Black Mirror’s “Striking Vipers” was amazing. Well, except for the fact that the episode didn’t have the balls to go all the way exploring these two men’s sexuality and relationship in favor of a more heterosexual viewpoint.
It gave fans all the subtext, all the LGBTQ+ specific leanings and even community jokes. But it refused to try to truly dissect and figure out the relationship between these men.
The first episode of Black Mirror’s short fifth season, “Striking Vipers” focuses on Danny and Karl, two best friends who were attached at the hip when they were in their twenties. While Danny played the good boyfriend during the day, he’d often spend nights relaxing and playing games with his best friend. Eleven years later, though, the pair have grown apart. Not because they don’t care about each other, because the second they’re together it’s as easy as breathing. It’s just they walked different paths and ended up apart. On Danny’s birthday though, every year, they’re brought back together. And this year, Karl bought Danny the newest, latest VR version of their favorite game: “Striking Vipers”.
And the second they get in game, everything gets terribly complicated. Playing as their favorite characters, Roxette and Lance, they’re immediately drawn to each other and start having a unique, illicit affair that neither of them can resist.
Considering all the in-depth thought put into the premise and most of the story, of course it stabs any LGBTQ+ fan that they cock-blocked the story by not going all the way with it.
Throughout the episode, they make it clear that Danny and Karl have a special bond, friendship or otherwise. However, there’s subtext that there’s always been a bit more to it than that. When they finally express that in the video game, it isn’t just some addicting fantasy. Danny doesn’t go back to his life rejuvenated and full of life, not even at the beginning, nor does he crave it like a fix. A single kiss made him question his entire world until he gave into the feelings he was feeling when he was playing with Karl.
But, in the end, the story plays it off like it was just that: a unique sexual fantasy.
Unique sexual fantasies don’t shake people to their core like it did to Danny and Karl. They questioned their lives. They questioned who they were as people. Danny even made it clear that if they had a real-life spark, they could really go for it and try being together in real life. Marriage and societal norms be damned.
Both men say there isn’t a spark after they kiss, but their body language says otherwise. Danny is still grasping for Karl. Karl is joking around trying to make light of the whole situation. And when they can’t find a place to put all that frustrated, passionate energy in them, they start fighting. Because if they can’t act on their romantic and sexual urges, that’s what they have left as masculine men, right?
And that’s what it comes down to between these men: loving or fighting. In their strongest moments, they are always fighting. They bonded over this fighting game. They found themselves play fighting on the couch afterwards, a tropey scene that shows up a lot in romance movies to typically lead to a kiss. They are awkward when it comes to physical touch, like if they touch too long they might combust. Danny only takes off his glasses and becomes himself around Karl anymore. Karl only dares to be sensitive around Danny. It’s all there, they refused to tie these two men together.
The biggest elephant in their romantic room is Theo, Danny’s wife whose known them both for decades. The episode spends way too much time exploring her own sexual dissatisfaction with her marriage. While it’s understandable, it really adds nothing to the story other than some bizarre duty to make their marriage work. The ending pretends it’s bold for having the three of them make a group arrangement. For once a year or once a month (it’s not clarified), Danny and Karl can virtually fuck and Theo can go out and do whatever she wants.
That’s not bold and “woke”, especially when their sexual desires aren’t just pure fantasy. Fantasy is an idea that you like, but, if your partner isn’t interested, can remain unexplored. That isn’t it for Danny and Karl. Letting them shag on the low isn’t happy or bold. It’s just having them repress who they are still while getting to stay inside the box of hetero-normative society.
Instead of spending so much time on Theo, whose sexual dissatisfaction literally could be seen thirty miles away without any bonus scenes about her body or her at bars, the story needed more time with Karl and Danny. It needed to show the complex truth of their real-life relationship and how virtual reality strips them of their insecurities and inhibitions of how they feel. The entire story is about being stuck in these roles life expects of you and what happens when you feel something that you shouldn’t. The story acts like it’s brave for giving the characters this hidden life, but that’s not brave. That’s like telling a gay kid they made it by being gay and trapped in the closet. Almost no one just stays in the closet their whole life, and it’s kinda bullshit to leave Danny and Karl there.
Maybe they’re unconventionally queer. Maybe they prefer only virtual reality sex. Maybe they’d prefer a more platonic domestic situation with each other and sexual online. Maybe in real life they throuple with Theo. Whatever, cool. But there’s clearly more there than a fantastic fantasy and everyone (even Theo) deserves better than to be told this is their “happy ending”.
It’s not a happy ending when everyone’s still wearing masks to please the world, be it the mask of a perfect marriage, boring dad glasses, or a lonely rich man living in a tower apartment.
Cats and scheduled trysts don’t fix the things that made these characters fundamentally unhappy. Everyone saw Danny’s face at that barbecue, before he dealt with the dreaded, queer “you know each other, right?” moment with the other bespeckled dad. Get it, he’s also wearing the glasses mask?
Danny wasn’t happy before he and Karl started having sex, he wasn’t all that happy during it, and at best at the end he’s better off than before, ut is he actually happy? How long will this last, for any of them? That’s the story the episode didn’t tell and the fact it didn’t makes an otherwise great episode ultimately disappointing.
Karl, Danny, and Theo deserve to discover and be whoever they may be. Not this.