Black Mirror, season 5, ‘Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too’ review: Miley Cyrus excels in an initially po-faced episode

Charlie Brooker doesn’t like it when folk accuse Black Mirror of taking itself too seriously. “Or when people say, ‘I want to do something like that, but with a sense of humour,’” said the creator of the sci-fi anthology series in a recent interview. “I’m like: ‘For f***’s sake, what’s wrong with you?’”

So he won’t thank me for saying that the first half of “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too”, the second of this three-episode fifth season, is a little po-faced. It’s a fun idea – cast globally famous pop star Miley Cyrus as a globally famous pop star, Ashley O, whose entire consciousness is copied over into sellable robot dolls – but it unfolds, at first, at a strangely plodding pace, failing to make good use of its concept and its stars.

Rachel (Angourie Rice) and Jack (Madison Davenport) are two oft-warring teenage sisters whose father is (for some reason?) a high-tech rodent controller, and whose mother is dead. Jack is sullen, has a septum piercing, listens to Pixies and rolls her eyes a lot. Rachel is shy and unpopular, spending her lunch periods sitting alone listening obsessively to Ashley O – “Hey, I’m a ho, I’m on a roll, riding so high, achieving my goals”. The song, to be fair, is pretty darn catchy.


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When Rachel sees an advert for an Ashley O doll, “Ashley Too, based on Ashley O’s actual personality”, she begs her father to buy her one for her 15th birthday. He obliges, much to her sister’s annoyance, and Rachel is buoyed by the earnest platitudes her new friend doles out, seemingly directly to her. “You can do anything if you put your mind to it.” “You’re a special person.” Rachel is quickly, worryingly, enamoured.

The real Ashley, though, is growing sick of the bright, shiny front she’s been trained to put on by her domineering aunt Catherine (Susan Pourfar). When she starts to rail against the narrow confines of her pop persona – something the real Cyrus has been doing since her tween Disney days – things go very wrong for her. Her fate goes from bad to worse, and the episode – or “film”, as co-producer Annabel Jones calls them – starts to feel very bleak indeed.

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1/23

Click through for our ranking of every Black Mirror episode to date, including season five. Spoilers ahead

2/23 “The Waldo Moment”

Series two, episode three

While supremely prescient in predicting how a pop-culture figure would one day find themselves unwittingly in a place of political power, “The Waldo Moment” lacks the bite of other episodes. The pacing is cumbersome, and the bleak ending for Daniel Rigby’s failed comedian feels slightly extra.

Channel 4

3/23 “Crocodile”

Series four, episode three

A new insurance company innovation allows access to people’s memories – much to the dismay of Andrea Riseborough’s Mia, who witnesses an accident but has much darker things to hide. Riseborough is typically excellent, but Mia’s behaviour is jarringly inconsistent throughout.

Netflix

4/23 “Arkangel”

Series four, episode two

When an overly fearful mother (Rosemarie DeWitt) resorts to drastic measures in order to keep her daughter safe, things inevitably unravel. Quite how far they unravel is the greatest weakness of a lacklustre episode, despite being directed with vigour by Jodie Foster.

Netflix

5/23 “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too”

Series five, episode four

Casting a globally famous pop star, Miley Cyrus, as a globally famous pop star whose entire consciousness is copied over into sellable robot dolls should have been a fun idea. But the episode unfolds at a strangely plodding pace, failing to make good use of its concept and its stars. Thankfully, when the tone suddenly changes as a result of an accidental discovery at the hands of two teenage sisters, the episode becomes a fun, high-concept heist film.

Netflix

6/23 “Men Against Fire”

Series three, episode five

A group of soldiers are tasked with protecting a village from mutant humans known as “roaches”, by hunting them down and exterminating them. A typically shocking twist reveals that something even more sinister is at play, and two soldiers – played by Malachi Kirby and Madeline Brewer – must face the horrific moral implications of their actions. A shocking, troubling episode.

Netflix

7/23 “Hated in the Nation”

Series 3, episode six

The show’s longest outing, after the just-released Bandersnatch, “Hated in the Nation” is Brooker’s answer to Scandi Noir dramas such as The Killing. But its murder mystery plot, involving killer drone insects, fails to reach the heights it aspires to.

