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Recap / Black Mirror: Striking Vipers

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Series Five
Striking VipersSmithereensRachel, Jack and Ashley Too

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"Nothing is going on. I promise."

"You know the thing about you? Sometimes, you just sorta go away."
Theo
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Two estranged college friends reunite in later life, triggering a series of events that could alter their lives forever.

Starring Anthony Mackie as Danny, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Karl, and Nicole Beharie as Theo.


Tropes related to Striking Vipers

  • 20 Minutes into the Future:
    • Phone and video game technology is very advanced, and the episode includes the fake-reality gaming system as seen in "USS Callister", but otherwise, the story could take place in the present day.
    • The episode is set in the US, but was filmed in São Paulo, giving the city a look that could be a bit further along the climate change and overpopulation calendars.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Karl has no problem sleeping with Danny-as-Lance, but it's unclear if he feels any attraction or romantic feelings for Danny proper. Outside of Striking Vipers, he doesn't express any attraction for other men, and his active sex life with women begins to slow down. Before they play the video game for the first time, both Karl and Danny are lit with pink/purple/blue light, a suggested indicator, with the episode poster also resembling that of Moonlight.
  • Ambiguous Situation: Whether or not Danny and Karl hold any romantic feelings for one another is left a bit unclear by the episode's end. Karl-as-Roxette tells Danny-as-Lance that he loves him, but says it was a slip, and agrees that he doesn't feel anything when the two kiss later. Danny at one point debates outright flirting with Karl over text, but is most adamant about putting a stop to their meetings. By the episode's end, the two of them have annual hookups on Danny's birthday, but there's more disconnection there than before.
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    • Whether or not Theo had a nightcap with that couple outside of the bar is yet another moment in the episode. The car she called for passes in front of her just before the scene cuts away, making it hard to figure out whether she took the ride home or joined the couple. The next morning she does use the same language that Danny and Karl use to brush off their first virtual fling, i.e. blaming the night before on alcohol.
  • Bestiality Is Depraved: The lowest depth to which Karl sinks after Danny calls off their affair is having virtual sex with Tundra, the polar bear Joke Character. Led to one of the most quoted Memetic Mutations from Season 5 (or, indeed, all of Black Mirror).
  • Bittersweet Ending: A bit bleaker than usual but Danny opens up about his virtual reality fling with Karl and reaches a compromise with Theo in which, every year, on his birthday, Danny is free to have virtual reality sex with Karl-as-Roxette while Theo can sleep with a man at the bar. Theo agrees, but neither party seems particularly happy about this agreement and it's implied that their marriage is permanently fractured.
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  • Combat Stilettos: Roxette sports some high heeled outfits in combat.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • A comic book poster for "Fifteen Million Merits" is seen in a room in Danny and Theo's house, similar in design to the one seen in "Black Museum".
    • The virtual reality element for the games console is manufactured by TCKR Systems, a tech company seen primarily in the episodes "San Junipero", "Playtest" and "Black Museum".
    • The VR headpiece used is the same as the one from the Season 4 episode "USS Callister".
    • Before playing Striking Vipers X the first time, Karl is at an arcade machine in his apartment that looks right out of "San Junipero", including pink/purple/blue neon color scheme.
    • The chocolate Theo gives Danny for his 39th birthday is "Lacie" brand.
  • Contrived Coincidence: When Danny and Karl get into their scuffle in the parking lot in the dead of night, it takes about 15 seconds for a patrol car to arrive at the scene, which eventually results in Theo finding out about what really happened in Striking Vipers X. In real life it'd be much more likely that the two of them had duked it out and got it over with without outside interference.
  • Crazy Cat Lady: Played with. Karl getting a cat in the ending seems to be part of him letting himself go physically and socially and giving up on dating women in real life. May also be a nod to the possibility of him having a feminine side beyond his sexual proclivities in the game.
  • Distant Prologue: The prologue, showing Danny, Karl, and Theo as roommates in their youth, is set eleven years before the main story picks up.
  • Double Entendre: The name "Striking Vipers" is a particularly unsubtle one for gay male attraction.
  • Foreshadowing
    • Karl and Danny have a play fight and end up on top of each other whilst playing the game during the prologue, reflecting the later affair.
    • A mother at Danny's birthday party bends down to speak to her kids, and Danny has to stop himself from staring—foreshadowing that he's not sexually satisfied.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Danny's wife is named Theo (possibly short for Theodora).
