The long-awaited Netflix original is back for its fifth season, and it was well worth the wait. The first episode, titled Striking Vipers, at first glance looks to be about two friends (and maybe society as a whole) becoming lost in a virtual reality gaming world. What it turns out to be is much, much more intriguing.
We open with our main character, Danny, strolling into the club. It looks as if he’s there to mingle and meet women before his friend strolls up and tells him to get out on the dance floor with the woman Danny was talking too. She then mentions that “the roleplaying up at the bar” was hot, giving away that the two of them know one another already. A few minutes later we’re back in their apartment, when we see Danny’s buddy from the club. Turns out they all live with each other, and that the buddy’s name is Karl. This is where the Striking Vipers game is brought in for the first time, and where we notice that the two roomies have no self-control as they stay up the entire night playing. Yet, there is no VR… so we know that this is a flashback to before the virtual reality technology is used 11 years later.
We see Danny again, yet he looks like a completely different man now. He’s standing at a grill, staring aimlessly through his glasses off at the party going on in his backyard. It’s his birthday, and he is now married to Theo (the girl from the club). The two of them have a kid together as well, but he doesn’t really seem to be a huge part of this episode. Danny looks like this party is draining all of the fun out of him before a woman walks over and introduces her boyfriend who “is into bikes.” This scene was hilarious to me because that is such a random thing to start a conversation about! Not to mention, Danny looks like he hates small talk. That or he is one of the worst conversationalists of all time.
In comes his old roommate Karl, and finally we see some life on Danny’s face. Karl seems to be doing well for himself, outside the fact that he broke up with his long-time wife/girlfriend less than a year ago. We finally have the VR introduced here as Karl gives Danny his birthday gift and then tells him how he tested the game out at the store, and it blew his mind. This turns into them reminiscing, and Danny explains how he is so ecstatic that he isn’t in the dating game anymore. Karl shows Danny some pictures of the girl he is grabbing dinner with later as Theo walks in. Jumping forward to the dinner date, Karl makes a “Rodman” (Dennis Rodman for those of you who don’t know) reference to the girl before pointing over at the bartender with bleach blonde hair and piercings. She doesn’t get the joke, then pulls out her phone and googles him before finally realizing who Dennis Rodman is. The look on Karl’s face was priceless, and I thought this was such a great way to represent him in the “dating game” as Danny described in the scene prior.
As Theo is getting ready for bed, Danny tells her that he is going to play some games (which turns out he’s a huge Tetris guy lol). He looks like he is about to crash when Karl gets online and invites him to play Striking Vipers. He then tells him to brace himself because “You’re going to s*** your pelvis through your a**hole.” As the two pick their favorite characters and get started, we quickly see that Danny has lost his touch. Karl is working him over before Danny finally starts piecing together some moves. Karl still ends up knocking him down though, and this is where the plot thickened for the first time. Karl’s character (Roxy) leans in to kiss Danny’s (Lance). Danny freaks out, and as he does Karl yells “Exit game!” and disappears. We can see this bugged Danny as he snaps back to reality, but then he gets up and walks away as if nothing happened.
We now see Danny at work, and here I noticed that every single thing in his office was grey. His coworker’s outfits, the desks, the walls… everything around him was grey and painfully dreary. I took this as the first sign that he was growing tired of his life and that the idea of the VR world was growing on him. Before we know it, he’s logging back into his gaming system and joins a party with Karl. He says that he can’t play long and that the other night he was drunk as if that was why they kissed. Karl agreed and they said they would just play for a few minutes, but the second they get into the VR world things get steamy. Once they’re done doing the deed, Karl jokes and says, “I guess that makes us gay now.” Danny goes on to state he didn’t feel gay doing it before he grabs his leg and exits the game. When he returns to the real world, his son is standing there kicking him because he’s thirsty and we instantly see an apology text that he sent to Karl.
The next few minutes is literally just the two of them having sex everywhere lol. Sprinkled in are some scenes of them in the real world, like Karl being on another date and clearly fantasizing about Lane’s steamy bod or Theo asking Danny to have real-life sex and him declining because he’s too tired. Then back to VR sex, but this time on pretty nice-looking beach if I do say so myself. Once they’re done, the two of them are cuddling when Danny’s VR character asks Karl’s what it’s like to be a woman. I 10000% thought this was going to turn into another sex scene with them playing as different characters, but I’m glad it didn’t. Karl goes into detail about how amazing it is before we snap back into the real world.
