It’s time once again to throw your smartphone away in a fit of terror: Black Mirror is back!
Netflix’s deeply unsettling sci-fi anthology has returned for Season 5 with a trio of new tales about technology run amok. (Only three? Well, we guess we did just get Bandersnatch a few months ago… and we still haven’t gotten through all the choices yet.) The new episodes are loaded with A-list talent — including pop superstar Miley Cyrus and Marvel superhero Anthony Mackie — and all of them deliver the jaw-dropping plot twists we’ve come to expect as well. But how do they measure up to previous Black Mirror installments? We’re glad you asked.
Here, we offer mini reviews of all three Season 5 episodes, utterly free of spoilers and paired with a letter grade — and we even rank them, so you know which episode you should queue up first. (One in particular does stand out from the pack, actually.) Read on to see what fresh horrors Black Mirror has to offer us this time.
3. “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too”
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Sorry, Miley, but your Black Mirror is the weakest of the bunch. Cyrus plays pink-haired pop starlet Ashley O, who becomes an obsession for lonely teen Rachel (Angourie Rice). While Rachel finds a new friend in “Ashley Too,” a cutesy A.I. robot based on Ashley O’s personality, the real Ashley fights against the constraints of her cookie-cutter image, aching to play some edgier material. Basically, it’s a mediocre disillusioned-pop-star story fused with a mediocre awkward-teen story… before it takes (of course) a sinister turn. It gestures in the direction of some interesting points about exploiting a celebrity’s likeness, but most of its insights are ultimately trite, and the final act takes some truly ridiculous turns that feel very un-Black Mirror. Not every episode has to be a bleak downer, but this one was a little too poppy for our ears. Grade: C-minus
2. “Striking Vipers”
Whoo boy… this one is going to make some gamer dudes very uncomfortable. Mackie stars here as Danny, a bored family man creeping into middle age who reunites with an old pal named Karl (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who he used to spend many a late night with playing a Mortal Kombat-esque fighting game in his less responsible days. Karl introduces him to an immersive new virtual reality version of their old favorite game, and what starts out as high-flying martial-arts action takes an extremely provocative turn that we wouldn’t dream of revealing. The twist is genuinely shocking and opens up a number of intriguing storytelling avenues, and the acting is solid, especially from Abdul-Mateen and Sleepy Hollow alum Nicole Beharie as Danny’s wife. But after the initial shock wears off, the episode just kind of plods along, and the ending feels too easy for such a complicated premise. Still, we can just sense the thinkpieces being typed out as we speak… Grade: B
Black Mirror has always been a showcase for great acting, and Andrew Scott — aka Fleabag‘s hot priest — shines here as a twitchy rideshare driver who’s nursing a deep grudge against a social media company and ends up taking one of its employees (Snowfall‘s Damson Idris) hostage. It’s a gripping, old-fashioned thriller with shades of Taxi Driver that doubles as a vicious commentary on our crippling tech addiction, with sharp bursts of dark humor throughout. (Topher Grace makes a brief but memorable appearance as a smarmy tech-bro CEO, complete with man-bun.) It all builds up to a gut-wrenching reveal, and Grace and Idris do stellar work along the way, but this is Scott’s episode from start to finish: a harrowing portrait of a man pushed firmly and irretrievably over the edge. Grade: A-minus
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