I've been knee-deep in reality TV lately; I figured it was time for a change in the form to one of the best shows onscreen: Black Mirror. The writing is consistently brilliant, the production values are through the roof and the star-factor is deeper in the bench than anything else out there. This is the third and final episode of season five, it stars Miley Cyrus and we roll after the break.
We open in a high school cafeteria with assorted teenagers (did you know that all schools in the US have cafeterias? ALL of them! I've never actually seen a school in Canada with a cafeteria, I wonder how it is across the world. Anyone?), one of whom is watching a pop video on her phone. Rachel (Angourie Rice) is watching Ashley O.(Miley Cyrus) sing, as she is not the adult performer her name suggests.
Rachel bops along to her headphones in a crowded room, completely alone. Later she fights her way through the hallway to spot a poster for a Talent Show Fundraiser. Although spoken to, she's been mute this entire time.
Not helping is every teenager's basic nightmare of a pickup:
Her dad Kevin (Marc Menchaca) assures her it will get better, she's still the new kid. Sister Jack (Madison Davenport) is your basic teenage snark with bad haircolour and an overdose of sarcasm, but she's probably more aware of how things actually work in high school, unlike delusional dad. Rachel tunes it out with more Ashley O in her earbuds.
More pop music at home, Jack and Rachel chill out in their dark cavern of a room with Ashley's sexuality and bounciness writ large on a TV screen. She's gonna get what she deserves!
Now we watch an Ashley O interview talking about her creative process (her songs come from...dreams) as adoring fans of all ages watch from on and off screen. There's one particularly creepy grown woman with shiny eyes watching her from behind the cameras. Oh. That's her aunt, my bad, and she urges Ashley to introduce a new product.
Meet Ashley Too!
Rachel is allll alight. There is no way she won't be getting one of those as soon as possible. Host Busy G (Jerah Milligan) rolls a commercial while Ashley O slumps back, as though she's been turned off. She's morose and quiet while with just her aunt Catherine (Susan Pourfar), seeming largely uninterested in the impact of Ashley Too on social media.
One of the things about the doll is that it's not only Artificial Intelligence, it's also based on Ashley's personality. I assume they've left out the mercurial bouts, no teenager buying hope wants to see that.
Ashley wakes in the middle of the night and rushes to her piano, she's dreamed another song but it's slow coming.
Her aunt listens to her playing, then cautiously inquires as to whether she's taking her medication. Of course!
Rachel asks her dad the next morning for an Ashley Too for her birthday, Jack's kind enough to remind her of when it is (Wednesday).
**Imagine being that unimportant to your parent. No wonder she feels invisible.
Rachel immediately and ecstatically opens her birthday present but I am so creeped out by Ashley Too asking Rachel questions that I can barely watch. I am so paranoid about data mining! We do learn that Rachel and Jack's mom died a couple of years ago.
5 hours later, Rachel is still talking to Ashley Too until she goes to the bathroom and Ashley Too turns to listen to Jack, who is playing music on her side of the room.
Their conversation takes an unexpected turn when Jack talks about the bands she likes (Pixies, Sonic Youth, etc etc), which, coincidentally, were the bands her mother liked. Ashley Too asks if Jack only likes music her mom liked and Jack shuts it down right skippy. That obviously upset her.
Ashley O's aunt Catherine has a Come to Jeebus meeting with Ashley's team, money is tight. Ashley hasn't written anything for a new album, so presumed (hopefully) medical professional Dr. Munk (Nicholas Pauley) offers to throw some mild hallucinogens to spark the creative process.
Instead of throwing Dr. Munk out on his ass for his obvious breach of medical ethics, Catherine's more concerned that her niece is underresponding to the meds he currently has her on. What the.
Habanero (James III) has an idea.
**Imagine being that exploited and not cared for by your guardian.
Ashley Too encourages Rachel to dance in the school talent competition, I have allll the cringes ready.
Dance training montage! Then the makeover, with so.much.makeup. So much.
In another place, Ashley O is getting ready for her concert, layering black eyeliner over black eyeliner in a very different look.
**Do you think the doll is leeching away all of Ashley's positive personality traits and just leaving behind the dark?
Ashley O is fortified with guilt and prescription substances until she agrees to comply. They leave her alone and we see she's been cheeking her meds, she hasn't taken them for quite a while.
It's the night of the talent show, Rachel looks terrified and stiff while Jack watches. Her dad isn't in attendance, he's outside arguing with a maintenance man about a rodent trap he spotted on the floor. It takes a long, cruel time for a rodent to die in a trap like that. We saw him earlier working on something electronic with rats?
The crowd sits silently until Rachel crashes to the floor, then scattered applause follows her racing off the stage. She cries on the way home, she's so sad that she let Ashley Too down.
Ashley's aunt had Ashley's dressing room wired for video, she knows about the angry journal Ashley's been keeping along with all the meds she's been stockpiling.
Jack waits until Rachel and her dad are out of the house then takes Ashley Too up to the attic to hide it.
It goes about as well as you would expect when Rachel gets home and finds Ashley Too gone. Lots of "I hate yous" flying through the air.