Netflix

8/23 “Playtest”

Series three, episode four

There’s fun to be had in the augmented reality chiller “Playtest”, an episode following an American man (Wyatt Russell) who accepts a one-time, rather bizarre, job offer from a video game company. An often thrilling instalment, that ultimately fails to live up to its brilliant potential.

Netflix

9/23 “Nosedive”

Series three, episode one

A phenomenal team came together for the first Netflix-produced episode: star Bryce Dallas Howard, director Joe Wright and The Good Place creator Michael Schur. The result is expansive, expensive-looking – and strangely soulless. The world it presents, however, is scarily plausible: people must rate each other from one to five at every single interaction in a bid to improve social standing.

Netflix

10/23 “Smithereens”

Series five, episode one

Fleabag actor Andrew Scott plays a grieving not-Uber driver who hates how people are addicted to their phones. He decides to take someone hostage and demands to speak to their boss – the head of a world-conquering social media website (a fictional Mark Zuckerberg-type character played by Topher Grace). By Black Mirror’s standards it feels like a thin premise, and doesn’t build enough to justify a 70-minute running time. Despite a moving ending, “Smithereens” feels muted rather than subtle.

Netflix

11/23 “The National Anthem”

Series one, episode one

Could this be the most audacious first episode of any TV series? “The National Anthem” is a wonderfully twisted opener, a satirical comment on the terrifying power of social media via a grim story about a Prime Minister forced to have sex with a pig live on television. It set the Black Mirror blueprint perfectly.

Channel 4

12/23 “Black Museum”

Series 2, episode 3

Letitia Wright leads this unique episode, which irresistibly contains references to every other Black Mirror outing to date. With it’s B-movie thrills and body horror sub-plot, this is the closest the series has come to a Hammer House of Horror film.

Netflix

13/23 “Shut Up and Dance”

Series three, episode three

This episode follows a teenage boy (Alex Lawther) who is blackmailed into committing criminal acts by a mysterious hacker. Featuring arguably the show’s most distressing twist, “Shut Up and Dance” may not make for enjoyable television, but it’s a slickly-written marvel that gets under your skin.

Netflix

14/23 “Striking Vipers”

Series five, episode three

In “Striking Vipers”, Anthony Mackie – last seen sporting mechanical wings as Falcon in the Avengers series – plays Danny, a married father trying to keep a lid on his mid-life ennui. Events take an unusual turn when he has earth-shattering, chandelier-swinging virtual sex with a college friend, Karl (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). Underpinning this futuristic story are timeless themes of fidelity, family, fantasy fulfilment and the love triangle. In a series famed for its wild visions and outré set pieces, “Striking Vipers” is distinctive by its meditative tone and everyday preoccupations.

Netflix

15/23 “White Bear”

Series two, episode two

This episode follows an amnesiac girl who wakes up in a post-apocalyptic wasteland pursued by weapon-wielding assailants; silent bystanders watch on, disturbingly recording events on their mobile phones. “White Bear” feels like a nightmare come to life, but it’s a gripping one, subverting your expectations every 15 minutes.

Channel 4

16/23 “Fifteen Million Merits”

Series one, episode two

Every season of Black Mirror has one episode that yanks at the heartstrings, and “Fifteen Million Merits” was its first. The love story of a man (Daniel Kaluuya) and a woman (Jessica Brown Findlay) doomed to generate power on stationary bicycles for an unspecified amount of time, it presents a bleak outlook for the future of game shows. Brooker at his most Orwellian.

Channel 4

17/23 “Metalhead”

Series 4, episode five

This take on the stalk-and-slash genre makes for Black Mirror‘s most intense viewing experience. The camera remains right there alongside Maxine Peake’s nameless protagonist, alienated from the rest of civilisation as she’s hunted by a robotic assassin for no apparent reason. Terrifying stuff.

Jonathan Prime / Netflix

18/23 “Hang the DJ”

Series 2, episode 3

With its uplifting story of two lovers fighting against the odds to be with each other, “Hang the DJ” is a season four equivalent of the uplifting “San Junipero”. Georgina Campbell and Joe Cole offer magnetic performances as Amy and Frank, who are trapped in a Centre Parcs-style holiday resort. As the ending draws near, the episode suggests that love can triumph over the most difficult circumstances.

