Spoilers ahead from Black Mirror Season 5, "Striking Vipers."
Black Mirror Season 5 started with "Striking Vipers," starring two major comic book movie actors -- Marvel's Anthony Mackie, aka the new Captain America; and DC's Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, aka Aquaman's Black Manta. I thought it was the strongest episode of the (admittedly short and underwhelming) season, delving deep on issues of sexuality, gender, porn, and whether virtual reality sex should be considered cheating.
But people only seem to want to talk about 1) gay gamer jokes and 2) that polar bear line.
In Black Mirror Season 5's "Striking Vipers," Danny Parker (Anthony Mackie) and his old college friend Karl (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) play the futuristic virtual reality fighting game "Striking Vipers." Danny and Karl end up having sex in the virtual reality as their favorite male and female players, respectively. Danny gets uncomfortable with the virtual sex, especially when it causes a divide in his relationship with his wife Theo (Nicole Beharie).
Karl tries to argue that they should continue, because it gives them both the best most "transcendent" sex of their lives. In his argument, Karl very earnestly whispers to Danny that he tried having sex with other virtual characters and it didn't work for him:
You know I even fucked Tundra the polar bear character. I fucked a polar bear and I still couldn't get you out of my mind.
That "fucked a polar bear" line became a whole thing, because of course.
Charlie Brooker wrote "Striking Vipers," along with every other episode of Black Mirror Season 5. He and executive producer Annabel Jones addressed that viral quote during a talk with THR:
Annabel Jones: (Laughs.) And then you have the ['Striking Vipers'] line about 'fucking the polar bear,' so I’m not sure what porn you’ve been looking at. But you’ve obviously explored this thoroughly.
Charlie Brooker: Well, that was inspired by something you said. About something you had seen a farmhand doing.
There was no further discussion of what Annabel Jones had seen a farmhand doing, and for that we should be grateful. Black Mirror always has easter eggs tying episodes together, and many viewers saw the polar bear line of "Striking Vipers" as a nod to the great Season 2 episode "White Bear," so it sounds like they took whatever the farmhand was doing and paired it with a white bear.
In the same THR interview, Charlie Brooker said the starting point for Black Mirror's "Striking Vipers" was two different ideas that collided -- one was a different take on romance, and another on fighting games.
It was an observation that I had that there is something often quite homoerotic about Tekken and Street Fighter and [fighting] games like that where you have these incredibly hyper-sexualized characters jumping about and grappling on the floor. In the ‘90s, I used to play Tekken a lot and I remember being concerned at one point that the people in the flat below me must have thought we were operating some kind of sex dungeon. Because of these noise grunts and shouts of joy ringing out at all times of the day and night from me and my flatmates. And then it became a thing where it was like, 'Well, that’s a funny situation.' You start playing a game with your best friend and then a holiday romance sort of blossoms. And it’s also a confusing situation because of the gender identities. What I find quite fascinating about it is that I still don’t really know where I come down on that episode, whether I think they’re having a same-sex relationship or what.
Annabel Jones added that she thinks it's a great thing that it's not defined. That's what makes it so perplexing for the characters of Danny and Karl, who both seemed to see themselves as straight.
They don’t quite know what it is, but there’s something about this VR world that’s giving them the ultimate sexual fantasy. And it’s to do with the uniqueness of their friendship. They have this very long-lasting friendship where they have this easy camaraderie and immediately connect with each other, even though they haven’t seen each other for a few years. And that, fused with this world that allows them to indulge in the most sophisticated and immersive porn, is creating this really heavy mix of excitement and intoxication and they don’t quite know what to do with it. People have different relationships — whether they’re physical relationships, online relationships or texting relationships. Everyone is experiencing these new types of relationships where some work on one platform and don’t on another.
Yes, we even see Danny and Karl awkwardly try to explore if their connection works in the real world or not, and the answer became "not." Ultimately, "Striking Vipers" ends with a compromise that works for Danny and his wife Theo, with both spouses getting to enjoy some sexual escape role playing while retaining the rest of their marriage.