Black Mirror, but not as black as it used to be

A few months ago I briefly discussed with a colleague the changes brought about in Black Mirror during the transition some years ago from Channel 4 to Netflix. I argued that, while some episodes lived up to the quality of the Channel 4-produced seasons and to the expectations of the fans (San Junipero, for instance), a general mutation of the series created by Charlie Brooker could be generally noticed. He was instead happy with Netflix since the change meant more money for production and all that a higher budget involves – that was a step-up for Black Mirror, in his opinion. Although I was not totally convinced, it seemed a sensible opinion (expressed by a person who would have been a perfect fit for a Black Mirror episode, by the way). Now, having just watched the fifth season, I beg to differ again.

Let us consider Striking Vipers. One can see from the beginning where the story leads: a bored husband, Danny, meets his old best friend, Karl, who is still dating young girls, living in the city and acting cool and young, and gets from him a VR fighting videogame. After the first fight, they end up having a sort of hyperrealistic VR affair and daily virtual sexual intercourses, setting the conditions for a crisis in Danny’s marriage. Utterly predictable, and the final compromise is not really the dramatic plot twist one could expect. Everything perfectly linear – too linear.

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