(Warning: The following story includes spoilers from the “Black Mirror” Season 5 episode “Striking Vipers.”)
In “Striking Vipers,” what starts as a fun answer to the question any “Street Fighter” fan probably asked themselves — what if you could actually be those fighters and do all those fancy jump kicks? — turns into something quite different than anything Capcom developers would’ve come up with.
In the episode, two friends get very close to one another when Carl (Yahya Abdul-Mateen) and Danny (Anthony Mackie) face off in an updated version of a game they used to play when they were younger (the titular “Striking Vipers”). But in the new version, they physically inhabit the bodies of the characters they’re fighting with in a way-too-real virtual reality setting, with Pom Klementieff and Ludi Lin as their in-game avatars. Since you’re reading this story, you know what happens next: video game sex.
This is “Black Mirror” after all.
“It’s one of those things where just the questions just come up. You sort of see the potential, or you kind of see it living out before you actually watch it happen,” Abdul-Mateen II, who stars in the episode alongside Anthony Mackie, told TheWrap on how he reacted to reading the script for the first time.
It’s safe to say that the events of “Striking Vipers” changes the two’s friendship and forces each to reckon with their feelings for one another. “I have so many questions about what this means and would I do something like this,” Abdul-Mateen said.
“They stepped into the video game for the sake of nostalgia and sort of escapism and all of a sudden they find themselves physically attracted to the connection,” he explains. He adds that both his character Carl and Mackie’s Danny are missing some sort of connection in their lives.
Carl may be a ladies man, but he can’t form any kind of meaningful connection with any of them. “He can’t connect to the people that he finds himself in front of,” Abdul-Mateen explains. “For [Carl] it’s not about sex nor is it about sexuality, its about connection. It’s about being turned on by someone who actually understands me and gets me for once.”
Whereas Danny is in a long marriage “where things have sort of gotten routine” says Abdul-Mateen of Mackie’s character. “There’s this unmet need.”
The episode puts a techno-twist on infidelity, with one of the biggest questions being: Since Carl and Danny are sleeping together as their in-game avatars, is it technically cheating? Or even real?
“There’s the whole idea of morality and is this right or is it wrong. Is it even real or not? What are the rules? We don’t have rules in terms of what this means. We just know that it feels good and it feels right,” Abdul-Mateen continues. “I really appreciate how the episode causes us to ask questions about what does it mean to be in a relationship with another person.”
And one of the questions towards the end of the episode is does that video-game relationship extend out into the real world, which Abdul-Mateen described as their characters’ “will they, won’t they” moment.
“They find themselves at a point where the passion is so strong in the game that they start to question. I think that is the place where sexuality comes into play within the game. When they find themselves so wrapped up and say ‘Oh my god. It’s so good, it’s so good, it’s too good.’ And then they start to turn the mirror on themselves and say ‘Oh my god I think I’m in love with another man,'” he said.
“I really love that they’re man enough, or at least curious enough, or driven enough, to toe the line and to find out. And say OK lets see what the f–k is going on. And then we find out it only exists inside the game. For them it’s sort of a relief, but there’s also an element where it’s a sad reality, that they don’t experience that in their own lives.”
All three episodes of “Black Mirror” season 5 are now available on Netflix