Black Mirror, Season 5, Episode 1 recap: Striking Vipers

Black Mirror Striking Vipers season premiere
Black Mirror Danny gets Karl’s present. Pic credit: Netflix

The madness is upon us once more as Season 5 of Black Mirror dropped on Netflix Wednesday morning, June 5. Let’s see where this first episode is taking us.

Danny (Anthony Mackie) is hitting the clubs and finds a woman sitting alone. He starts hitting on her, but he’s no player. Still, she’s diggin’ the approach and isn’t shutting him down.

That’s when Karl (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) rolls up with a woman on his arm and introduces her to Danny and the woman, Theo (Nicole Beharie). Danny and Theo got a thing goin’ on, and once they leave the club, they head back to the apartment to let things happen.

Later, Danny hears Karl playing a video game, one they both know well: Striking Vipers, a Black Mirror-world Mortal Combat-style fighting game. Danny initially doesn’t want to play, but he does.

Black Mirror Striking Vipers - Danny and Karl.
Danny and Karl down to serious video game business. Pic credit: Netflix

Just like anyone who loves fighting games, they have their favorites.  For Danny it’s Lance, and for Karl it’s Roxette. And they both know their moves well.

Black Mirror Striking Vipers classic version
Striking Vipers, the Early Days. Pic credit: Netflix

Later, when the sun is up, so is Theo, who hears all the noise in the living room. She comes out in time to see Danny and Karl sparking a blunt while they’re still playing. She’s not upset; she takes a hit and tells them to keep the noise down so she can sleep.

Eleven years later…

Danny is oh, so domestic now. Nice house, button-down shirt, working the grill while drinking a beer. Theo has gone housewife casual, keeping one eye on the food and another on her son.

It’s Danny’s birthday, and a whole lot of their friends are over to enjoy the lovely afternoon.

Enter Karl, whom Danny and Theo haven’t seen in the while. He comes bearing gifts: Striking Vipers X, the latest version played in VR with an interface you attach to your temple.

So, that night Danny and Karl play two-player mode, each in their own house, pulling up the splash screen and selecting their old favorites from the menu.

Black Mirror Striking Vipers X version
Roxette and Lance, Striking Vipers X Versions. Pic credit: Netflix

But there’s no fighting with controllers here.  The game is entirely immersive: Danny and Karl are their characters, and they both end up “being” the fighters Roxette (Pom Klementieff) and Lance (Ludi Lin).

Black Mirror Striking Vipers prepare for battle.
Roxette and Lance, the real deals. Pic credit: Netflix

And after they trash talk a bit, they get right down to business: fighting.

Black Mirror Striking Vipers new fighting action
The game begins. Pic credit: Netflix

Striking Vipers is not only an immersive game, but all the effects one sees in a fighting game are happening here: high jumps, super sprints, light streamers, the whole works.

It’s impressive as hell, giving a real impression that you’re inside a video game. Scott Pilgrim would be impressed.

So they fight. And beat the s*&t out of each other. And grapple and punch and kick and roll on the ground. And, that’s when Roxi/Karl pins Lance/Danny and kisses him.

Black Mirror Striking Vipers kiss
Option not available eleven years ago. Pic credit: Netflix

Karl freaks and gets out of the game, soon followed by Danny who then heads back to bed. Theo stirs when he gets in, and she sees that, oh, is Mr. Happy ready for his appointment? Yeah, it seems he is.

Lots of pensive mood swings from Danny in the days to follow. It turns out Theo and Danny are trying to have another baby, and he’s got a lot on his mind. Some of which doesn’t have to do with her.

It’s not long before he’s back in the game for a rematch with Karl. So Roxi and Lance square off getting ready to kick each other’s a** — and Roxi goes for the kiss — and more.

Black Mirror Striking Vipers beach scene hookup
This is getting serious… Pic credit: Netflix

It goes beyond kissing, and it turns out having sex in Striking Vipers X isn’t DLC, it’s a normal function. After the moment passes, they talk about what happened, but it’s evident that while Roxi/Karl got into it, Lance/Danny isn’t digging the action.

Or is he?

