The latest bundle of Black Mirror episodes begins with the compelling tale of two friends who forge a new connection acting on latent affections for one another through the online world of virtual reality video gaming.
Karl and Danny have been best friends for years but they lost touch as they grew up and moved on. They’re reunited by a fighting style video game called Striking Vipers. In it, Danny plays the character Lance and Karl takes on Roxette. These are their standard choices. But as this is the world of Black Mirror, they are actually transported into the game (through technology similar to that seen in USS Callister) and able to embody the characters physically.
It doesn’t take long for their fight to turn into something sexual. Clearly this game has become an escape for them in multiple ways. Karl feels freedom to explore his gender identity after feeling dissastisfied and disconnected with the women in his life.
Danny is beginning to understand he may be repressing romantic feelings for his former best friend.
All of this culminates with the two men trying to figure out if their fictional bond can transfer over into real life – but neither is actually able to embrace what they truly feel for one another, or even how they feel about themselves.
The ending is deceptively happy. Yes, Danny and Karl continue their virtual relationship, and even Theo, Danny’s wife and the third wheel in their once strong trio friendship, gets to experiment with exciting new men outside of her boring married life with Danny. But no one gets to be themselves.
Theo has to pretend to be someone else at the bar, and both men can only be themselves so long as it is fiction and doesn’t crossover into the real world. They’ll always be left wanting, even if they’re unable to face it.
Unfortunately, while Striking Vipers is a great episode and I liked it, there was a level of heart missing that holds it back from reaching its full potential. Clearly, this is the yin to San Junipero’s yang, but it doesn’t feel as if the idea as fully realized as the former.