When I first learned that Miley Cyrus was going to appear in a Black Mirror episode, I was initially turned off by the whole idea.
But then I watched the episode and, wow, it was a fun ride.
‘Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too’ tells the story of Ashley O at the peak of her successful music career, yet hiding behind a fake smile and Rachel, a shy and quiet student that has moved to a new neighbourhood along with her sister Jack, an angry teen and their father, a high tech rodent exterminator whose mother is dead.
When Rachel sees an advert for a ‘Ashley Too’ doll, which is based on Ashley O’s real personality – she begs her father to buy her one for her birthday.
Rachel quickly becomes obsessed, so much so with the tech doll through it’s overly positive influence, that she decides to enter the school talent competition, making an utter embarrassment of herself, tearfully explaining that she has ‘let Ashley down’.
Fearing the doll is having a negative affect over her sister, Jack takes action into her own hands and stows away the doll in the attic, telling Rachel instead that she threw it out in the trash to protect her. Rachel does not take this well and tells Jack she hasn’t been the same since their mother died and that Jack is too scared to truly be herself.
At the same time, the real Ashley O is having an identity crisis of her own. Sick and tired of being controlled by her Record Manager (and Aunt) as well as wanting nothing more to be her real self – not the version her label is selling to her fans. We learn that Ashley’s Mother is also dead.
Longing to be herself, but unable to due to contractual obligations and her managements abuse of her success, Ashley devises a plan to terminate her contract after she discovers her Aunt has been drugging her in an effort to promote her creativity and stage presence. Her Aunt is one step ahead though, and drugs Ashley’s food making her slip into a coma.
Upon seeing the news of Ashley’s condition, Jack retrieves the doll from the attic to try and comfort her sister. She can’t let the best thing that has happened to her sister since their mother’s death disappear as well. But Rachel sets the toy on the shelf, until six months later when a special report on the news wakes it, causing it to malfunction.
Jack tries to fix the corrupted Ashley Too doll on their fathers high tech computer, however in doing so removes a ‘limiter’ that has only been allowing Ashley Too to operate at 4% of it’s capacity. Suddenly, the ‘real’ Ashley comes out full force on an expletive ridden tirade – “they copied my entire f***ing mind into these things!”
Still trying to profit off the success off the now bedridden popstar, her Aunt with the help of the record label has developed new technology to create a new album from the brainwaves of a comatose Ashley, with the intention of selling the final product, including a holograph that can simultaneously ‘perform’ at multiple venues to the highest bidder.
Miley Cyrus is fantastic in this episode because essentially, she is playing two roles: a broken and defeated star and a determined and defiant hero. Angourie Rice (Rachel) and Madison Davenport (Jack) also deliver convincing performances that begin to truly shine after a somewhat cliched first act.
All in all, it isn’t one of the best Black Mirror episodes, but it is certainly not one of the worst. You need to take it for what it is and just enjoy the ride. Act two and three easily outshine the first act. There is a shift in tone of the plot, a real sense of humour, instead of the dread and bleakness that we have come to expect.