Off and on for a while it’s Striking Vipers booty call time as all Roxi and Lance do is get their freak on — and it’s apparent Danny and Karl are enjoying this time together, though Karl more than Danny.

Theo eventually notices that Danny has no interest in her and doesn’t even, you know, f#*k her anymore — which means it’s gonna be hard having a kid if you don’t have sex. She’s not happy and admits during their anniversary dinner that she enjoyed being hit on by another guy earlier in the evening.

Finally, Danny tells Karl it’s over, puts the game away, and returns to the real world.

Seven Months Later…

Theo is visibly pregnant. Danny is back to being Mr. Boring. Karl is losing his s#*t, looking depressed while his place shows evidence of binge drinking and eating.

Guess what, though? Danny’s got another birthday coming up, and Theo invites Karl over for a simple dinner. And it’s awkward.

Danny hasn’t seen Karl for ages, and the first moment they are truly alone, Karl starts telling Danny how much he misses not being in the game anymore.

It turns out Karl finds “normal” sex boring — to the point he’s even unable to reach orgasm with a willing partner. He’s tried all kinds of sexual stuff in the game with other players and AI Characters, but the only good loving he’s gotten is from Danny.

He lets him know before he goes he’ll be on at midnight.

Danny doesn’t want to go, but guess who’s checking their phone at midnight? Danny goes in the game, and it’s booty time once more. Only now, not only does Roxi/Karl say they love this, they tell Lance/Danny they love them.

Black Mirror Striking Vipers hookup
Love? Really? Pic credit: Netflix

That’s it: Danny’s had enough. He’s out of the game and back home — but wait! He tells Karl to meet him behind an old club, so at night, in the middle of a downpour, they meet. So what’s Danny want?

He wants to kiss.

See, if they feel something, then this “thing” between them must be real. Right? Karl’s down for that, so after one of the most awkward “You wanna go first of me?” setups, they kiss.

Nothing. No sparks there, bruh. So we’re done.

But see, Karl doesn’t want the “game” to end.  Danny does. Words are said.  Hands thrown. Cops arrive.

Theo comes down to the station to bail out her husband. She wants to know what the hell is going on. And it looks like Danny is about to say something.

A Year Later…

It’s happy birthday time for Danny, so they have a small cookout where Theo shows off their new baby while Danny works the grill. Good times all around.

That night Theo gives him a little present and Danny gives her a small box: they both say they want them back in the morning. Karl’s at home looking relaxed: the place is clean, and he has a cat.

Theo gets dressed up, takes off her wedding ring, and heads out for the night, looking to hook up with someone. Danny and Karl jack into Striking Vipers and Roxi and Lance meet on a roof for some happy time game sex.

Hey, it may not be a perfect setup, but whatever works.


Black Mirror Easter Eggs:

The virtual implant is made by TCKR, who are the people who helped set up the virtual game in Playback (Season 3, Episode 2), created the first virtual avatars mentioned in Black Museum (Season 4, Episode 6), and ran the server farm seen at the end of San Junipero (Season 3, Episode 4).

Black Mirror Striking Vipers TCKR
Black Mirror Striking Vipers adds some Easter Eggs. Pic credit: Netflix

Besides the TCKR imprint being on the game Infinity, the same virtual interface is used to enter the virtual world created in USS Callister (Season 4, Episode 1).

Black Mirror Striking Vipers easter eggs
The virtual implant up close. Pic credit: Netflix

Another interesting Easter Egg is that this episode is directed by Owen Harris, who also directed Be Right Back (Season 2, Episode 1), the story of a woman who loses her husband and released him with an android, and San Junipero (Season 3, Episode 4), in my opinion, the best Black Mirror episode ever.

It’s difficult to say where this episode sits in terms of time, but it does seem as if it happens after USS Callister and before San Junipero.

Last but not least, we have the poster for this episode. As was done in San Junipero, the same colors found in the bisexual pride flag are used here, indicating Danny’s actual sexual orientation:

Black Mirror Striking Vipers poster
The poster for Striking Vipers. Pic credit: Netflix

Best Line of the Episode:

“I f#*ked a polar bear, and I still can’t get you out of my mind.”  (Karl to Danny)

Black Mirror Season 5 is now on Netflix.

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