Monday, May 25, 2020

Black Mirror, s5 (2019)

It was good to catch up on the Channel 4 / Netflix series Black Mirror—not surprisingly, it's thumb's-up pandemic viewing. I skipped the opening pig-fuck episode of the first season, as I did not need to see it again for all its eye-popping bravado, and made my way forward into the third and fourth seasons that until recently had been out of my reach behind the paywall. Some of the seams show across the length of its brief seasons, where six episodes makes a marathon, and things tail off some toward the end of the fourth. The 2018 attempt at an interactive movie, Bandersnatch, was even weaker, a novelty at best—it has pieces of the experience of Black Mirror the way action figures have pieces of the experience of a movie. So I was happy to see the fifth season back to approximately full strength, albeit also back to the original dispensation of only three episodes. Charlie Brooker writes or cowrites all the scripts and remains one of the constants on a show that specializes in cryptic spooky one-offs, Outer Limits style. It's alterna-reality horror stories in a near-future SF mode, brilliantly constructed but somehow not easy to binge, because each one takes some time to put a dense attack of concept, characters, and situation in place. Almost always near the 20-minute or 25-minute mark I was liable to find myself impatient and ready to bug out for a wallow in news headlines or something. Give it 10 minutes more, and I was usually fully hooked. Not that there is a formula to Black Mirror, but the high techno gadget concepts do require some 'splainin' as we go, usually paying off as the rainbow of directors (and Brooker's scripts) obviously know how to put together winning suspense splats. "Striking Vipers" is a parody of the Street Fighter video game that takes on issues of cybersex, which appear to be as thorny as ever if this one is to be believed (though the ending is muddled). "Smithereens" is a tense actioner, a kidnapping and extortion plot with Topher Grace getting a shot at doing Mark Zuckerberg. Is this going to be like the way major actors take turns playing the U.S. president? Does it really have to be Zuckerberg? This one is funny and tragic both, as Black Mirror can do. The big finish to the season, "Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too," is a sendup of celebrity and fan dynamics coupled with one of Brooker's favorite themes, in which copying the algorithms of a human personality into an AI device also tends to bring the conscious sense of self along with it. The episode makes great use of Miley Cyrus, doing a kinda sorta version of her own Hannah Montana story, accented by one of the cruelest stage mothers in all fiction (proxy for Disney? inquiring minds want to know), followed by a harrowing escape and transition to sweet liberation. Cue the band: Miley and crew rave it up in a tiny rock club covering "Head Like a Hole" with a monster act in a bracing, glorious version. Demonstrating, as always, the way life could/should? be in our strange modern world.

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