Martin Carr reviews Black Mirror’s Striking Vipers…
Charlie Brooker might be frenetic, prone to tangential leaps of inspiration and talking a mile a minute, but there is no way you could call the man boring. Video games, virtual reality and gender politics might seem like strange bedfellows, but somehow he draws it all together whilst upping the awkward factor here. In true Black Mirror style ‘Striking Vipers’ starts off as a closer look at long term relationships, dating protocols and getting older, before taking a very specific turn into a different direction. Over the course of forty minutes and change you realise that Brooker has been tempering his natural inclinations, as ‘Striking Vipers’ crosses into territories less savvy screenwriters might avoid for fear of retribution.
For reasons which this review precludes me from divulging this really is an ensemble piece carried in the main by Anthony Mackie, Yahya Abdul-Maleen II and Nikki Beharie. Without the commitment of these three actors and a few more besides any dramatic impact would lost, as total audience investment was crucial if this was going to work. Thankfully they all ground the enterprise bringing genuine gravitas to this scenario whilst walking a narrative tightrope.
There is the usual integral use of technology that serves as a jumping off point but mainly Brooker relies on character rather than whistles and bells. He lingers no longer than necessary on the set up and uses time stamps effectively within the narrative for maximum impact. Little touches are employed to underline social and cultural change while other chuck away lines of dialogue highlight the aging process. For every actor involved ‘Striking Vipers’ is a brave choice as it takes existing technology and opens up debates on transgender politics, interpretations on fidelity and social attitudes.
In lesser hands there would be limited poignancy, less audience investment and ultimately something which lacked the same level of relevance, resonance and cultural comment. Yet thankfully we are in the presence of a writer who imbues these people with the flawed humanity necessary for such premises to work without feeling contrived. As a closer ‘Striking Vipers’ leaves you asking more questions, inviting debate and challenging existing opinions.
In a time when streaming services are being brought out left, right and centre it is reassuring to know that some things are unlikely to change. Black Mirror appears to be an ever evolving anthology series which still uses its platform to challenge, debate and unset the proverbial apple cart. While Brooker brandishes a genuinely unique world view designed to make others look up and take notice.