Striking Vipers

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"Striking Vipers"
Black Mirror episode
A man stares forwards with a woman behind him touching his chest. A red and pink panel covers half of the image.
Episode no.Series 5
Episode 1
Directed byOwen Harris
Written byCharlie Brooker
Original air date5 June 2019 (2019-06-05)
Running time61 minutes
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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Bandersnatch (film)
"Black Museum"
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"Smithereens"
List of Black Mirror episodes

"Striking Vipers" is the first episode of the fifth series of the anthology series Black Mirror. It was written by Charlie Brooker and directed by Owen Harris. The episode first aired on Netflix, along with the rest of series five, on 5 June 2019.[1]

In the episode, two friends begin having virtual sex in a fighting game.

Plot[edit]

Twenty-seven-year-old Danny Parker (Anthony Mackie) and his girlfriend Theo (Nicole Beharie) go to a bar and pretend to be strangers. After they have sex, he plays the fighting game Striking Vipers with his friend Karl Houghton (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) as their preferred characters Lance and Roxette. Eleven years later, Danny hosts a barbecue at his house with Theo, with whom he is married and has a five-year-old child. He has fallen out of contact with Karl, who arrives at the party and gives him a birthday present: Striking Vipers X along with the virtual reality kit needed to play the newest version of the game.

That night, the pair play the game in their respective homes, falling back motionless once they enter the virtual arena. After one fighting bout in which they fully experience their respective characters' pain from fighting blows, Karl and Danny's characters fall onto each other and kiss. Visibly distraught, Karl and Danny exit the game.

Over the next few weeks, Danny and Karl begin regularly logging online and entering the game in order to have sex with each other, and Danny becomes withdrawn from his relationship with Theo. She calls him out on their wedding anniversary and accuses him of having an affair while pointing out that she has remained faithful and regularly rebuffs other guys' advances; even though she likes the attention. Danny promises that no infidelity is going on. Later on, he locks the Striking Vipers X game in a cabinet and tells Karl over the phone that they need to stop.

At Danny's next birthday, Theo invites Karl for dinner as a surprise. Karl reveals to Danny that he has been unable to recreate the feelings with other players as he had with Danny. That night, the pair enter the game and have sex again. Danny then asks to meet up in real life. At his insistence, they kiss in their normal bodies to see if there is any real connection between them, but both of them say they feel nothing. Danny insists that since they felt nothing from kissing each other, they should stop; Karl insists they should continue. Danny becomes agitated and a fight between them ensues just as a passing police car notices and arrests them. Frustrated at having to pick Danny up, Theo insists that Danny tell her what caused the fight.

In the final scene, it is revealed that Danny and his wife have an arrangement where for one night a year, he can play Striking Vipers X with Karl while Theo can go out to a bar and meet up with a stranger.

Production[edit]

External video
"Black Mirror: Season 5"
The trailer for series five of Black Mirror.
"Black Mirror: Striking Vipers"
The trailer for "Striking Vipers".
The closing shot of Lance and Roxette fighting was filmed on the roof of the Copan Building, one of several São Paulo, Brazil locations used in the episode.

Series five of Black Mirror was released on 5 June 2019 and produced by Netflix. Production began with Bandersnatch, an interactive film which grew in scope to the point where it was decided to separate it from the series and release it as a standalone film. It premiered on 28 December 2018. Though previous series of the programme produced under Netflix contain six episodes, series five consists of three episodes, as series creator Charlie Brooker viewed this as preferable to making viewers wait longer for the next series.[2] "Striking Vipers" was filmed before production of Bandersnatch.[3] Netflix released a trailer to the fifth series on 15 May 2019 and an individual trailer for "Striking Vipers" on 21 May.

