Spoiler warning for Black Mirror's Season 5 episode titled "Striking Vipers."
After producing two seasons and a Christmas special wholly under the U.K.'s Channel 4 tent, Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror got a financial and creative influx whenever Netflix took the anthology series under its streaming wing. Season 5 marked the latest batch of high-minded installments, and while audiences weren't fully on-board with everything, each episode did have its own memorable elements. "Striking Vipers," in particular, was Black Mirror's latest look at a relationship hinging on romantic complications.
For "Striking Vipers," Avengers star Anthony Mackie is married man Danny and Aquaman's Yahya Abdul-Mateen plays his friend Karl. They enter into an awkward quasi-sexual relationship via a VR fighting game, which threatens to ruin their friendship and Danny's marriage. In the end, though, agreements were made to appease all involved. But according to episode director Owen Harris, who also directed the highly praised "Be Right Back" and "San Junipero," the ending used was one of many that were conceived.
We looked at a bunch of different endings and this was the one that we settled on. It was always written to end with ambiguity. It’s quite clear about the decision that they’ve made, but the ambiguity is about how everyone is going to feel about the decision. Like as a viewer, are you going to be pleased that we reached this conclusion? It was the same as 'Be Right Back'; we had a multitude of endings and it was also about how satisfying the viewer finds your solution to this puzzle. I think that’s a good description for this one — pragmatic. You could have taken it in quite a number of different directions, but this ending probably asks no less and no more questions than any other routes.
To be sure, Owen Harris isn't necessarily saying that there were a bunch of endings that led to vastly different conclusions for these characters. As in, with Danny's wife Theo murdering Karl and then becoming an astronaut or something. Or maybe Karl fucking another polar bear.
It seems the central idea behind how the trio of characters' resolved things remained intact, but that the writers likely pitched a large number of variations within that narrative sandbox. Maybe one ending saw Theo using her own birthday to go out and find a random hook-up, or perhaps there was another troubling stipulation cemented in the couple's agreement, such as Theo allowing Danny to have virtual sex with anyone BUT Karl. (Now I just want to keep theorizing about this all day.)
Still, no matter what specific ending was decided upon, the intention remained the same to not explain and follow up on every single element introduced within "Striking Vipers." The ending's ambiguity was just as important to the creative team as other factors, regardless of how those final minutes were going to be set up.
When speaking with THR, Owen Harris talked about one way the writers tried to go with the ending.
We had extra elements that we tried with the ending that pushed in slightly one direction, in terms of how successful this solution is for the marriage. Things like that, we played around with. But in the end we thought, 'Let’s not reveal any of that.' This is their next step as a threesome. They’ll take this next step further as an agreement to do this and the rest is up to the viewer.
Admitting that he lined up with Theo's storyline, Owen Harris revealed that the "Striking Vipers" episode almost took the story slightly beyond where things officially wrapped up. Harris didn't go into details about what that future might have shown viewers, but it's clear that the the agreements made weren't necessarily going to make everyone happy until the end of time.
Harris touched upon the uncomfortable aspect of the ending, and how he viewed things.
Danny has a marriage and loves his wife; they have a child. So they’re going to make the best of something that’s come into their lives. That’s how I view 'Striking Vipers.' Although you are left with this ending shot that is quite romantic [with Roxette and Lance]. Even with 'San Junipero,' with these endings, at some point someone had to make a leap that may have been an uncomfortable leap to get there.
Dear readers, how did you feel about the ending of "Striking Vipers?" Did you want to see more conflict amongst the characters, or was their mutual agreement as sign of a maturing population? Also, how insanely unrealistic did you find that video game?
All 5 seasons of Black Mirror are available to stream in full on Netflix right now. While waiting to see if Season 6 happens, take some time to watch all three of Owen Harris' romance-driven episodes for three of the more celebrated episodes of this series. And take comfort in knowing that a future episode may find a way to offer more resolution context.