Netflix

19/23 “White Christmas”

Series two, episode four

Black Mirror went full Twilight Zone for its festive episode, an anthology treat featuring several short tales linked by what could perhaps be Brooker’s most disturbing technological invention yet – a device that permits you to “block” people from your life. Jon Hamm and Rafe Spall are excellent as a storytelling duo stationed at a remote outpost in the middle of a snowy wilderness.

Channel 4

20/23 “Be Right Back”

Series two, episode one

Hayley Atwell’s performance as a grief-stricken widow in this acclaimed outing is faultless, while Domhnall Gleeson’s robotic recreation of her husband (like some hellish combination of the Scarlett Johansson’s AI from Her and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) joins the pantheon of great sci-fi robots. It came as no surprise that its director, Owen Harris, was brought back to direct the “San Junipero” episode a season later.

Channel 4

21/23 “USS Callister”

Series four, episode one

Brooker basks in his own nerdiness in this glorious Star Trek-inspired tale that’s brilliantly conceived and executed. Using the DNA of his colleagues to create virtual avatars who believe themselves to be real, Jesse Plemons’s character makes for the entire series’s creepiest villain – partly because of how sorry for him you feel at the beginning of the episode, before clocking his sadistic ways.

Netflix

22/23 “San Junipero”

Series three, episode four

It’s still all too rare for a queer love story on screen to have a happy ending – and rarer still for a Black Mirror episode. And yet the tender San Junipero, which sees two women fall in love in a seaside town that naturally isn’t quite what it seems, is a rare instance of optimism from Brooker’s generally fatalistic imagination, and we can’t help but love it for that. By the time Belinda Carlisle’s “Heave Is a Place on Earth” plays over the end credits, you’ll be doing something no other episode can make you do: smiling.

Netflix

23/23 “The Entire History of You”

Series one, episode three

This episode often tops the list when discussing best Black Mirror episodes, and for good reason. It was the first to put Brooker’s spin on disturbed technological advancements to truly devastating effect, tracking the dissolution of a marriage (of Toby Kebbell and Jodie Whittaker) in a world where memories can be re-lived as easily as switching on a television. It’s the presence of Tom Cullen’s charismatic male that causes Kebbell’s character to frantically pore over every part of his wife’s behaviour, convincing himself she’s had an affair. Where other Black Mirror episodes introduce expansive worlds, this places the action in the most relatable of settings – the home – and is all the more disturbing for it. Essential viewing.

Channel 4


1/23

Click through for our ranking of every Black Mirror episode to date, including season five. Spoilers ahead

2/23 “The Waldo Moment”

Series two, episode three

While supremely prescient in predicting how a pop-culture figure would one day find themselves unwittingly in a place of political power, “The Waldo Moment” lacks the bite of other episodes. The pacing is cumbersome, and the bleak ending for Daniel Rigby’s failed comedian feels slightly extra.

Channel 4

3/23 “Crocodile”

Series four, episode three

A new insurance company innovation allows access to people’s memories – much to the dismay of Andrea Riseborough’s Mia, who witnesses an accident but has much darker things to hide. Riseborough is typically excellent, but Mia’s behaviour is jarringly inconsistent throughout.

Netflix

4/23 “Arkangel”

Series four, episode two

When an overly fearful mother (Rosemarie DeWitt) resorts to drastic measures in order to keep her daughter safe, things inevitably unravel. Quite how far they unravel is the greatest weakness of a lacklustre episode, despite being directed with vigour by Jodie Foster.

Netflix


5/23 “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too”

Series five, episode four

Casting a globally famous pop star, Miley Cyrus, as a globally famous pop star whose entire consciousness is copied over into sellable robot dolls should have been a fun idea. But the episode unfolds at a strangely plodding pace, failing to make good use of its concept and its stars. Thankfully, when the tone suddenly changes as a result of an accidental discovery at the hands of two teenage sisters, the episode becomes a fun, high-concept heist film.

