screen gems

Anthony Mackie and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II make out. What’s not to love?

“Striking Vipers”

Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a re-watch.

The Episode: Black Mirror, “Striking Vipers”

We here at Screen Gems are about to do something we’ve never done before: we’re recommending a single episode of a series rather than a feature film. Normally, a single episode would never deserve its own entry. This one does.

By now, the sci-fi anthology series Black Mirror has earned a deserved place in the Greatest Sci-Fi Shows of All Time pantheon right next to The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. To experience the series at its best, look no further than “Striking Vipers,” the premiere episode of the show’s fifth season.

Anthony Mackie stars as Danny, a 20-something man trying to spice up his sex life with his girlfriend, Theo (Nicole Beharie). As a bit of reprieve, he begins to play the virtual reality game Striking Vipers and befriends Karl (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). Flash forward five years, and Karl and Danny begin playing a new version of Striking Vipers, one that allows the players to feel real pain, and real pleasure. After a particularly grueling game one night, the two connect on a visceral level, having sex as their characters in the game. At first, this terrifies Danny. Then he and Karl become enamored of one another, having virtual sex on a regular basis. Then the pair decide to try the real thing…

In an era of MMORPGs, virtual chat, avatars, and in which our phones are practically a cybernetic appendage, “Striking Vipers” raises real philosophical questions about the nature of sexual attraction and, for that matter, the relevance of our physical bodies. Is it enough to connect with someone on a profound emotional and psychological level? Do sexuality or gender identity even mean anything if we can change our looks and bodies with a mere keystroke?

We don’t have answers to these questions, and “Striking Vipers” doesn’t quite either–how could any TV show? Still, the provocative nature of this story probes deep enough to get us thinking. Couple that with love scenes between Mackie and Abdul-Mateen, two of the best looking men in Hollywood today, and “Striking Vipers” manages to arouse on a number of levels.

Which is fine by us. Science fiction should always arouse a sense of fantasy and imagination in the viewer. “Striking Vipers” gives us all kinds of fantasies to enjoy.

Streams on Netflix.