Black Mirror returned for its fifth season at midnight and already people are talking about the episode titled, “Striking Vipers,” starring Anthony Mackie and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. The actors portray two college besties, who reunite later in life only to find themselves taking to virtual reality, which alters their relationship completely.
The episode, which also stars Sleepy Hollow’s Nicole Beharie, is a typical mind-f-ck that Black Mirror is known for; and this episode has people talking about sexuality just in time for Pride Month.
ESSENCE editors Jasmine Grant, Joi-Marie McKenzie and Danielle Young got an early sneak peek of “Striking Vipers” on Monday night, and we’re honestly still digesting it. With so many theories about what the episode means for us viewers, we just had to break it down.
Check out our Slack conversation about the episode, written by Charlie Brooker, below. There’s spoilers below; so read at your own risk:
Jasmine Grant: What a wild episode!
Danielle Young: Lemme get myself together because I’m still reeling!
Joi-Marie McKenzie: So what did y’all think the episode was about? Best theory! Go!
Jasmine: Sexual fluidity and identity were obvious themes that jumped out at me, but I think the writers really wanted us to think further than that. Do our sexual preferences change virtually, and is it a reflection of our desires IRL? I also think there’s a conversation to be had here about repressed sexuality.
Joi-Marie: I definitely agree with you. For me, it felt like a conversation about the spectrum and just how many other nodules on the spectrum there are—more than what we realized even. And of course Black Mirror has to bring technology into it every time; so perhaps how technology can affect where we fall on the spectrum or even enable sexual fluidity that we might be hesitant to experience IRL.
Danielle: I think this episode spoke to so much. One thing that stuck out was the idea of getting bored. Whether you choose family life or you’re struggling in single land, everyone gets bored and boring, and folks be looking for the next best thing.
Joi-Marie: Ahhhh! The fact that he was looking at homegirl’s crack at the cookout. I was like c’mon bruh…
Jasmine: OK, throwing out a question Joi and I were debating earlier. Do you think Danny (played by Anthony Mackie) and Karl’s (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) sexual chemistry started with the video game or had it always been there?
Danielle: It had always been there…
Joi-Marie: I don’t knooooow!
Danielle: The game allowed them to live it out. Notice there was no ask. He just went in for that kiss. You. Know. The. Vibes.
Joi-Marie: But Yahya’s character had to do mad convincing for Anthony Mackie’s character to even talk about it offline. I don’t know if their relationship would’ve evolved if they weren’t virtual.
Jasmine: There was the playful humping on the couch when they were roommates, but in a very frat boy way. Now I’m wondering if that was intentional.
Joi-Marie: But what I loved about the episode is that they didn’t demonize exploring their sexuality, which we’ve seen a lot of in pop culture previously. They were experimenting, but it wasn’t like, “Let’s kiss. Eww!” It was just like, “Let’s kiss and see.” It was a breath of fresh air.
Danielle: Well Yahya’s character was on the date and mentioned Dennis Rodman to make fun of a blonde Black boy. I felt like that showcased how Black men typically treat homosexuals when they are seemingly uncomfortable with it.
Jasmine: Can we also just give Theo (Nicole Beharie) her Emmy now? Because HONEY!
Danielle: Nicole. Beharie. For. President. We don’t deserve Black women.
Joi-Marie: OMG! OK: So what did y’all think about how she handled his infidelity? Or was he even cheating?! I’m so confused.
Danielle: I wanted her to get hers too.
Joi-Marie: I didn’t see the open marriage coming. I thought she’d shut it down. I was like oh…is this where we’re going?!
Danielle: She believes in the sanctity of marriage and wanted to keep that together and at the same time she was able to get hers too so I respect it. Plus she had another one of that negro’s babies. The open marriage is also very refreshing to see. Like the woman scorned narrative is very tired. So they allowed her to be a free woman, but still keep her marriage together, which is an interesting option.
Jasmine: I love that in the end they found a compromise where they could both be satisfied sexually and emotionally. But I felt that when she handed him the chip, it signaled that the love/desire between them was gone.
Jasmine: It also gave me the chills seeing her stare in the mirror at her imperfections wondering if her looks or changing body was to blame. How many times have we, as women, questioned ourselves in that way when the gag is it has nothing to do with us?
Joi-Marie: It almost never has to do with us.
Danielle: As usual a Black woman will take on the blame when it’s her husband’s issue. And let’s not forget that Nicole’s character also experienced being bored in her marriage, but being the strong Black woman that she was, she stayed in it and was willing and ready to sacrifice her own entertainment to have more children and to continue family life with this ungrateful MFer. I also liked how they played with the concept of technology being the thing that connects us on a deeper level, and real life being the thing that we not only want to escape from, but that we are disconnected from.
Joi-Marie: When Nicole’s character broke down how loyal she’s been, I felt that in my soul.
Jasmine: OK, so let’s go there. Do y’all think the taboo topic of men being secretive about their sexual fluidity (aka being ‘down low’) at all relates to this episode? The concept of men, specifically Black men, not being upfront about their sexuality or hiding the fact that they sleep with men has been a trope in Black movies for a long time. Did those thoughts come up for you? I know the episode deals mostly with virtual reality and porn, but it’s hard for me to not be reminded of those conversations.
Danielle: Was this futuristic down low brothas? I think it was less about being gay and more about Yahya’s character experiencing sex as a woman.
Joi-Marie: I didn’t take it that way. For me, it was moreso this man cheating on his wife by letting a futuristic porn “addiction” sort of take over his emotions. But I wouldn’t label it as down low because when his wife asked him (the second time) he fessed up.
Danielle: And they had heterosexual sex each time. If he was down low, he could have chosen a man and led that fantasy as a man, but he chose to be a woman. And didn’t he say he f-cked a polar bear?
Joi-Marie: But I don’t know if that was a conscious choice or a nostalgic one because that’s the character he always used; he just didn’t know he could use her like that. And then he got hooked.
Danielle: Ah, I missed that. And addiction was the name of the game because everything else in their real lives was ignored and lackluster; you know how it is when you’re falling for someone and the world seems brighter and when you’re not with them, its like muted. That’s what made it more like cheating.
Joi-Marie: Right right!
Jasmine: But was the pleasure they experienced just about the simulated feeling of the game, or did it have to do with the sentimental feeling of knowing who’s the one holding the control?
Danielle: I think it was all connected. The pleasure was the first part, but it was attached to their feelings they already had for each other. Black Twitter is gonna be up in arms just like we all were.