“It’s not a dream; it’s reality.”
If “Striking Vipers” and “Smithereens” weren’t proof that this season of Black Mirror was a departure from its usual fare, then “Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too” leaves no doubt to the alternate route the show’s producers decided to take.
Things start off with Rachel (Angourie Rice, The Nice Guys, Spider-Man: Homecoming), a 15-year old girl who, after moving into a new town with her father Kevin and sister Jack (Madison Davenport, Sharp Objects, From Dusk Til Dawn: The Series), is still trying to find her way. Without friends and a snarky sister who doesn’t spend much time connecting, Rachel finds solace in Ashley O (Miley Cyrus), a pop queen whose flashy dance moves and empowering message helps Rachel keep her head held high. When the Ashley Too—a personal assistant similar to Amazon’s Alexa but with Ashley O’s brain mapped to it—is announced, Rachel falls finds her best friend in the doll, which cause friction between her and Jack to the point that the latter hides Ashley O, concerned that the device is not good for her sister.
Yet the story goes beyond warring sisters and creepy animatronic AI dolls. The second storyline focuses on Ashley O and the star’s spiraling emotions and fragmenting relationship with her aunt Catherine, not just the woman that raised Ashley but her manager as well. It doesn’t take long to realize Catherine is in it for herself, not giving a fig about her niece’s best interests. When Ashley stands up to her, Catherine drugs Ashley, putting her into an “irreversible coma”. Worse still is that Catherine and her cronies create the Ashley Eternal concept, one that hinges on a temporal interceptor, able to hijack the songs forming within Ashley’s still active brain and profit off them with the use of holograms and the voice imprint used for the Ashley Too dolls. Catherine’s one low down piece of crap and Ashley’s all alone in an inescapable hell.
Until she’s not.
In one of the more abrupt tonal shifts in a Black Mirror episode, the second half of “Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too (taking place six months after Ashley falls into her coma) comes across as a buddy comedy, a major departure to the series drama vibes of the first half. This is set off when by Ashley Too’s evolution, occurring when Jack, in an attempt to fix the doll when it goes crazy, accidentally removes the limiter. With nothing interfering, the doll is Ashley in the full sense of the word, and that includes knowing all the incriminating details of Catherine’s behavior and her probable role in the real Ashley’s condition. Ashley Too recruits the two sisters on a mission to find proof of her aunt’s treachery and what follows an admittedly funny series of events as the unlikely trio infiltrate Ashley’s home and by sheer chance, end up saving the real Ashley from a hellish death. Everything during this run, from KO’ing the burly bodyguard with a robotic mouse-catching prototype with a built-in taser, the police chase ending with the trio them bursting through the gates of the Ashley Eternal stadium reveal, or just the foul-mouthed Ashley Too herself, these hi-jinks seem more befit of a Hangover or R-rated Adventures in Babysitting.
The ending stays true to how most comedies end up, with the protagonists coming out on top. Here, it’s Ashley O finally released from Catherine’s stranglehold, playing the music she wants to play on a bar stage with Jack as her bandmate and Rachel and Ashley Too rocking out as their biggest fans.
Though the idea of the Ashley Too is a major part of this episode and itself warrants discussion on the propriety of creating a technology that mirrors an individual’s mind so completely, maybe a bigger topic of discussion (mainly due to it gaining traction in our current world) is using holograms of dead entertainers for concert performances.
What are the rules to this type of exploitation? Or what if a person is alive, doesn’t give these permissions but someone else owns the right to their music? Would that be considered profiting off someone’s likeness? Worse still is the idea that someone could hack a comatose person’s brain, retrieve the quite literally intellectual properties of that individual, and then use that for their own gain. Again, this is a technology that, while far from becoming refined to the point it can accomplish this task, is something future generations will ultimately face. What becomes the dividing line between informational freedom and a person’s privacy? It’s one thing to use such tools in a legal capacity if a crime were to be involved, but taking a person’s creative inventions without their permission while they can do nothing about it is a very twisted violation on the rights of the individual.
Despite these very disturbing questions, “Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too” does a disservice to itself. The tonal shift of the second act takes precedence over the more serious conversation on such technological violations. That’s unfortunate because it’s a fascinating discussion and had the tonal change been smoother, it would have gone a long way in sticking that philosophical landing. Instead, it’s an entertaining episode with some good moments but muddles the fundamental message it was so close in landing.