Yes, the new season of Black Mirror is very short. Shorter than the more recent seasons of the acclaimed series. In fact, you could binge the entirety of Black Mirror Season Five quicker than you could watch Avengers: Endgame in theaters, including commercials. The new installment is now available on Netflix, and it takes just 198 minutes to complete all three episodes. That said, the binge is well worth your time. Black Mirror is as tense as ever, though it takes a much different approach to its technological influences than in years past. This feels like a very different show than you might be expecting going in, but it also seems like an evolution of storytelling, rather than a deviation.
This season's three episodes are"Striking Vipers," "Smithereens," and "Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too." "Striking Vipers" tells the story of two old friends (Anthony Mackie and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who reconnect and bond over a new VR video game, only to discover dangerous feelings and addictions hidden beneath the surface. "Smithereens" follows a desperate rideshare driver (Andrew Scott) who ignites a crisis when he kidnaps a social media employee (Damson Idris). Finally, "Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too" follows a pop sensation named Ashley O (Miley Cyrus) and one of her biggest fans (Angourie Rice) as they navigate the struggles of their very different, but eerily parallel lives.
On the surface, these sound like just about every episode of Black Mirror, but the overall tone and story of each episode veer in a much different direction as you go along. There's almost a shift this season away from the terrifying sci-fi elements and into a world more focused on interpersonal relationships. To this point, most Black Mirror episodes have relied on a very unique and mind-numbing premise, layered with interesting characters and compelling stories. Season Five is exactly the opposite of that, which I think is why I like it so much.
The characters and relationships take center stage here, with the sci-fi ideas becoming secondary. Think of it this way: Black Mirror has evolved while making itself simpler at the same time. Instead of exploring how dangerous our reliance on technology can be, these three episodes show how the normalcy of technology has changed our world, both for better and worse.
Reliance on social media, influencer culture, virtual reality -- all of these themes are present in Black Mirror Season Five, but they are all secondary to how the characters use and react to them. It slows everything about the series down, almost to a halt at times, which in turn allows for a deeper understanding of how we as individuals are being gradually changed by what our lives have become. It's arguably boring from time to time, sure, but it's also perhaps the most fascinating the show has ever been.
So much of this success comes on the backs of the performers bringing the stories to life. Mackie and Mateen have an utterly incredible chemistry that should absolutely be used more often. Miley Cyrus is a force to be reckoned with and should appear on screen a lot more often. However, it's Andrew Scott that walks away as the MVP of this season. Coming off of his "Hot Priest" turn in Fleabag, Scott simply cannot be stopped. Every turn of the head and blink of the eye is intentional with Scott, and his journey over the course of "Smithereens" will leave you absolutely heartbroken. This is easily a top five all-time Black Mirror performance.
There are certainly going to be people who don't like the new season of Black Mirror. It's slower, more methodical, and not at all what you're expecting. But there's a reason for just about every tonal choice, and it helps to deliver a brilliantly written and emotion-driven journey that will be remembered more for its thoughtful characters and less for its major twists. If you're patient, and go in with an open mind, you'll likely be completely satisfied.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Black Mirror Season Five, which consists of three episodes, is now available to stream on Netflix.