‘Black Mirror’: Trio of terrific thrillers in star-studded 5th season
Never mind the interactive but too-gimmicky-to-be-truly-fascinating “Bandersnatch.” The fifth season of Netflix’s “Black Mirror” quickly distinguishes itself for cleverly utilizing its star-studded cast with stories that are guaranteed to entertain viewers as much as give them the heebie-jeebies.
Its existentialist musings, framed by themes that tackle gender identity, grief and the repercussions of guilt, fame and the frightening excesses of social media, are too plausible and relatable to ignore.
Miley Cyrus repurposes her long-standing love affair with fame for something sinisterly compelling in Anne Sewitsky’s entertaining but uneven “Rachel, Jack and Ashley, Too”—a curious cross between the giddy wholesomeness of “Hannah Montana” and her loopy “Wrecking Ball” heyday.
In the hourlong feature, Ashley O (Miley) is the pop sensation that lonely new girl on the block Rachel Goggins (Angourie Rice) aspires to be. On her 15th birthday, the only present Rachel asks for is the AI (artificial intelligence)-wired Ashley doll (voiced by Miley, natch).
Despite a feisty persona that often proselytizes about the importance of women empowerment, Ashley feels like an animal trapped in a cage by an image that puts a lid on her out-of-the-box creative endeavors.
This is made increasingly unbearable by her hard-driving aunt Catherine (Susan Pourfar), who refuses to see what’s beyond Ashley’s fame and fortune. When she is deemed “undercreative,” Ashley is served medicine that makes her more “subservient.”
But Rachel and her sister Jack (Madison Davenport) come to “troubled” Ashley’s rescue when Catherine introduces a “streamable, fully scalable and pitch-perfect” holographic performer created in Ashley’s likeness, to keep the pop star’s income-generating influence and popularity in perpetuity.
There’s a lot to “digest” about the film’s message. In any case, viewers can’t help but give in to a conspiratorial nod when they see Miley in a winking “middle finger” moment.
For his part, Topher Grace is charmingly irreverent in James Hawes’ “Smithereens,” the most thematically striking of the three episodes.
It’s a cautionary tale that examines the cause and effect of an international crisis ignited by grief-and-guilt-stricken London rideshare driver Chris Gillhaney (Andrew Scott), after he holds Jaden Tommens (Damson Idris), an intern at a social media company not unlike Facebook, hostage.
Chris wants to talk to the company’s head honcho Billy Bauer (Topher Grace), who can’t immediately be reached—because he’s in a 10-day silent retreat in Utah.
Chris, a former IT teacher, has had it with the world: The house he just inherited from his mom, who just died, is up for repossession. And he still can’t get over losing his fiancée, Tamsin, who died three years ago under mysterious circumstances! He blames social networking for his woes.
But social media, as Billy explains to Chris, is like a crack pipe: He says, “I started it, but I can’t stop it!”
Just as satisfying is Owen Harris’ “Striking Vipers,” starring Anthony Mackie (Falcon in the “Avengers” film series), Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and the persuasive Nikki Beharie.
In the episode, something unexpectedly unravels in Danny Parker’s (Anthony) life when he celebrates his 38th birthday and ends up catching up with chick magnet Karl (Yahya), whom he has not seen in 11 years.
But just talking about those online matches in their wayward youth adds excitement and an unexplainable spark to their increasingly humdrum existence—a realization that surprises both men.
The gaming buddies soon discover something “dormant” about themselves when they start playing the “habit-forming” interactive game called Striking Vipers X. This leads to prolonged but surreptitiously scheduled sessions that eventually put a strain on their relationships with their respective lady loves.
We won’t say anything more than that. But brace yourself for the episode’s alluringly twisted and astutely staged denouement. Suffice it to say that you and your friends will have a grand time talking about “Black Mirror’s” star-studded fifth outing.
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