*WARNING: Spoilers for Season 5 ahead!*
Something tells us that ‘Striking Vipers’ will be the Black Mirror Season 5 episode that gets talked about the most, thanks to one particularly brilliant line – and episode director Owen Harris isn’t surprised. “The line that sold me in the script was when he says ‘I even had sex with the polar bear’. I was totally in at that point,” Harris chuckles.
‘Striking Vipers’ sees old college friends Danny (Anthony Mackie) and Karl (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) rekindle their friendship via an immersive game, only to begin having an affair, of sorts, through the characters they play in the game. The episode raises a lot of questions about sexual identity and about sustaining friendships and relationships over a long period of time, themes which attracted Abdul-Mateen II to the character.
“I think this is definitely one of those episodes where all of the rules are going to be discussed, and we’ll throw all the labels out there and say, well, what are the rules to all of these things? And how much of this stuff needs redefining so we can have healthy relationships across the board, no matter what the title or structure of those are?”
Abdul-Mateen II adds that once Karl realises that VR sex with his best friend scratches an itch nothing else can – not even polar bear sex – he’s faced with a dilemma: “does he compromise who he thinks he is or does he lean more into the thing that he’s been missing? And then also how does he still walk around and be the same person once he finds out something new about himself, or what his identity is? His idea of who he is is not as strong anymore, so that puts him in a compromising position. And so those are really fun opportunities to explore because Karl would still consider himself to be the same person, he’s just found a different way to meet some of his needs… So much of [the episode] was based on fulfilling that unmet need while also holding on to our lives and our identities, so that was fun to play with.”
The episode’s ending will be a big talking point, with Danny and his wife Theo (Nicole Beharie) reaching a compromise to keep their marriage and their family together. “We ourselves are quite programmed,” director Harris says, “and we follow things like marriage… but there’s a different way of looking at everything. There’s no real right or wrong, necessarily, it’s whatever makes things work. And in the end this is about two people saving a marriage, in a funny sort of way,” he muses.
Abdul-Mateen II agrees: “We don’t want to tell the audience what to think about these characters, but we want to give them something to talk about. That’s really one of the biggest strengths of Black Mirror.” Something tells us this one’s going to spark some interesting conversations between couples and friends…
You can read our full Black Mirror Season 5 coverage in the current issue of SciFiNow.