In its five seasons, “Black Mirror” has produced its fair share of weak episodes. However, in the past, even the program’s off installments have at least been thought-provoking or exhilarating. However, the show’s season 5 finale, “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too” possesses neither of those qualities. It is, in fact, a bad Disney Channel original movie with a bigger budget and more profanity.
**This post features spoilers and bitter astonishment**
“Rachel’s” eponymous lead character (Angourie Rice) is a friendless high schooler who struggles with the recent death of her mother. To cope with her loneliness, she asks her father to buy her an artificial intelligence (AI) enabled doll based on her favorite pop star, Ashley O (Miley Cyrus). After receiving an Ashley Too, Rachel begins to pattern herself after her idol. The teen’s abrupt personality changes unnerve her older sister, Jack (Madison Davenport), who believes the doll is an evil influence.
In a painfully predictable development, the episode reveals Ashley’s life isn’t as perfect as her music would suggest. Her overbearing aunt/manager Catherine (Susan Pourfar) controls her life and plies her with mood-altering drugs to keep her focused on churning out (laughably fake) pop songs. Through a series of jaw-dropping contrivances, Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too end up staging a rescue mission to save Ashley O from her gilded cage.
While “Rachel” has a few interesting ideas at its center, it is nevertheless an unmitigated failure and a series low point.
In general, “Black Mirror’s” future technology is largely grounded in reality. The show either depicts advanced versions of devices and systems that already exist or are common in science-fiction stories. As a result, the series has always had a realistic resonance that’s distinguished it from other, more fantastic genre programs. However, the tech showcased in “Rachel” isn’t just unrealistic; it completely shatters the viewer’s suspension of disbelief.
The installment’s most absurd element is Ashley Too herself. Initially, the Wall-E like bot seems to be a next generation AI toy with a pop star’s voice. But it’s revealed the doll possesses a full copy of Ashley O’s consciousness, including all of her memories. It also has sensors capable of replicating human sight, hearing, and touch. The episode’s fictional world has perfected machine intelligence and sells Ultron-level programs at Walmart.
Also, the “Westworld” grade AI used to make Ashley Too isn’t used for anything other than dolls. “Rachel” featured no perfectly functioning self-driving cars, commercial drones, smart speakers, or robot replications of dead people. In addition to being ridiculous, the episode’s use of a post-singularity AI creates a massive plot hole.
Massive Plot Holes
In the installment’s second act, Ashley O plots to escape Catherine’s clutches by taking her to court. In response, Catherine drugs her niece/cash cow into a coma. She then uses a brain scanner to harvest songs from Ashley’s mind and the voice of an Ashley Too to record her presumed final album. Catherine later tries to sell investors on the idea of a holographic version of the singer that requires a motion capture performer, voice replicator, and digital engineer.
Setting aside its staggering cruelty, Catherine’s plan is needlessly baroque. She should’ve just killed her niece, programmed an AI doppelgänger to write new songs, and interpolated the program with a hologram generator. Doing so would have produced better results and left fewer loose ends. But as a ‘90s sitcom antagonist, her Machiavellian brilliance wore off to facilitate the narrative.
Bad Choices All Around
The episode’s plot problems don’t stop at its lack of logic. Though “Rachel” initially gestured at telling a story about the perils of AI, fandom, and the music industry, it quickly abandoned those themes. Instead, it focused on bringing its protagonist together in the most contrived way possible.
Rachel and Jack got over their long-simmering resentments once their robot buddy asked for help rescuing her human counterpart. Ashley only freaked out at meeting her machine clone for about five minutes. Also, Ashley Too had no identity issues regarding the fact that she’s a machine of a real person.
Also, the episode’s solution to waking someone from a drug-induced coma is unplugging their life support.
Furthermore, Ashley O’s songs were unconvincing as chart-topping hits. The episode’s consumer grade machine intelligence was more believable than Miley Cyrus covers of old Nine Inch Nails songs being the height of pop music.
“Rachel’s” absurdly contrived plotting, insipid story, and cheesy world building also suggest that it was intended to be a comedy. However, there are two problems with that interpretation. One, the episode has a dour tone that undercuts its slapstick plot turns. And, two, the installment is almost hatefully unfunny.
If “Black Mirror” comes back for a sixth season, it’ll have to be spectacular to mitigate the fact that “Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too” is several magnitudes worse than “The Iron Throne.”