The episode was written by Brooker. In an interview, Brooker described it as a "poignant and bittersweet relationship drama" which has an "inherent humor". Brooker first conceived of an episode with a virtual romance between two strangers. He was inspired by fighting games such as Tekken, with Brooker noting that the game's characters are "incredibly hypersexualized". In the 1990s, he played Tekken regularly with flatmates and considered the experience to be "homoerotic" and "weirdly primal".[4] The episode also came out of a separate story idea Brooker has come up with, where a team-building exercise for an office had employees enter a virtual reality space with their avatars randomized, so that people interacting there would not know who the person behind the avatar was, and observing how certain relationships grew out of that.[3]

Commenting on the ending, Brooker called it "pragmatically romantic". He opined that the arrangement Danny and Theo have of "allowing themselves one day to indulge their selfish fantasies" is an improvement of their relationship prior to this, where Danny withholds information from her and does not discuss his "wants and needs". He notes that Karl's character is "fairly lonely" as he spends his time anticipating this one day of the year, and that the situation could deteriorate if Theo falls in love with a person at the bar.[4]

"Striking Vipers" was the third Black Mirror episode to be directed by Owen Harris, who had previously directed series two's "Be Right Back", and series three's "San Junipero". Ed Power of The Telegraph noted that the three episodes could be considered as a "loved-up Black Mirror trilogy" due to each episode's shared theme of "romance in a world where computers allow us to transcend physical boundaries".[5] The episode stars Anthony Mackie as Danny, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Karl and Nicole Beharie as Theo. It was filmed in São Paulo, Brazil.[6] Over nineteen different locations were used in the episodes, including along Avenida Paulista, the Folha de S.Paulo building, and the Copan Building in the episode's final shot. Several of the shots used as settings for the Striking Vipers X video game were sets from around São Paulo, digitally altered after filming. For example, one of the fighting game's set featuring a Japanese street setting was shot in the Liberdade in São Paulo, otherwise known as "Japantown".[7]

Executive producer Annabel Jones stated that the episode asks: "When does porn become so sophisticated that it's actually cheating and not just distraction?" She praised Mackie and Abdul-Mateen for their "delicacy" in exploring the subject. Jones commented that Mackie played an older character with less "virility and physicality" when compared to other acting roles of his.[4] Beharie was a big fan of the show prior to her role as Theo.[6]

Reception[edit]

Fiona Sturges of The Independent rated the episode four out of five stars. Sturges summarised the episode's themes as "fidelity, family, fantasy fulfilment" and a love triangle. She praised the episode for a nuanced portrayal of marriage and parenthood, adding that the episode is "distinctive by its meditative tone and everyday preoccupations".[8]

Ed Power of The Telegraph gave the episode two out of five stars, critiquing that the episode has a lack of direction after its initial premise. He believed the episode's central idea is that "male friendship invariably possesses a homoerotic change", but that this idea is not explored well. Power criticised the virtual reality technology as overused from previous Black Mirror episodes.[5]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Strause, Jackie (21 May 2019). "'Black Mirror': Unpacking the Trailers for Season 5". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 21 May 2019.
  2. ^ Jeffery, Morgan (23 May 2019). "Exclusive: Black Mirror's Charlie Brooker reveals why season 5 only has 3 episodes". Digital Spy. Retrieved 5 June 2019.
  3. ^ a b Fullerton, Hew (5 June 2019). "Black Mirror season 5 episode 1 explained – Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones break down Striking Vipers". Radio Times. Retrieved 5 June 2019.
  4. ^ a b c Hibberd, James (5 June 2019). "Black Mirror creator discusses that unique 'Striking Vipers' relationship". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 5 June 2019.
  5. ^ a b Power, Ed (5 June 2019). "Black Mirror: Striking Vipers, review: This plodding meditation on love needs a recharge". The Telegraph. Retrieved 5 June 2019.
  6. ^ a b Pelley, Rich (1 June 2019). "Nicole Beharie: 'Every episode of Black Mirror I'm like, please don't let this happen'". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 June 2019.
  7. ^ Martin, Laura (6 June 2019). "Where is Black Mirror season 5 filmed? Filming locations included Brazil, South Africa and Kent". iNews. Retrieved 6 June 2019.
  8. ^ Sturges, Fiona (5 June 2019). "Black Mirror, season 5, 'Striking Vipers' review: Examining a brave new world of virtual sex". The Independent. Retrieved 5 June 2019.

External links[edit]