Black Mirror Season 5 Episode 2 review: Miley Cyrus shines in haunting 'Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too'
Warning: Spoilers for 'Black Mirror' Season 5 Episode 2: 'Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too'
A depressed popstar struggling to be heard, a lonely teenage fangirl struggling to be noticed, and a bossy, moping teen struggling to make others see sense—'Black Mirror' season 5 episode 2 'Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too' is a trifecta of struggles.
Add to this potent mix a raging AI doll that likes to scream the F-word in your face and what you have the perfect metaphor for the influence of artificial intelligence, celebrity, and pop culture.
The premise of the episode is your classic lonely-girl-trying-to-fit-in story. Angourie Rice plays the shy, unpopular teen Rachel, and her septum-pierced, heavy-rock listening sister, Jack, is played by Madison Davenport. Their mother is dead and their father quite aloof.
Cyrus' character in the episode called Ashley lives in Malibu. Ashley, just like Cyrus in real life, is a globally renowned pop star. She is, however, not the heroine.
The real heroine of the episode is, of course, Ashley Too, the AI doll we spoke about earlier. A super cute miniature version of Ashley with her signature pink hair, the doll is targeted at Ashley's obsessed fans who would pretty much give anything to be able to interact with their favorite superstar.
It must be said that Miley Cyrus's performance in the teen-cyber-thriller pretty much establishes her as a highly versatile actor.
Rachel gets her dad to gift her an Ashley Too. This kicks off the action in the episode as the chirpy attitude of the pop star's persona programmed into the AI doll doesn't really sit well with Jack. Surely it is unnatural to be so full of faith, hope, and positivity all the time.
Something seems off right from the get-go. And we soon find out how colossally messed up things are.
Ahead of the season's release, Cyrus had warned that her episode was 'outrageously out there'.
The focus of the episode were women pop stars and their struggles within the industry—something a lot of music documentaries have recently addressed.
From record labels' unreasonable demands to churning out music pertaining to an image that the star themselves don't recognize anymore, Ashley faces the same struggles that modern pop stars do.
For Ashley, it all began with her aunt Catherine (Susan Pourfar) who took her in after Ashley's parents died.
Catherine's justification for her tireless attempts at keeping Ashley's career flourishing is that she has compromised a lot since the age of 22 to build the empiric fame the pop star has garnered. Catherine plays the evil aunt stereotype to perfection.
It is, however, Cyrus' portrayal of a pop star desperately trying to break free that hits the viewers the most.
There's helpless anger coursing through her eyes every time she is in the same room as Catherine—the only family she has.
Her manager and her psychiatrist are both on her aunt's side and are docking her up with 'mild hallucinogens' just to channel her creativity as per the label's demands.
When she rebels, they overdose her just enough to induce a chemical coma for six months—in which time (and this is the most Black Mirror-ish aspect of the episode) they manage to create a holographic, streamable, and scaleable replica of the pop star. They even use her brainwaves to compose new music that they plan on putting out through the medium they name 'Ashley Eternal.'
So the episode has not just one AI version of the pop star but two.
The latter half of the story is quite predictable.
Rachel's doll comes to life once the two sisters manage to delete its 'limiter'.
With that gone, Ashley Too comes to full conscience and convinces the sisters to drive her to Ashley's actual house.
Conveniently, all of this happens right when Catherine leaves for the massive launch of their holographic Ashley Eternal.
In the end, the teen fans are able to rescue the real Ashley, who quite conveniently awakens from the coma at the right time, and decides to drive down to the stadium to give her aunt the proverbial middle finger.
The twist in the tale is actually Ashley Too's motives in driving to the pop star's house.
You see, when we say AI, we often assume that the technology is here for our convenience. What we often overlook is the AI's capability to think for themselves.
That's primarily what the episode is about. The capacity of AI to think for themselves and the ability to express the agony they feel.
The signature Black Mirror paranoia is induced by the realization that a pop star as huge as Ashley had fewer people to actually listen to her as a human than she did as an artificial entity. The only person who understood and befriended her without complaints and demands was the lonely fangirl.
We tend to think that pop stars and celebrities have it all but it's really just a bunch of lies we are being fed. The truth is far darker.
'Black Mirror' season 5 episode 2 'Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too' premiered on Netflix, on June 5.