'Black Mirror' Season 5 Episode 1 review: Sex, violence and virtual reality take centre stage in 'Striking Vipers'

'Striking Vipers' stars Antony Mackie and Yahya Abdul Mateen II and follows the idea of virtual reality to its logical—and macabre—end


                            'Black Mirror' Season 5 Episode 1 review: Sex, violence and virtual reality take centre stage in 'Striking Vipers'

Warning: Spoilers for 'Black Mirror' Season 5 Episode 1

'Black Mirror' is back and Season 5 brings yet another potent dose of tech-paranoia.

The Charlie Brooker-created anthology series may have sprung up a new season pretty late but it made up for the delay with an exhilarating first installment. 

The first episode, 'Striking Vipers', stars two heavyweights: Antony Mackie and Yahya Abdul Mateen II. Marvel and DC superstars that they are, the two dish out what are probably their most versatile performances so far.

The review below is filled with spoilers. So, if you haven't watched the first episode of 'Black Mirror' Season 5, now's the time to look away.

Gaming has come a long way since Tetris and Pac-Man. It is now possible for a player to virtually be a part of the game.

Anthony Horowitz, the English author, introduced the term pain-synthesis in his Alex Rider series. Horowitz envisioned new technology that would enable a player to feel what the character was feeling in the game. When the character in the game is shot at, the player would actually feel the pain and wince.

'Striking Viper' takes this idea to its logical end. A player can now completely transfer their consciousness into the game. And once you're in the game, you can do... just about anything...

Sex games have been on the rise over the last couple of years and Brooker has attempted to bring in that theory to explain the consequences it has on real life. (IMDb)

Danny (Mackie) and Karl (Mateen) are two best friends who have pretty much grown up playing video games together. When they weren't hanging out with girls, they were pretty much at home playing video games. One game in particular — Striking Vipers.

In this martial arts encounter game, Danny likes to play Lance (Ludi Lin), a muscled martial artist, and Karl plays Roxette, an attractive female fighter (Pom Klementieff). The two are obsessed with the game's characters and always pick the same ones. 

A few years later, Danny has married his longtime girlfriend, Theo (Nicole Beharie), and has a kid. Karl is still hopping from one fling to another.

Their friendship has taken a backseat since Danny's marriage and they now only meet once a year: on Danny's birthday. 

One such birthday sees Karl drop in unexpectedly and present Danny with a new version of Striking Viper.

The two fire up the game and, once again, choose the same characters as they did when they were young.

However, the two are taken aback by the attraction they feel for the other's character in the game. The new, sexual element leaves Danny completely confused and he exits in a state of shock. 

Unable to resist the temptation, the two pick up the game once again. And in due course, they start "playing" the game each day.

As a result of the new habit, Danny becomes a recluse and grows distant from his wife. He even forgets their anniversary.

He then decides to stop playing altogether and cuts off all contact with Karl in an attempt to return to being the loving husband that he was.

Karl, on the other hand, tries multiple partners and genders in the game but fails to get the same satisfaction that he received during his sexual encounters with Danny. 

The gaming addicts: Danny (Anthony Mackie) and Karl (Yahya Matheen) in 'Striking Vipers'. (IMDb)

Just as Danny manages to pull himself together, another birthday arrives. Just like before, Karl comes to see him and urges him to try the game once more.

The two come to an agreement and decide to find out if they are attracted to each other in real life. They soon realize they are unable to mirror their characters from the game.

This leads to an argument and a real-life action showdown. 

'Black Mirror' Season 5 premieres on Netflix on June 5.

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