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The Believable Dystopia of Black Mirror Season 5

A retrospective analysis on Season 5

By Ben UlanseyPublished 4 months ago 4 min read
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Netflix

So what if I'm doing a review for the fifth season of Black Mirror a few years late… and? Maybe I wanted to put off my fears for the future for as long as I could. Maybe I wasn't particularly excited to watch the singer of "Party in the USA" starring in a Black Mirror episode. But now that season 6 is upon us, I guess I can wait no longer.

It's no secret by now that Black Mirror is one of the most important shows of the modern day. But it's not often you'll hear it referred to as the masterpiece that it is.

Because the show has made habit of delving into some of the darkest scenarios humanity is likely to face, it doesn't always fall into the enjoyable watching category exactly. In fact, it can be downright disconcerting at times. Its depictions of the future, though, are so astoundingly realistic that it sometimes can feel more like a mandatory study than a leisurely watch.

Each episode of Black Mirror offers a standalone narrative that dives into some of the strange times that we're approaching. In that way, it's a show with a challenge like no other. It's tasked itself over and over again with foreseeing inventions and realities that haven't yet come to fruition, and its portraits of those futures have been so gritty and well-realized that they achieve something that so few shows and movies truly can. Like the masterful dystopian narrative of Spike Jonze' Her, it can often be difficult to deny the likelihood of the subject matter at hand in Black Mirror.

In its first four seasons, there's no shortage of these eerie innovations and scenarios they depict that have made their way into the real world. In fact, I'm sometimes conflicted about whether watching this show is a right of passage in the digital age, or whether it should be barred for our safety so tech developers can stop getting these dystopian new ideas.

But sometimes, the stories told can still feel a little nebulous. It's not everything painted within Black Mirror that will see its day in the real world. Where past seasons explored their fair share of lofty scenarios, though, season five is likely Black Mirror at its most grounded yet. The three episodes of the season speak to realities many of us are already familiar with.

From virtual reality, to social media and artificial intelligence, there's not a lot about the season that feels like a reach. Apart from in its slightly cumbersome finale, the season doesn't portray much at all that doesn't yet exist.

The first episode examines what romance and infidelity could begin to look like as virtual reality experiences continue to grow more and more convincing. It's hardly unrealistic. With a proliferation of bluetooth sex-toys and the like, people can already cultivate sexual relationships with partners they never met - even partners that aren't real human beings.

Many may not realize it, but virtual reality has been sinking its feet into the porn industry for years now, and there are people already that would sooner turn toward a VR headset than cultivate a real relationship.

In the episode, people have gotten as far as fully inhabiting the bodies of their virtual avatars. Though it's a bridge we haven't crossed yet, with the unveiling of the Apple Vision Pro, I fear we may be beginning to inch closer to it.

Episode 2 stands as one of Black Mirror's greatest formula breaks yet. There's not a single aspect of the episode that's unfamiliar in the present we're currently living. There are no new inventions, or unbelievable scenarios or far off futures. But even still, its ability to so powerfully capitalize on the dystopian nature of disparity, surveillance and social media drove it home for me as possibly one of the strongest episodes in the series.

From beginning to end, nearly every turn the episode took was an unexpected one. Without divulging too much of the plot, I'll simply say that it features a nearly gut-wrenching level of emotional intensity in its exploration of one of the world's wealthiest men, and one of the people most effected by his actions. But it manages to expertly evoke empathy for nearly every character involved as the episode transpires, even some of the most unexpected ones.

Episode 3 is famed largely for the inclusion of Miley Cyrus, and infamous largely for its unwieldy plot. But following from one of the most raw, yet simplistic episodes in Black Mirror's history, for me it was a welcome change of pace. It explored the nature of artificial intelligence, and how it could be used to personify real people. Additionally, it was a deeply impactful representation of an adolescence marred by the pressures of digital life.

It was also likely Black Mirror's most humorous episode to date. In an appreciated change of pace, it featured an episode with an unambiguously happy ending. And for a show that causes me to spiral into existential despair more than I'd like to admit, the occasional happy ending is fine in my book.

Now it's time to find out how depressing this new season is. What terrifying futures could it envision this time!? Space capitalism? Consciousness transplants? Robot toaster uprisings? And how long until our tech leaders make them realities? Perhaps only time will tell.

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About the Creator

Ben Ulansey

Ben is a word enthusiast who writes about everything from politics, religion, film, AI and videogames to dreams, drones, drugs, dogs, memoirs, and terrorizing Floridians with dinosaur costumes.

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