Has Netflix ruined Black Mirror? It feels telling that when Charlie Brooker’s future-shock anthology debuted in 2011 it was with a horror-satire in which the British prime minister becomes intimate with a barnyard animal on national television. The latest season, by contract, concludes with a feel-good romp starring Miley Cyrus and a cute Miley Cyrus robot. Set beside one another, the two feel like episodes from different universes.
‘Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too’ – aka the one with Miley – is copping the lion’s share of disapproval online. But really the other two instalments of Black Mirror season five are no less problematic. ‘Striking Vipers’ is a gender-swapping remake of season three’s Emmy-winning ‘San Junipero’, with Anthony Mackie and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as bros from back in the day who explore a new dimension to their friendship via a virtual reality Street Fighter-style game.
Brooker has once again struck upon an intriguing premise and the degree to which technology will blur and redefine sexuality is certainly ripe for exploration. But ‘Striking Vipers’ is deeply incurious about its own thesis and quickly sputters out in a gloss of cliche and unearned sappiness.
‘Smithereens’, in which Andrew Scott plays a ride-share driver with a secret trauma, is just as half-baked. Scott’s character kidnaps an intern from a social media mega-corp and ends up in a hostage face-off in a field. Yet the ultimate reason for his suicidal run is a huge letdown. The episode ultimately has all the dystopian punch of a public information video from the 1970s.
And then we come to Miley Cyrus as a frustrated pop star who finds escaping her public persona harder than she imagined. ‘Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too’ can be regarded as a cry of help on behalf of famous people everywhere who would very much like to move on from the images to which they owe their celebrity. That’s a reasonable
aspiration — but as the premise for dystopian drama, it is flakier than a Jedward b-side.
As the solitary writer for Black Mirror, Brooker hefts a lot of weight on his shoulders. Season five suggests it’s time he shared the burden.