Netflix

6/23 “Men Against Fire”

Series three, episode five

A group of soldiers are tasked with protecting a village from mutant humans known as “roaches”, by hunting them down and exterminating them. A typically shocking twist reveals that something even more sinister is at play, and two soldiers – played by Malachi Kirby and Madeline Brewer – must face the horrific moral implications of their actions. A shocking, troubling episode.

Netflix

7/23 “Hated in the Nation”

Series 3, episode six

The show’s longest outing, after the just-released Bandersnatch, “Hated in the Nation” is Brooker’s answer to Scandi Noir dramas such as The Killing. But its murder mystery plot, involving killer drone insects, fails to reach the heights it aspires to.

Netflix

8/23 “Playtest”

Series three, episode four

There’s fun to be had in the augmented reality chiller “Playtest”, an episode following an American man (Wyatt Russell) who accepts a one-time, rather bizarre, job offer from a video game company. An often thrilling instalment, that ultimately fails to live up to its brilliant potential.

Netflix


9/23 “Nosedive”

Series three, episode one

A phenomenal team came together for the first Netflix-produced episode: star Bryce Dallas Howard, director Joe Wright and The Good Place creator Michael Schur. The result is expansive, expensive-looking – and strangely soulless. The world it presents, however, is scarily plausible: people must rate each other from one to five at every single interaction in a bid to improve social standing.

Netflix

10/23 “Smithereens”

Series five, episode one

Fleabag actor Andrew Scott plays a grieving not-Uber driver who hates how people are addicted to their phones. He decides to take someone hostage and demands to speak to their boss – the head of a world-conquering social media website (a fictional Mark Zuckerberg-type character played by Topher Grace). By Black Mirror’s standards it feels like a thin premise, and doesn’t build enough to justify a 70-minute running time. Despite a moving ending, “Smithereens” feels muted rather than subtle.

Netflix

11/23 “The National Anthem”

Series one, episode one

Could this be the most audacious first episode of any TV series? “The National Anthem” is a wonderfully twisted opener, a satirical comment on the terrifying power of social media via a grim story about a Prime Minister forced to have sex with a pig live on television. It set the Black Mirror blueprint perfectly.

Channel 4

12/23 “Black Museum”

Series 2, episode 3

Letitia Wright leads this unique episode, which irresistibly contains references to every other Black Mirror outing to date. With it’s B-movie thrills and body horror sub-plot, this is the closest the series has come to a Hammer House of Horror film.

Netflix


13/23 “Shut Up and Dance”

Series three, episode three

This episode follows a teenage boy (Alex Lawther) who is blackmailed into committing criminal acts by a mysterious hacker. Featuring arguably the show’s most distressing twist, “Shut Up and Dance” may not make for enjoyable television, but it’s a slickly-written marvel that gets under your skin.

Netflix

14/23 “Striking Vipers”

Series five, episode three

In “Striking Vipers”, Anthony Mackie – last seen sporting mechanical wings as Falcon in the Avengers series – plays Danny, a married father trying to keep a lid on his mid-life ennui. Events take an unusual turn when he has earth-shattering, chandelier-swinging virtual sex with a college friend, Karl (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). Underpinning this futuristic story are timeless themes of fidelity, family, fantasy fulfilment and the love triangle. In a series famed for its wild visions and outré set pieces, “Striking Vipers” is distinctive by its meditative tone and everyday preoccupations.

Netflix

15/23 “White Bear”

Series two, episode two

This episode follows an amnesiac girl who wakes up in a post-apocalyptic wasteland pursued by weapon-wielding assailants; silent bystanders watch on, disturbingly recording events on their mobile phones. “White Bear” feels like a nightmare come to life, but it’s a gripping one, subverting your expectations every 15 minutes.

Channel 4

16/23 “Fifteen Million Merits”

Series one, episode two

Every season of Black Mirror has one episode that yanks at the heartstrings, and “Fifteen Million Merits” was its first. The love story of a man (Daniel Kaluuya) and a woman (Jessica Brown Findlay) doomed to generate power on stationary bicycles for an unspecified amount of time, it presents a bleak outlook for the future of game shows. Brooker at his most Orwellian.

Channel 4


17/23 “Metalhead”

Series 4, episode five

This take on the stalk-and-slash genre makes for Black Mirror‘s most intense viewing experience. The camera remains right there alongside Maxine Peake’s nameless protagonist, alienated from the rest of civilisation as she’s hunted by a robotic assassin for no apparent reason. Terrifying stuff.

