The arrival of all-new Black Mirror episodes is always cause for celebration, and anyone worried that, five seasons in, the show might be running out of ideas can relax – Charlie Brooker’s brain is as fascinatingly messed-up as always.
These episodes are lighter than you might expect from Black Mirror. There’s no pitch-black Crocodile in amongst this batch, and one of them is positively a romp, but that’s not to say that the themes aren’t heavy. Striking Vipers is a raw exploration of what it takes to maintain a relationship when tech is always getting in the way, while Smithereens turns a critical eye to the power social media companies hold, treating their Zuckerberg stand-in as an almost untouchable figure. Rachel, Jack And Ashley Too – the aforementioned romp – is a brutal take-down on the increasingly money-motivated entertainment industry.
As always in Black Mirror, some episodes will appeal to you and others won’t. Rachel, Jack And Ashley Too is the biggest tonal departure from the show’s usual style, and your tolerance for it will depend on how much sympathy you can conjure up for the hugely wealthy and successful Miley Cyrus, who delivers a heartfelt performance in a role that is clearly drawn heavily from her own experience of the music industry.
Smithereens boasts one of Black Mirror’s most darkly funny scenes to date and is powered by a brilliant performance from Andrew Scott as a man just barely holding it all together, but it abandons Black Mirror’s usual objective stance on tech and becomes strangely judgemental in the final act. The best of this batch is Striking Vipers, director Owen Harris’ follow-up to San Junipero, centring on a married couple played by Anthony Mackie and Nicole Beharie, and how their relationship is affected by the return of an old college friend (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). It’s a complex and sombre episode – with unexpected bursts of colour and action – that asks questions most married couples would run a mile from, and it’s classic Black Mirror.