Monday, February 15, 2021

Black Mirror Revisit: Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too

NOTE: I'm throwing this post into February's Shortening because you know what? It involves a doll. Granted, the dolls in question isn't evil, but it DOES seem to have the traditional Krusty the Clown good/evil switch in a variation of "clean/foul-mouthed Miley Cyrus," so I think it counts.

I'm breaking my rules here by jumping Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too (whose abuses of the Oxford comma are too infuriating for me to even discuss) ahead of Arkangel, but a mother's overbearing love for her daughter fits February themes even less than a not-evil doll. Upon first watch, this episode underwhelmed me.
 It was pleasant enough and also forgettable. Let's see how take 2 goes.

The Talent: The episode's sole writing credit is to creator/showrunner Charlie Brooker, but it's directed by Anne Sewitsky, a Norwegian filmmaker who was also heavily involved in Hulu's uneven by haunting anthology Monsterland. More broadly, this is the episode known as "The Miley Cyrus One".

The Setup: Rachel is a shy 15-year-old with a moody older sister named Jack and distracted dad. Her only source of confidence comes from the upbeat messaging of popstar Ashley O. She's bolstered by her birthday present of an Ashley Too, a doll-sized robot companion built to perfectly simulate her namesake. Ashley Too encourages Rachel to participate in her new school's talent show, leading to mass teenage embarrassment and Jack hiding the doll in the attic until humiliation blows over.

Meanwhile, the real Ashley O proves to be far less happy than her pink-haired Hannah Montana-ish alter ego suggests. Ashley is suffering under the stifling control of her emotionally abusive aunt/manager Catherine (played by Susan Pourfar, 

who is not The Open House's Piercey Dalton 

...who I had finally accepted was not Hannibal's Caroline Dhavernas).

Note/open question I don't know if I want answers to: do these women look very similar, or am I suffering from that same face blindness thing that Milla Jovovich had in the blood goatee movie?

Longing to escape the confines of her artificial empire, Ashley tries to get out of her contract only to light the flames of the vengeful Catherine, who promptly poisons her niece into a coma that allows Black Mirror-ish technology to scan her brain for one last album.

Back to the Rachel and Jack portion of Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too, the girls plug Ashley back in only to accidentally remove some kind of filter, unlocking the real Ashley, who promptly figures out her aunt's evil plan and enlists the girls to pose as exterminators to gain access into Ashley Prime's home and unplug her life support.

The Ending: In a shocking twist by Black Mirror standards, we get a happy conclusion! The real Ashley awakens, exposes Catherine, and gets to presumably live the life she wants, which apparently means covering Nine Inch Nails songs with Jack in dive bars.

The Theme: The fact that I needed three paragraphs to synopsize a single episode tells you that Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too isn't as straightforward as, say Metalhead. Similarly, what is this episode really about? Fame is a mousetrap? Your famous hero isn't perfect? Your grungy sister really loves you?

There's something about Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too and its focus on a big larger than life (at times literally, in a holographic state) personality that makes this episode of the harder to glean any real-life meaning. While it starts as a tale about an insecure teenager, Rachel gets lost in the action. Ashley escapes the life she didn't want, but it's all action-based.

Maybe it's not a bad thing for an episode to just be about its story and not larger implications. Sure, it does drive in the point that forcing artists to still contribute after their deaths is morally disgusting, but to call this episode an indictment on that is a stretch.

The Verdict: At 66 minutes, Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too has the same problem as most of the later season Black Mirror episodes: it's just too long. While not quite as pace-afflicted as Smithereens, it's still frustrating to see how much fat is left on the episode, particularly in the Rachel and Jack portions, which are somehow both too detailed and still underdeveloped.

Putting its imperfections aside, it's hard to deny that this episode is weirdly sweet, and does become quite fun in its final heist-centered act. On second watch, there's not much more to get, other than watching in relief that things aren't going to go nearly as dark as they normally do around these parts.

Technology Tip: For all us normies out there, there's not much to learn, but I guess those with grander ambitions can get the message that you should never sign a contract that fully binds you to a cruel auntager

The Black Mirror Grade
Cruelty Scale: 2/10
Rachel's embarrassing talent show performance aside, this might be the lightest episode in the whole series

Quality Scale: 6/10
As television goes, this is 100% watchable and occasionally, very fun. It's also oddly paced and a little too scattered to be anything that special.
Enjoyment Scale: 6/10
As much as I do put this in the upper of the lower Black Mirror tier, it's much more watchable than some other episodes. Throw it on in the background won't crush your soul

Up Next (Month): We return to regularly scheduled programming with the REAL #17, Arkangel.

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