SPOILERS AHEAD: Miley Cyrus is the best thing about Netflix’s Black Mirror episode Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too, which failed to make a proper impact with its message to the music industry.
Black Mirror is brilliant in its bleakness.
Regardless of which dystopic world writers Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones decide to drop us in, it takes viewers into a discomfort zone that often feels that little too close to home. This need to peek at what dark things potentially lie ahead for us is no doubt what makes it such compelling viewing.
Usually, it’s the episodes written with a dash of hope, heart and humour that stick with me. San Junipero remains my favourite: a perfect love story of two women set against an 80s soundtrack worthy of my Saturday night pre-drinks playlist. And, despite an ending that left me feeling empty, Jessica Brown-Findlay’s performance of Anyone Who Knows What Love Is in 15 Million Credits very briefly but strongly made me believe that love is what will ultimately keep us going (yes, I really just did write that). Even USS Callister managed to be an upbeat, colourful blockbuster while perfectly addressing the darkness of the #MeToo movement.
But I understand those blacker than night episodes, too. It’s what the Black Mirror series is built upon, after all. Who can forget the disgust felt while watching our Prime Minister have sex with a pig on live TV in The National Anthem? Or the outrage of realising that the teenage boy we’d been told to feel sorry for throughout Shut Up And Dance had actually been watching child porn on his computer?
Black Mirror is always finding new ways of tapping into our collective unease of the modern world, which is why new episodes are always guaranteed to send Netflix into meltdown.
Ahead of three new Black Mirror episodes released this week (Wednesday 5 June), fans were particularly excited thanks to the cast announcements. Fleabag’s ‘hot priest’ Andrew Scott, Avengers: Endgame’s Pom Klementieff and singer Miley Cyrus all signed up for the Brooker and Jones treatment.
Following comments made about her dark reasons for taking part in the show, Cyrus’s episode is the one which piqued my interest the most.
Watch the trailer for Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too
Speaking at the press screening of Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too, Brooker discussed these reasons, revealing: “She delights in subverting things. Her whole career has been about the Disney popstar who tries to carve out her own identity and as a result she has faced a lot of opposition from her label and her fans. So, she’s been on that journey and she said, ‘We’re going to have a lot of fun with this’.”
Jones added: “She was saying, ‘Does it matter if I’m on stage or if a hologram is on stage?’ No one is looking’. Things are going on in her industry that she’s very aware of.”
So, what is Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too about?
Ashley (Cyrus) is a megastar who releases an AI version of herself for fans called Ashley O. Among these fans is shy teenager Rachel who is struggling to make friends at school. She receives her very own Ashley O for her birthday, which leaves her sister Jack feeling deeply concerned about the ‘virtual’ friendship.
Meanwhile, the real Ashley has been drugged by her controlling manager aunt and is comatose, just for daring to ask to write her own songs and recreate her bubblegum pop image. While in the coma, her aunt manages to continue creating usual Ashley’s music with new technology and she plans to debut the songs by using a huge hologram of the star.
At this point, the real Ashley – who is still comatose - comes to life through the Ashley O robot and a rescue mission with Rachel and Jack begins. The threesome wake up the real Ashley before going to expose her evil aunt just in time.
It ends with Ashley singing Nine Inch Nail covers, doing her own thing (which is very cool).
Cyrus is brilliant. You can tell she’s having lots of fun with the role and is fully aware of how close to the bone the story is. It highlights a lot of issues in the music industry, including the strange ways audiences interact with performances because of technology, and how women are still moulded in order to be their most commercial.
But, for me, the frothy ending contradicts the whole idea of subverting these issues – which is what Cyrus and the writers set out to do, right? It’s a happy and tidy ending, exactly like every Disney film going. Sure, the hilarious script it was kept me watching, but a much darker twist would have packed a more powerful punch against ‘the system’ that is clearly trying to be tackled here.
However, the episode has still been a hit with fans who have applauded Cyrus for her role. One wrote: “The Black Mirror episode with Miley Cyrus is deep. Her character is literally unconscious and they extract music from her brain to sell. If this isn’t a metaphor for the industry and how pop stars are exploited. They don’t care about /you/, just the money they can make /from/ you.”
Another added: “I loved this episode. It’s Netflix’s big FU to Disney. Satire at its best. Miley Cyrus was a perfect cast for Ashley and I’m impressed by her acting.”
However, a third added: “Oi the Miley Cyrus and video game one were pandering to an audience that can’t deal with how depressing black mirror should be and I’m not impressed. Didn’t make me think nearly as much as lower budget British actors ones that were on channel 4.”
And a fourth wrote: “For someone who’s a huge fan of #BlackMirror, I was thoroughly disappointed with its latest episode with #MileyCyrus. Seemed more like a stunt to spike Cyrus’ popularity than anything else. Where’s the profound Black Mirror-esque touch to it that’d leave us feeling blank & empty?”
I’ve already admitted to enjoying a happy ending, but this is one time I’d have enjoyed seeing just how dark things can get - from a woman who knows.