  • Growing Up Sucks: A variation, as here it's your thirties that suck compared to your twenties. Danny has settled down but is bored senseless by his familial and marital routine. Karl has stayed free and single, but that means he's facing an ever-harder job of competing with younger guys, and the single girls he hooks up with are now from a different generation that he has less and less in common with. Both of them are heavily implied to be pining for the passionate relationships and easy fun of their youth.
  • If It's You, It's Okay: Apparently the case with the VR alternate egos, and Danny also never appears attracted to a man except perhaps Karl. Whether this is the case between Danny and Karl remains ambiguous, if you believe that Danny was telling the truth when he said he felt no attraction to Karl during the kiss.
  • Man, I Feel Like a Woman: When transported into Roxette's body, Karl is notably excited about her breasts.
  • Mental Affair: Karl and the married Danny only have sex in the fake reality game of Striking Vipers. Danny starts to consider it cheating, while Karl disagrees.
  • Monochrome Casting: Untypically for the series, this episode features an all-black cast.
  • Romantic Rain: Played with. Karl and Danny meet in the rain and have an explosive fight, then eventually kiss, though Danny claims he felt nothing.
  • Scenery Porn: The video game's VR environments are packed with this — the Temple, the Beach, even the neon-soaked Alleyway — and it plays a big role in helping the viewer understand how much more vivid and real Danny and Karl's VR affair feels than real life.
  • Seduction-Proof Marriage: Downplayed, but Theo turns down a guy who hit on her at the bar despite being interested because of her loyalty to Danny.
  • Sexless Marriage: During the peak of Danny's Mental Affair, he and Theo don't have sex, which strains their marriage because they're supposed to be trying for a second child.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Striking Vipers is an obvious parody of Street Fighter, particularly Street Fighter V. Lance is visually based on Ryu, and to a lesser extent Roxette is Chun Li (including her signature Lightning Kick).
    • The name is a parody of Fighting Vipers, a 32-bit era 3D fighter.
    • The case, as well as the cartridge in which Striking Vipers comes in, is quite obviously those of a Nintendo Switch. The controller looks like that of a PS4.
    • Tundra, the polar bear character Karl claims he had sex with in-game, is a clear nod to Kuma and Panda, the bear characters from the Tekken franchise.
  • Single-Target Sexuality: An interesting case, since Karl clearly had an active (and apparently exclusively heterosexual) love life before the game. But afterward, he seems completely incapable of finding sexual satisfaction with anyone else. At the same time, Danny seems to lose sexual interest in his wife, and doesn't disagree when Karl insists that no one else can compare to what they have.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: The main attraction between Roxette and Lance in-game, and finally happens between Danny and Karl for real when they confront each other about their "affair".
  • Threesome Subtext: There is some implication that Karl, Danny, and Theo were this at least once. During dinner, Theo brings up an evening that the three of them spent doing molly, and that what happened was in the past.
  • Video Game Perversity Potential: In-Universe. While Striking Vipers X is a fighting game, Karl and Danny make use of its characteristic of providing realistic physical sensations to have virtual sexcapades. Later on, it's revealed that other players also make similar use of it, as Karl mentions that he tried it with other people when Danny quit playing, also claiming that there are multi-player gangbangs and that he even "fucked Tundra, the polar bear character".
  • Voices Are Not Mental: Both Karl-as-Roxanne and Danny-as-Lance speak with faint foreign accents while inside the game (which, at least in Pom Klementieff's case, reflects the actor's real accent). Arguably this conflicts with Karl claiming he dumped a Dutch guy playing Lance as his new hookup because he found the accent distracting, although we do briefly hear the players' real voices "merging" with the character voices as the game starts.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: A couple of Lance's outfits in-game have him shirtless.
  • Wall Bang Her: In one scene, Lance makes patient love to Roxette against a wall.
  • Wedding Ring Removal: Near the end of the episode Theo removes her wedding ring due to the agreement that both she and Danny can cheat once a year.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Karl, Danny, and Theo were all close friends, especially Karl and Danny, once. Played with as, when they become closer in Theo's attempt to reignite their friendship, they become (emotional and technological) lovers.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Danny and Karl have their virtual encounters while Danny is still married to Theo. They apparently don't consider it to be "really" cheating, but once it comes clear to Danny that it's taking a toll on his and Theo's marriage, he puts a stop to it. By the end of the episode, Theo is also having sex with other people, but it's a mutual agreement so he and Karl can have virtual sex on his birthday.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: The technology used in Striking Vipers allows players to feel everything in the world of the video game, from pain to pleasure. Danny is very confused the first time he tries it out, and it takes a while to get used to it.

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