Black Mirror is back, and it refuses to pull any punches with episode one of season 5, Striking Vipers. Striking Vipers begins with Danny (Anthony Mackie), his wife Theo (Nicole Behaire) along with Danny’s best friend Karl (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who dancing at a club. Right off the bat, we see that Danny and Theo are madly in love with an electric passion between them.
Later on, that night after Theo is asleep, Danny goes out into the living room and finds Karl playing the fighting game Striking Vipers. Danny and Karl bond over the game as they stay up playing the game all night.
Fast forward 11 years later, Danny and Theo are still together and accustomed to married life. Danny is grilling in his backyard at his birthday party and staring at other women, finding himself bored in his predictable and mundane life. We find Danny’s opposite in life with Karl. Karl surprises Danny at his birthday party after almost 11 years. Karl gives Danny a birthday gift, and it is non-other the video game that solidified their friendship at the beginning of the episode, the latest installment of Striking Vipers, Striking Vipers X.
However, this version of Striking Vipers is much different from before. It comes equipped with a virtual reality add-on, compliments of TCKR Systems – the major corporation in the Black Mirror Universe responsible for all the neural implant devices seen in ‘San Junipero’ and ‘Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.’ Danny goes downstairs in the middle of the night and tries out his new video game. Karl sees that Danny is online and invites him to a match. Karl activates the VR disk and has his consciousness transmitted inside the video game, where the two select the same characters from 11 years ago.
Once inside the game, Karl instructs Danny on how to play the game and the two begin to fight for a couple of rounds. In the middle of one round, Danny and Karl land on top on one another and start having sex with their virtual characters. Striking Vipers is one of the most sexual episodes in the series as the episode revolves around sexual desires and relationships. As their obsession with virtual reality sex becomes out of control, we begin to see Karl and Danny disconnect from the real world, which can be seen a call to the issues that arise from the continued use of online pornography.
What is so unique about this VR device is that the user feels every sensation that occurs in the game at an intensified level. While the episode does not discuss the topic of sexuality, it is obvious that Danny is conflicted due to his existing relationship with his wife, Theo. The episode continues with the two sneaking around, hooking up in the middle of the night. While at the same time, Theo wants to have another child, and Danny is too exhausted from hooking up with Karl. Theo soon becomes suspicious and questions Danny’s loyalty, wanting the passion and excitement they used to have. This forces Danny to break away from his relationship with Karl, leaving Karl in a depressed state for several months.
Near the end of the episode, Danny and Karl meet in person to see if there are any real sparks between them or if it is all a byproduct from the game. The two kiss each other and realize there is nothing genuine between them, and Danny declares that he is done. Karl refuses, and the two end up fighting each other and getting arrested. After Theo picks Danny up from jail, Danny finally confesses to everything that has been going on. The episode ends with Danny and Theo hosting another birthday party a year later. The two are visibly still in love, but something is different. Theo hands Danny a small box containing the VR device. In return, Danny hands Theo a box for her wedding ring. There is a shot of a calendar with an “x” on one of the days, representing that the two have agreed to put aside one night a month to have a one-night stand and explore their desires.
The characteristics of the episode that stood out are the amount of passion and disconnect seen throughout. In the beginning, we see the passion between Danny and Theo at the beginning of the relationship. Eleven years pass, and we notice that Danny has disconnected from Karl due to his marriage. Once Karl comes back, Danny finds a newfound passion online with Karl causing Danny to find boredom within his real-world marriage.
The constant push and pull between the relationships reveal that to have a happy and successful marriage; people must make sacrifices. There is also a struggle between sexuality and identity within the episode. The theme of sexuality is not so black and white in this episode. Identity also comes into question throughout since Karl and Danny think that they are not gay because they are inside a video game.
While Striking Vipers does not stick to the traditional Black Mirror formula where the episode shows how technology can kill us, rather it shows us how technology can disconnect us from reality, destroying our real-life relationships.
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