Jonathan Prime / Netflix

18/23 “Hang the DJ”

Series 2, episode 3

With its uplifting story of two lovers fighting against the odds to be with each other, “Hang the DJ” is a season four equivalent of the uplifting “San Junipero”. Georgina Campbell and Joe Cole offer magnetic performances as Amy and Frank, who are trapped in a Centre Parcs-style holiday resort. As the ending draws near, the episode suggests that love can triumph over the most difficult circumstances.

Netflix

19/23 “White Christmas”

Series two, episode four

Black Mirror went full Twilight Zone for its festive episode, an anthology treat featuring several short tales linked by what could perhaps be Brooker’s most disturbing technological invention yet – a device that permits you to “block” people from your life. Jon Hamm and Rafe Spall are excellent as a storytelling duo stationed at a remote outpost in the middle of a snowy wilderness.

Channel 4

20/23 “Be Right Back”

Series two, episode one

Hayley Atwell’s performance as a grief-stricken widow in this acclaimed outing is faultless, while Domhnall Gleeson’s robotic recreation of her husband (like some hellish combination of the Scarlett Johansson’s AI from Her and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) joins the pantheon of great sci-fi robots. It came as no surprise that its director, Owen Harris, was brought back to direct the “San Junipero” episode a season later.

Channel 4


21/23 “USS Callister”

Series four, episode one

Brooker basks in his own nerdiness in this glorious Star Trek-inspired tale that’s brilliantly conceived and executed. Using the DNA of his colleagues to create virtual avatars who believe themselves to be real, Jesse Plemons’s character makes for the entire series’s creepiest villain – partly because of how sorry for him you feel at the beginning of the episode, before clocking his sadistic ways.

Netflix

22/23 “San Junipero”

Series three, episode four

It’s still all too rare for a queer love story on screen to have a happy ending – and rarer still for a Black Mirror episode. And yet the tender San Junipero, which sees two women fall in love in a seaside town that naturally isn’t quite what it seems, is a rare instance of optimism from Brooker’s generally fatalistic imagination, and we can’t help but love it for that. By the time Belinda Carlisle’s “Heave Is a Place on Earth” plays over the end credits, you’ll be doing something no other episode can make you do: smiling.

Netflix

23/23 “The Entire History of You”

Series one, episode three

This episode often tops the list when discussing best Black Mirror episodes, and for good reason. It was the first to put Brooker’s spin on disturbed technological advancements to truly devastating effect, tracking the dissolution of a marriage (of Toby Kebbell and Jodie Whittaker) in a world where memories can be re-lived as easily as switching on a television. It’s the presence of Tom Cullen’s charismatic male that causes Kebbell’s character to frantically pore over every part of his wife’s behaviour, convincing himself she’s had an affair. Where other Black Mirror episodes introduce expansive worlds, this places the action in the most relatable of settings – the home – and is all the more disturbing for it. Essential viewing.

Channel 4

Until, quite suddenly, the tone changes. Jack and Rachel accidentally remove the “limiter” that was only allowing Ashley Too to operate at 4 per cent of its capacity. Suddenly, the “real” Ashley is barking out expletives from the tinny speakers of her robot counterpart. “They copied my entire f***ing mind into these things,” she tells the astounded sisters. What follows becomes less a meditation on the ethics of posthumous profiting and the commodification of vulnerable young stars than a fun, high-concept heist film. It is an enormous relief – not because those meditations are not worth considering, but because the energy up until now, aside from an explosive, well-wrought argument between Ashley and her aunt, has been strangely subdued.

Cyrus, who according to Brooker, took the role to “p**s people off”, is excellent, most evidently when at the two extremes of her performance – desperate and broken, or uninhibited and defiant. Rice and Davenport improve hugely once their characters evolve beyond thinly sketched cliches.

As is quite often the case in Black Mirror, there is a slight over-abundance of ideas in “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too”. Plot points are picked up and dropped; narrative arcs lead to nowhere; unnecessary characters abound. But it is certainly worth sticking with – even if just for the three, Fleabag-esque final words. I won’t spoil them for you.

 

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