Black Mirror

Miley Cyrus as Ashley O in Black Mirror season 5 episode "Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too".

Netflix’s hit series “Black Mirror” returned for an intriguing fifth season June 5, drawing from the theme of conscious technologies of past seasons.

While season five boasted unique storylines with amazing acting, visuals and set design, the new episodes failed to live up to previous seasons with the writers relying more on material from past seasons. What made past episodes of “Black Mirror” so captivating to watch were the bleak, edgy themes that often kept my stomach turning, which season five failed to do.

“Black Mirror” is critically acclaimed, having garnered Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie or a Dramatic Special and Outstanding Television Movie for “San Junipero” and “USS Callister.”

“Black Mirror’s” long-awaited, fifth season featured three new episodes, two of which bring surprising lightheartedness to the traditionally intense and grotesque show. The episodes focus more on simulated types of technology such as virtual reality(VR), a simulated world, and artificial intelligence (AI), a computer that can think for itself.

Featuring the talents of acclaimed actors Topher Grace (That ‘70s Show), Anthony Mackie (Avengers: Endgame) and Miley Cyrus, the acting was thrilling and believable to the last scene. While season five’s acting was a cut above the rest, the usage of unknown actors in previous seasons gave “Black Mirror” a more unique identity that feels lost this season.

The season’s first episode, “Striking Vipers” tackles the topics of gender identity and sexual orientation.  

The episode could have been really good, but some of the aspects reminded me of season three’s “San Junipero,” which also followed sexuality in a virtual world, even though the outcome was different.

From the first scenes of the episode, the content is predictable, featuring two heterosexual characters who have realistic VR video game sex with each other.

The episode can even make the viewer ponder how realistic VR simulations can help someone discover their gender identity, realistically becoming the opposite gender inside the simulation.

Despite all of these captivating questions, the way it portrays the two heterosexual men feels like a let-down.

While “Smithereens,” the seasons’ second episode, was the closest to a typical episode of “Black Mirror” in terms of unsettling content, the episode was drawn out and exhausting to watch. It felt like the writers were trying to make it a more traditional episode but just could not hit the mark.

While forcing the viewers to wonder if exploiting a mobile device to spy on criminals is a breach of trust is interesting, some of the scenes are lengthy and most of the episode takes place in the same location.  While most “Black Mirror” episodes leave the viewer to ponder at the end, this episode’s cliffhanger ending left me frustrated.

What the episode does do right is its use of rideshare technology to guide the plot from the beginning. In addition, the episode forces viewers to wonder if exploiting a mobile device to spy on criminals is a breach of trust.

“Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too,” the third and final episode of season five was the best of the season. It was captivating from beginning to end with moral and philosophical questions regarding artificial intelligence (AI) and its role in the music industry. Cyrus’s acting soares to new heights in this episode as she portrays her characters feelings, desires and goals in one of the series’ most believable performances to date.

This episode also had the best writing of the season, leaving me to wonder at the end how far society can push the mental capabilities of AI. However, like the previous two episodes, “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too” relied too heavily on technology featured in previous episodes like “White Christmas.”

A returning “Black Mirror” staple is the constant importance of symbolism in the series. While not generally important to the overall story, the hidden easter eggs are incredibly fun to find and connect the dots to seemingly unrelated past episodes.  

The music featured in the episodes reflects certain story elements to near perfection.  

The song “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)” by Irma Thomas appears at least once every season in “Black Mirror” and always adds to the dark undertones of the series. This time around, Miley Cyrus chanted the lyrics in a soft tone, reflecting how somber her character’s situation is.

Overall, each episode of season five had a decent story with big-name actors, but the episodes high-note endings failed to live up to to the unsettling feel of previous seasons. While I hope there are future seasons, these episodes made me feel like the writers are running out of material, often relying on similar themes and technologies from past episodes. There is no confirmation of a sixth season of “Black Mirror.”

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 63%

TV Rating: TV-MA

The Arkansas Traveler Score: C


Zachery Sutherland is a staff reporter for the Arkansas Traveler, where he has been a staff reporter since February 2019.

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