After spending a lot of time on last year’s not entirely successful Bandersnatch interactive episode, Black Mirror is now back for its official fifth season, comprised of three episodes, none of which are much good, I’m sorry to say. Could Charlie Brooker simply be out of ideas? Maybe so.
This is probably the best of the three, but it suffers from a problem that weaves itself through all of these episodes- it’s way too long and meandering. Oddly, I don’t remember this being an issue for most BM episodes in the past, so you have to wonder what happened this season. Anthony Mackie stars as a married man in a rut with his wife (Nicole Beharle), so he begins a sort-of affair with his best friend (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), but the catch is they’re only having sex as video game characters of the opposite gender in a new virtual reality game (different actors play them inside the game). The concept is amusing and it is kind of funny, but too much of the episode wanders from slow scenes of marital boredom that don’t go anywhere and leave little impact, feeling a tad directionless. The episode was an hour but it really didn’t need to be.
If the last one felt long, this one was a pointless epic, at a full 70 minutes. Andrew Scott plays a disillusioned man on a suicide quest to speak to Billy Bauer, a Mark Zuckerberg-esque CEO of a Facebook-type social media company called Smithereen. He takes a hostage and demands a call with the tech giant, who eventually turns out to be a perfectly cast Topher Grace in his best douchebag mode, the only amusing twist in this episode. But the point of this whole story and Scott’s tragic backstory is to relay the evils of social media and the monster it’s unleashed on society and how people relate to each other, which…is a point that’s been made a lot better in a lot of other mediums. Nothing new to see here.
Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too
Hoo boy. This Miley Cyrus starring episode has the dubious claim to being the very worst Black Mirror entry I’ve ever seen. Suffering from the same issues of pacing and length (this one clocks in at 67 minutes), the twist finally arrives when the “Ashley Too” doll that resembles Eve from Wall-E comes to life in the arms of a fan of Cyrus’s unhappy pop star, complete with the full mind of her creator embedded inside of her. I think this was supposed to be funny, but it’s really, really not. The fan, Rachel, and her sister Jack, then have to go on a mission to save the real Ashley’s life when her controlling manager and aunt purposely places her in a coma to cement control of her career. This is kind of a like another Star is Born/Vox Lux, life of a tragic pop star tale, but every piece of this idea was catastrophically executed. It moves at a snail’s pace for the first 40 minutes, then turns into a teens-to-the-rescue mini-movie at the end, and the gimmick of the talking doll with Cyrus’s foulmouth is horrifically cringeworthy. What a disaster.