The deeper, darker meanings behind Black Mirror’s “Rachel, Jack & Ashley Too”
THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS WHICH FANS OF BLACK MIRROR MAY WISH TO AVOID
While Miley Cyrus’ guest slot in season 5 of Black Mirror proved polarizing to fans and critics, the episode was perhaps one of the most cohesive of the season. “Striking Vipers” and “Smithereens” were suspenseful and terrifying, however, both stories lacked a clear message, unlike previous episodes. Although “Rachel, Jack & Ashley Too” wasn’t among the most critically acclaimed episodes of Black Mirror’s five seasons, the hour-and-ten-minute long episode offers a lot for the viewer to unpack, in true Black Mirror fashion.
In “Rachel, Jack & Ashley Too,” Cyrus plays a pop star named Ashley O. Although Ashley O is world-renowned, Grammy Award-winning music sensation, topping the charts with hits like “On a Roll” (A reworked version of Nine Inch Nails’ “Head Like a Hole”), she deeply desires to break free from her contract and write songs with more emotional depth.
Meanwhile, Rachel (Angourie Rice), a 15-year-old girl, idolizes Ashley O, however, is only given a surface-level view of the pop star. “On a Roll” is a lyrically uplifting pop earworm and Ashley O, herself, often reiterates messages of positivity.
During an appearance on a talk show, Ashley O introduces an A.I. toy modeled after her called Ashley Too. Owners of the Ashley Too are able to talk to the toy, which will engage in conversations with the owner.
Rachel is gifted an Ashley Too for her birthday and Ashley Too instantly becomes Rachel’s best friend.
In the midst of the Ashley Too launch, Ashley O is restless, waking up and writing songs in the middle of the night (one of which is a reworked version of Nine inch Nails’ “Right Where it Belongs”). Catherine (Susan Pourfar), Ashley O’s aunt and manager catches her writing new lyrics, and while she understands that Ashley wants to change her material, Catherine insists that she sticks the sound and style that has proven lucrative for her.
Ashley later grows to resent Catherine and plans to expose her for giving her illegal medicines. Before she gets the chance to expose Catherine, Catherine drugs Ashley’s food, putting her into a coma.
Six months after the coma, which Catherine blames on a shellfish allergy, Catherine and Ashley’s management team learn that Ashley is able to still write lyrics in her mind during her comatose state. They copy thoughts from her brain into a computer system and use this data to create a hologram version of Ashley called Ashley Eternal.
Meanwhile, Rachel’s Ashley Too toy realizes what has happened to Ashley and begins to malfunction. Rachel and her sister, Jack (Madison Davenport) connect Ashley Too to a computer and remove a limiting firewall from the toy’s software. Ashley Too is then able to communicate with Rachel and Jack, and explains the truth behind Ashley O’s coma. The three then launch a plan to break into Ashley O’s home and find evidence to expose Catherine.
While many fans and critics lauded Cyrus’ performance, as well as the songs performed in the episode, they criticized the episode’s overall plot. Albeit not as somber or haunting as episodes past, “Rachel, Jack & Ashley Too” forewarns viewers of a dark future that could be possible if we’re not wary or mindful of how we utilize modern technologies. It also may be an accurate reflection of how record labels have treated artists for decades.
Every Black Mirror episode is written with the intention to evoke thoughts and questions within the viewer. Following “Rachel, Jack & Ashley Too,” many viewers were left with the same question. How much of “Rachel, Jack & Ashley Too” was an accurate reflection of Cyrus’ career?
In a 2015 interview with Marie Claire, Cyrus revealed she did not enjoy her time on her breakout television series Hannah Montana.
“I was made to look like someone that I wasn’t,” Cyrus said, “which probably caused some body dysmorphia because I had been made pretty every day for so long, and then when I wasn’t on that show, it was like, ‘Who the fuck am I?’”
Was Ashley O supposed to be a semi-fictional version of Cyrus? Did some of the stuff Ashley suffered actually happening behind the scenes? If not Cyrus, then maybe Britney Spears? Lindsay Lohan? Is this kind of stuff still happening today?
Additionally, the technology component of “Rachel, Jack & Ashley Too” also raises many fears. What if we could copy a portion of our idol’s consciousness and put it into a doll? What if we could keep a comatose artist alive, while having them create works in their near-death state? What if our favorite artist were to die? Would we easily be able to replace them through technology?
While season 5 of Black Mirror proved lackluster among critics, “Rachel, Jack & Ashley Too,” raised many questions and proved thought-provoking. Although an A-list celebrity is at the forefront, “Rachel, Jack & Ashley Too” is not an episode to be dismissed.