Season 5, Episode 3
Traditionally, a series of episode reviews would be released chronologically. Black Mirror‘s anthology format allows for a break from convention however, which is lucky as I fell into a deep, middle aged sleep throughout episode two of season five of Charlie Brooker’s dystopian nightmare, so I’ve had to skip straight to episode three – Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too.
The nature of an anthology series means that it is unlikely that everyone will love every episode. There is an expectation though that each episode should at least be a talking point, something that somebody somewhere could love. Striking Vipers was a solid if unspectacular start to season five but Rachel, Jack and Ashley… feels a little flat, particularly as a season finale.
Rachel (Angourie Rice) lives with her emo sister Jack (Madison Davenport) and her distant father Kevin (Marc Menchaca). Struggling to make friends at school, she seeks solace in bubblegum popstar Ashley O (Miley Cyrus) and her new AI doll, Ashley Too. The real Ashley must enlist the help of her robot doppelganger and her number one fan in order to escape the clutches of her evil
The issue with Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too is that for most of the episode this feels like it could be any generic, teen melodrama and while this might be intentional, Brooker does nothing to subvert the genre, he merely mimics it. These are tropes we have seen many times before: dead mother, stroppy teenager, wide-eyed younger sister, useless dad. The wild card is Miley Cyrus as Ashley O, and while she is genuinely compelling, both as a saccharine popstar and as a foul mouthed AI doll, her promising performance isn’t enough to carry this episode into the upper echelons of the Black Mirror pantheon.
That being said, Black Mirror has arguably become a victim of its own success. Compared with almost every other TV show, Rachel, Jack and Ashley… would be a strong episode of television, only when set side by side with other Black Mirror episodes does it feel like a bit of a disappointment. It also suffers in the context of a season that feels a little underwhelming generally, and Bandersnatch that leaned to heavily into its gimmick.
When Black Mirror begun, it felt like something genuinely fresh and exciting. It seems now that the rest of television has caught up. Season six, if it comes, must be an improvement.