It's not any better over at Ashley's house, where her aunt-manager is confronting her with the angry journal. I seriously gasped when I saw this, Catherine could not be more self-centered and deluded if she tried.
BUT! Ashley has not been diving deep into an emo goth pool of sadness, she's been recording her aunt and doctor breaking laws. This is evidence of their wrongdoing and will entitle Ashley to get out of her contract. Ashley is DONE with her aunt, but Catherine is very much not done with the kid she has been taking care of since she herself was only 22 years old.
She's drugged Ashley's food, but not with just one or two: Ashley's entire pill stash. Which won't kill her, but rather induce a medical coma. But don't worry, her career is gonna hold up just fine. Catherine tells Ashley to sleep (just like the doll!) as Ashley crashes to the ground.
Rachel and Jack's dad conducts an experiment with a robo-mouse electrocuting a real mouse, this is a bigger, better mousetrap that unfortunately killed it's prey. The news of Ashley O being in an irreversible coma due to a shellfish allergy interrupts and Jack coughs up the Ashley Too doll. Rachel is too sad to play with the perky AI.
Scores of fans wait, crying, outside the hospital, where inside Dr. Munk works to extract Ashley's creativity center at Catherine's direction.
6 months pass.
A news article on the TV wakes up Ashley Too, what's going to happen when she realises her namesake is in a coma? Catherine, Dr. Munk and Habanero explain how Ashley O's music career continues while Ashley Too winces. So they stole her creativity from her brain, but how to record it? Thankfully they had all the vocal recordings for Ashley Too, looks like all the other dolls were destroyed, hmm.
**Of course the first song we hear is "Anyone Who Knows What Love Is" because this is Black Mirror.
Ashley Too freaks out and falls to the floor. The sisters connect the doll to a scanner in their dad's workshop, there's a beaming pink circle in the middle. Jack deletes it and Ashley Too wakes up screaming profanity.
That pink circle was a limiter, like a firewall and it kept all of Ashley Too's interactions nice and light. They copied every part of her brain for these dolls, really?? An exact replica of Ashley O's brain is in each and every single doll? Is that why they were all destroyed?
Ashley Too is very entertaining, regaling Rachel and Jack of tales of her aunt and period cramps on photo shoots. Even though it's Rachel that's the true believer, it's interesting that Jack is the most disturbed by Ashley's defection to raw, honest truth.
The psychos extract a usable song from Ashley's head in time for an investor meeting, across town Ashley Too is scheming to get evidence to expose her aunt and the rest of the psychos. She just needs some help from her biggest fan, like with doors.
A hilarious ride across town and the mousemobile makes it to Ashley's house. They sneak through the gate when they're left open briefly after Catherine leaves and Jack talks her way into the house as a rodent control company. WITH her little sister Rachel.
Bodyguard Bear (Daniel Stewart Sherman) is kept busy by Jack and the uncertified bread box while Ashley Too works on bluetoothing into the system. By that, I mean she unplugs her corporeal form. She did what she had to.
Dr. Munk gets the system alert and notifies Bear, who Jack electrifies with the robo-mouse.
Ashley wakes up! That was completely unexpected for all of us as Ashley Too thought she was murdering her vegetative self. Ashley O is restrained and awake when Dr. Munk walks in, on the phone with Catherine.
Please don't kill Ashley!!
Okay, she has to be kept alive until the investor papers are signed, so Dr. Munk moves to sedate her as a hiding Jack is finally prompted into action by Rachel. They sedate Dr. Munk instead and rescue Ashley, who immediately wants to move to take down her aunt Catherine.
Catherine is introducing Ashley Eternal right at that moment, it's a hologram based on a real dancer backstage and all the "recovered" music. She's fully "controllable", even fully "scalable" and how does nobody see how gross this is?
Who needs a 40 foot Tupac Shakur??
Also streamable! Into everyone's homes, always perfect and perky and completely controllable as advertised.
Jack, Rachel, Ashley and Ashley Too race across town as the hologram entertains the crowd until the mousemobile crashes onto stage and destroys Catherine's plan for total domination of Ashley O's legacy of work.
We cut to a dive bar with shots and rock music playing, hai Ashley Fuckn O and Jack on backup! The crowd loves the NIN song "Head Like a Hole", it's very catchy even if it makes Rachel wince at the back of the bar with an altered-looking Ashley Too.
There are a couple of uncomfortable-looking teenagers in the middle of the mosh pit, they run outside into the night in their sparkly Ashley O t-shirts and the set continues.
I guess talent will out, right? I always thought that about Lindsay Lohan, that she'd be able to get out of the Disney mill and live up to her early promise. I'm glad Miley Cyrus was able to escape and though I know this episode is about the corporate control of artists and talent but I'm still going to light a small candle in a high window for all the artists who were not able to break out of that child star grind. Shia Labeouf, Amanda Bynes, Corey Feldman, Corey Haim and so many more.
Back to the point: artists who lost control of their legacies in the form of shitty holograms to support untalented people. If they make a Prince hologram against his express written wishes, I will riot and y'all better be right there with me.
I'm still contemplating the use of so much mouse and rodent symbolism, with it being Black Mirror you know it's not a coincidence so I will have to come back to this. Until then! Cheers!