“I hate to break it to you, but you are in a simulation right now,” says Charlie Brooker. I laugh, only half regretting revealing to the Black Mirror creator that unknowingly living in a simulated reality is one of my biggest fears. Of course, Brooker is joking (I hope) as he and co-creator Annabel Jones discuss series five of the Netflix series. True to the tone of the show, though, their distinct tongue-in-cheek proximity to an entirely plausible truth is a little too close for comfort.
“If you compare computer graphics in a game, they started out as Pong and it was two lines and a dot bouncing back and forth. Now you get photo realistic tennis players with every bit of stubble and hair and snot perfectly rendered,” Brooker adds. “So, it’s inevitable that we’ll get something that’s almost indistinguishable from reality eventually, but if we get to that point, would that be a bad thing? If we could make a wonderful world in which existence is nothing but a loop of you eating ice cream?”
Minus the brain freeze, this idea doesn’t sound all that bad. But I suppose the question remains, is human nature enough to counteract technological advancement? “That is the question at the heart of Black Mirror really, what you’ve nailed. And the answer is…” Brooker shrugs. Yeah, I was really hoping for a definitive answer, too.
I’d just been telling Brooker and Jones that of the three new episodes, I’m curious to see how conversation around “Striking Vipers” develops. This one sees old university mates Danny (Anthony Mackie) and Karl (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) reconnect when they’re a bit older. Danny is somewhat happily married to Theo (Nicole Beharie) and Karl is a flashy bachelor who is dating a very pretty, much younger, phone-obsessed woman. Karl gifts Danny a new VR device for his birthday and events in this exciting virtual world quickly throw the reality of marriage, fantasy and intimacy into a life-changing perspective.
Thinking back to “Hang the DJ” and “San Junipero”, the Black Mirror episodes that have explored the murky, digitised future of love and relationships have often prominently lingered in the audience consciousness. I still wonder what my dating life would look like if it was ruled by ‘The System’ and the prospect of an eternal love beyond this world still has my head spinning. I have a hunch that “Sniping Vipers” will do the same. “Maybe the way people are questioning their relationships with their phones at the moment, whether it’s becoming all consuming, maybe VR will be the next relationship that people worry that their wish fulfilment or fantasy fulfilment with VR is challenging their grasp on reality and what it means for real life relationships,” Jones considers.
“You know what I blame? I blame real life,” Brooker interjects. “If real life was better, no one would even look at their phone. Real life needs to pull its socks up. It’s really slacking!”
Real life is always just close enough to a future that he and Jones have been writing for the last nine years or so, though. Black Mirror is always just on the cusp of what we think could happen and often terrifies us into trying to avoid the actuality. But are there any ideas that the anthology masterminds have come up with that have been dismissed for going too far? “There’s a couple of things we’ve cut out because it would be tonally a bit off in the episode,” Brooker explains.
“In San Junipero, I’d started writing a scene where you see Gugu’s character [Kelly] in a kindergarten and then you realise afterwards that these are children who had died and been uploaded to this world.” The thought is like a punch to the stomach and a fist around your heart, isn't it? I felt it. “See!” Brooker says. “In many ways it was a beautiful image, but it was so heart rending [that] it destabilised everything else. So, sometimes we won’t put something in for that reason but other than that, we’re pretty comfortable…” Jones interrupts to joke that “other than that we have no morals, no sense of taste.” Brooker laughs and agrees: “Or guidance! No filter! We’re idiots!”
Black Mirror series five is available on Netflix now