Miley Cyrus has given us a lot to chew on over the years, giving us her punchy Hannah Montana bops, wacky Dead Petz experiments, flower-powered Younger Now tunes, and recently, trippy collaborations with Mark Ronson. Her latest project seemingly bridges all of those things together as she plays a hyperrealistic version of herself on season five of Charlie Brooker's twisty Black Mirror series in "Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too."
The episode covers a lot of ground when it comes to Black Mirror concepts, exploring how technology impacts celebrity culture, self-perception, grief, and even pest control. Still, it's funny, thoughtful, and features developed female characters without being too preachy. If you're still digesting the episode and want to get a clearer picture of it, here is a deep dive into Black Mirror's most musical venture yet.
Haven't watched season five yet? You might want to stop right here before we head into spoiler territory.
Admittedly, the episode starts off slowly. We meet Rachel (Angourie Rice), a shy teenage girl who struggles to fit in at school as she and her family grieve over her late mother. Rachel doesn't get riled up about much, but she loves Ashley O, a glitzy pop sensation played by Cyrus, a former Disney star herself. Her sister Jack (Madison Davenport), who only listens to *deep music* like Sonic Youth, doesn't enjoy Ashley, whose lyrics are hilariously shallow.
For her birthday, Rachel requests an Ashley Too doll, which is fashioned to be like her pop idol. It's an A.I. like Amazon's Alexa with a white body, pink head, and plenty of inspirational platitudes. Rachel becomes concerningly attached to the doll in her loneliness. But her affection for the toy comes to a halt when her performance at her school talent show, modelled after Ashley's dance, flops. Jack hides the doll, which causes a rift between them.
As an aside, these moments echo a few of the series' best episodes. The duplication of consciousness is a wink to the cookie technology that you might remember from "USS Callister" and "White Christmas." How the A.I. helps Rachel with her loneliness might remind you of "Be Right Back," in which Domhnall Gleeson plays a clone of a widow's late husband.
We also see that all is not rosy for Ashley, whose life is controlled by her aunt-slash-manager Catherine (Susan Pourfar). Craving deeper creative aspirations, the pop star works on finding an out, recording her aunt and collecting the pills that she's been given to make a case for breach of contract. It's too little too late because Catherine sneakily drugs Ashley's food, sending the star into a coma where she extracts her niece's creative brain activity to put on a hologram show.
Months after Ashley falls into a coma, Jack has given Rachel back Ashley Too. While a TV special about Ashley plays, the doll goes haywire, so they plug it into a computer and delete a mysterious red spot, which turns out to be a firewall of sorts. Mild-mannered and perky Ashley Too becomes a foul-mouthed, no-BS version of herself that's more similar to the real Ashley's consciousness. Known for voice acting in Bolt, Cyrus is in her comedic sweet spot here, and her cheeky A.I. voice makes you crave for more Adult Swim content from her. The doll rallies the girls to go to Ashley's house to get incriminating intel on her aunt, so they hop onto their dad's mouse-eared pest control van.
When the three of them get there, they use their dad's partially developed mouse-stunner technology to knock out a guard. (Their father's been trying to find a humane way to get rid of mice.) Ashley Too unplugs Ashley, who's hooked up to machines next to a hospital bed. This puts us in a philosophical quandary about self and consciousness, as Ashley Too says that's what she would have wanted.
But we don't stay deeply entrenched in the metaphysics of it all for too long since the real Ashley wakes up. After fighting another one of Catherine's cronies, the four of them drive to the hologram concert that Ashley's aunt has put together. They go on a wild car chase with the police and crash into the show, exposing Catherine.
You'll want to stick around after the credits. Dedicating her song to her "sh*tty aunt," Ashley breaks free from her bubblegum-pop chains and goes full punk queen, performing with Jack onstage, as Jack's family and Ashley Too watch from the crowd. It's not romantic and dreamy like the close of "San Junipero," but we'll take a happy ending whenever we can get it.