Danny is sitting up on his porch, just watching his wife and son outside playing. He is distancing himself from them it seems, but it wasn’t coming across as if he was doing it on purpose. Then we find out he forgot Theo and His anniversary, which she thanks him for in a super passive-aggressive manner. A few hours later as she is sitting at the bar waiting for Danny to show up, a younger man walks over and starts flirting with her. She declines but looks like she was loving the attention as Danny walks in. They start talking, and we can see that Theo is clearly shook over her husband becoming so distant. He swears nothing is wrong, but she keeps hammering him with questions, what an uncomfortable anniversary that had to be haha.
We jump back to Karl now who appears to be having some trouble finishing. The girl asks if it’s work related again, which Karl says it is before she asks if she could finish herself off. Danny is online now, and Karl logs in. He immediately sends Danny an invite, but Danny knows what he must do. He turns his game off and packs the VR headpiece away in a cabinet. Karl basically goes into full-on clinger here and keeps attempting to get Danny online, trying things like “It isn’t cheating, it’ just like… porn.” Danny isn’t having any of it though and tells Karl it’s over before we jump into the future again.
We see Karl pacing around his loft, clearly having withdrawals from Danny and Lance before we see him get a text that he looks excited over. Then we find out that Theo is pregnant, so looks like her talk on their anniversary set Danny straight. As Danny and Theo are cooking, we find out she was the one who texted Karl. This had (bad?) written all over it. The dinner seems to be going fine until Theo gets up to go get dessert. While she’s gone, Karl gets into it quickly and is really trying to convince Danny to start playing again. He gets so filthy with it to, much too filthy for me to repeat here haha. Karl also tells Danny that he has tried everything else in the VR world and nothing compares to him. He’s even had multiplayer gang bangs and stooped so low that he had sex with the polar bear character. Theo comes back right as Danny shoves Karl, and the rest of the night probably got super awkward. As he’s leaving though, he whispers in Danny’s ear that he will be on at midnight.
At first, it looks like Danny is going to stay strong. His phone hits midnight and he closes it. And before you have time to congratulate him for being so strong, we see Lance and Roxy getting freaky in Chinatown. Well, it looked like they enjoyed themselves quite a bit here, and once done Karl tells Danny that he loves him. Danny backs away and realizes that this was such a huge mistake as Karl tries to explain he didn’t mean it. But then Karl’s stance changes and he tries to convince Danny to say it back to him. Right before Danny exits the game, he tells Karl to meet him by one of the old bars they frequented in thirty minutes. I’d like to know what everyone else thought was going to happen here because I thought Danny was going to kill Karl. But alas, I was wrong and all he wanted was a kiss. His logic was that if there were sparks, then they knew it was real and they would figure it out. And if it wasn’t, well then they would basically both feel incredibly dumb. They lean in for the kiss and as they pull away, they both say that there was nothing there. Karl then proceeds to tell Danny that even though it’s not real, it will always still be in their heads. This makes Danny angry and the two men start to fight right as a cop pulls up.
Theo is pulling into the precinct now and as she gets out, she walks straight up to the glass window to inquire about Danny. We see him come out and get into the car, but he looks like he is lost in his own head at this point. As Theo questions him, Danny remains silent and Theo gets pissed. She eventually says something that triggers him, and as he turns everything gets quiet before we cut to black. This time we jump an untold amount of time into the future, but it looks like it’s their anniversary again. We see them exchange gifts, which are essentially just two very tiny boxes. These boxes are very significant however because we now know that Danny told Theo everything and that she was ok with it in moderation as long as she also got some side action. The show ends with Karl and Danny logging on and walking towards each other while Theo sits at the bar and makes eye contact with a younger man.
This was by far one of the crazier episodes of Black Mirror in my opinion. When I quickly watched the trailer for this episode, I thought the whole thing would just be about battling the addiction of video games or some other form of addiction. And I guess in some way it was about battling addiction still, but just not in the fashion I was anticipating. Either way, Netflix and Black Mirror continue to blow my socks off, and I cannot wait to dive into the other two episodes.