Black Mirror’s final Season 5 episode Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too is a story of an impressionable, introverted teenager, her edgy full-of-angst older sister, and an electronic doll. In true Charlie Brooker style, the doll is, of course, advanced AI, developed to be the true personification of real life teen pop sensation. Unfortunately, the result isn’t top-tier Black Mirror: the story is simple, full of stereotypes and clichés, and ultimately all rather predictable.
After losing their mother, teenagers Rachel Goggins (Angourie Rice) and older sister Jack (Madison Davenport) reside with their father Kevin (Marc Menchaca), shifting from school to school, town to town. Being a teen in yet another new school with a sister who barely talks to her makes Rachel desperate for a friend, which she finds in birthday gift Ashley Too, a small, borderline-annoying, robot doll implanted with the personality of Rachel’s musical idol Ashley O (played by real-life pop star Miley Cyrus) – a bubbly, blonde, popstar who attempts to inspire her young gullible female fanbase with vapid statements of self-belief, claiming ‘anything is possible if you just dream’, and other such sugar-sweet clichés.
Rachel is very quickly smitten with her new robot companion, naïvely hanging on to each positive sentiment as though they are gospel truths. Jack, however, is not enticed by the happy-go-lucky, rainbow-and-smiles act. Clearly still grieving over the death of her mother, Jack is a stereotypical brooding teen, complete with leather jacket, facial piercings and a permanent scowl. Playing the role of distant but protective big sister, she disapproves of the artificial friendship, but not enough to take a break from strumming her guitar to her dead mother’s favourite heavy metal music to alleviate her sister’s solitude.
Meanwhile, for Ashley O, things are not quite as glitzy and glam as the wigs and sparkles she wears up on the stage. Despite her huge teenage fanbase who adore her catchy little pop songs and can-do attitude, Ashley’s life is one of misery, betrayal and mistrust. Her life is controlled – in front of the camera and behind the scenes – by her manager, Aunty Catherine (Susan Pourfar), who has taken care of her since she was a child. Now residing together in their oversized mansion, life appears to be as near to perfection as can be – but only on the surface. Initially appearing caring and compassionate, Catherine is all too quick to allow the prescription of medication to the young singer all in the name of her art, with seemingly no regard to her niece’s wellbeing…
Evidently then, the characters and plot advancement, although entertaining, do not really demonstrate any strong use of imagination. The plot points in the story are foreseeable, with none of the major twists that Black Mirror is known for. That said, this lack of originality and surprises does not take any enjoyment away from the episode; it is majorly saved by the humour that Ashley Too brings to the otherwise potentially very dull story. Ashley Too’s sassiness makes her scenes sparkle, especially in comparison to the other characters, who are fairly monotonous.
Also lacking is a sense of depth and consequence to the technology featured in the episode. Despite often featuring episodes set in the now, it has been clearly established from the beginning that Black Mirror and advanced tech go hand-in-hand. Sometimes this is shown in subtle ways: household items that automatically activate with intelligence, or digital eyeglasses that far exceed capabilities of even modern day computers. However, considering the focus of this episode, there is not much display of that here. Although one of the main characters being an AI doll, there isn’t much else in the way of technological advances in the characters’ day-to-day lives, other than perhaps Kevin creating an advanced Taser-style mousetrap for his pest control business, which feels just slotted in for no apparent reason. Even though the story moves along well enough without it, there are opportunities missed where exploring such ubiquitous technology could have been highlighted more.
Overall, Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too is not a disappointment; for the most part, it upholds the quality that we have come to expect from Black Mirror. However, in comparison to previous episodes, is it one that is worth watching again? Probably not.
Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too is part of Season 5 of Black Mirror, now available on Netflix.