Black Mirror’s “Striking Vipers” Just Made Complex Issues Even Harder to Understand
by Inside Manila Contributor, June 27, 2019 10:00am
Art by Dani Elevazo
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’d know that Black Mirror came out with their fifth season and it’s safe to say, the fans were on edge. As with every Black Mirror season, there was a lot of social media fuss and episode theories surrounding the long-awaited season even before it was officially released on Netflix.
Black Mirror is a “sci-fi anthology series that explores a twisted, high-tech near-future where humanity’s greatest innovations and darkest instincts collide.” Or in other words, it’s a series that will make you regret tapping into social media or investing in a smartphone.
As compared to the previous seasons, the latest season was kept short, kicking it off with yet another mind-twisting episode—Striking Vipers. The episode revolves around two college best friends, Danny (Anthony Mackie) and Karl (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). "Striking Vipers" takes place in what seems to be present day period, except for the advances in virtual reality gaming, which is unlikely of a Black Mirror episode but we’ll go with it. Danny leads a suburban family life, while Karl is still single but bored with the dating scene.
The two reunite at Danny’s birthday where Karl hands him a video game titled Striking Vipers along with the virtual reality add-on (which, surprise surprise... is a small black piece that the characters have to attach to their foreheads so they may truly feel each movement in real life, an iconic Black Mirror element). The game was programmed to be a lot, if not exactly, like the game of Tekken and Mortal Kombat that we’ve all grown to know and love. And just like the former, Striking Vipers revolved around fighting your opponent out till one person loses the battle. The only major difference is, the players assume the bodies of the characters they take on and thus feel the physical hurting in real life.
In the game, Danny chooses a male character (Lance) while Karl chooses a female character (Roxy) and the two proceed to fight. Spoiler: Instead of actually battling each other out, the two get into an in-game sexual relationship that alters their lives forever.
In true Black Mirror fashion, the ending of the episode was left at a cliffhanger open to interpretation. However, it also left us questioning two already complex and socially relevant “preferences.”
So...Are They ‘Gay’?
The question seemed to be running through the characters’ heads too—as seen by Danny’s request for him and Karl to meet up in real life to figure out if their in-game sexual attraction was real, thereby making them gay, or was it just plain ol’ curiosity lurking its way into the video game? One’s sexuality is based on who they’re sexually attracted to but if that were the case in this episode, why is Danny still with his wife Theo? Does that make him Bisexual?
When we take into consideration their character choices in the game, who are the actual doers of the action, it’s technically a heterosexual relationship.
On the contrary, there’s also a possibility that this has nothing to do with sexuality per se. The episode could also be a play on sexual desire in general through the convergence of sex and technology, which we would usually relate to porn since it doesn’t require actual interaction. In Striking Vipers, the actual conflict of morality arises when the characters realize that it’s a real person that they’re interacting with on the other end. It also goes to show where our own morals as viewers lie based on the extent to which we agree or disagree with the decisions made by the characters.
Is It Cheating if It Didn't "Actually" Happen?
In the end, we see that Theo and Danny have come into some sort of arrangement for his “guilty pleasure.” Danny gets to “meet” Karl in the video game once a year, and in return, Theo gets a night out as an unmarried woman and experience the feeling of being desired again.
In the episode, we also look into the different facets of monogamy. Is it considered cheating if both partners know? Moreover, is it considered cheating If Danny and Karl aren’t having sex in real life? It could be considered emotional cheating but it’s already been established (or has it?) that neither Danny nor Karl have any emotional feelings towards each other.
If the couple were comfortable with each other seeing other people, why strictly make it a one-day thing when they could just be polygamous? Or is this Black Mirror trying to expose our unhealthy ways of dealing with an issue like this—to kick it under the carpet and move on.
Although this Black Mirror episode was in a present-day setting, unlike its usual futuristic time, Striking Vipers does introduce us to the possibility of the definitions of Sexual Orientation and Relationships being broadened in the near future because of their complexity.
Written by Manisha Mirchandani for Inside Manila.