors, and how autocorrect insists on changing “fucking” to “ducking.” ROBERT HAM
In this not-too-distant future setting, a series of dolls containing the copied personality of a superstar pop singer Ashley (Miley Cyrus) hit the market. I kept waiting for the situation to turn sinister, but the episode contains only youthful capering. “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too” is almost perfectly aimed at me as an audience: sisters, idol singer, robots, Nine Inch Nails—Ashley’s pop hit is a Trent Reznor-approved pop version of “Head Like a Hole”—but if a Black Mirror episode doesn’t contain a moment of technology-related dread, does it deserve the label? SUZETTE SMITH