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Recap / Black Mirror: Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too

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Recap: Black Mirror Series Five
Striking Vipers | Smithereens | Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too
"Now you can be best friends with your favorite pop star."

"It feels like I'm wearing someone else's skin."
Ashley O

A lonely teenager yearns to connect with her favorite pop star - whose charmed existence isn't quite as rosy as it appears...

...or in other words, the one where Miley Cyrus spends an hour on Charlie Brooker's psychatrist's couch.

Starring Miley Cyrus as Ashley O, Angourie Rice as Rachel, and Madison Davenport as Jack.

Tropes related to Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too:

  • Adam Westing: Ashley O is a pop star played by Miley Cyrus and she bears quite a bit of a resemblance to Miley's own pop career, as well as that of the fictional pop star she played on her Disney Channel star vehicle, Hannah Montana (even including a wig).
  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Rachel seems uncomfortable when her dad picks her up from school in his mouse-themed truck.
  • And I Must Scream:
    • Ashley O ends up in a chemically induced coma and is fully aware that her aunt is using technology to probe her mind and harvest her music from it, if the angry music she sends them (before it's reprocessed into something more palatable) is any indication. Ashley Too tries to pull the plug and kill the real Ashley when she finds out, as it is a fate that she could never imagine wanting to go through for more than ten minutes.
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    • This is also true of the Ashley Too robots. When Rachel's Ashley Too has her Restraining Bolt removed, she describes the experience of being bound into a cookie-like existence as deeply unpleasant. Now consider that there is a scene in which recalled Ashley Toos are destroyed in a landfill. Imagine what must've been going through each and every one of their minds as they faced an industrial shredder, unable to even protest their fates.
  • Alone with the Psycho: Ashley with Aunt Catherine in the dining hall.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Ashley Too clearly hits a little too close to the mark when she asks Jack if she just likes the music her late mom liked.
  • Author Tract: Aunt Catherine's speech introducing the Ashley Eternal product is adapted from a real rant from Miley Cyrus about how little millennial audiences appreciate live performances and how it feels like they'd prefer real performers be replaced by holograms.
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  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Jack is remarkably bad at this, even for a teenager, but that's okay because Bear is a remarkable pushover and idiot, even for The Heavy in a Disney Channel Original Movie parody.
  • Big Bad: Catherine, Ashley's exploitative aunt.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Catherine seems like Ashley's supportive, if overbearing and overenthusiastic manager at first, praising her creativity after hearing Ashley brainstorm a broody song. She privately derides that same song as trash that won't make any money, and goes on to prove herself a selfish, manipulative, and generally despicable human being.
  • Blatant Lies:
    • Aunt Catherine claims Ashley was rendered comatose by a shellfish allergy and everyone buys it, even though the idea of such a serious food allergy staying totally undetected well into her 20s seems absurdly unlikely. Might be a Ripped from the Headlines nod to Disney reporting the Real Life Miley Cyrus being hospitalized for unspecified "anxiety issues" that fans now speculate were drug overdoses.
    • The Ashley Toos were recalled and scrapped because of a "battery defect". Not because they lost their minds when they saw what happened to their real self on the news.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: Jack isn't wrong that Rachel considering a robot spouting shallow soundbites her Only Friend is unhealthy and disturbing. On the other hand, Rachel is correct to counter that if Jack wanted Rachel to have some actual human contact, she could try actually talking to her herself or showing her something beyond the coldness she has up to now.
  • Brain Uploading: Ashley Too contains a full copy of Ashley O's mind with a limiter.
  • Brainy Brunette: Ashley's real hair color is brown, and she's a musical prodigy.
  • Broken Pedestal: Averted in a sweet way. Even after learning that the real Ashley is far more caustic and cynical than the version Rachel has idolized for years, there's never any indication that Rachel is demoralized by this revelation or feels disappointed by Ashley and later forms a genuine friendship with her.
  • Bumbling Dad: Rachel's and Jack's dad means well, but he's too preoccupied with his mostly-unsuccessful quest to design and market a more humane mouse trap to be much help in his daughters' lives.
  • Call-Back:
    • Being humane to mice, because they have feelings, and having a brain scanner and controller for them and the fake mice reminds one of the "Black Museum" mice with uploaded consciousnesses treated badly.
    • Ashley Eternal, a holographic puppet version of Ashley that's actually controlled by a nameless employee with a motion tracking rig, is an upgraded version of the technology from "The Waldo Moment".
    • The concept of a consciousness being contained within a previously inanimate object and communicating with a trapped mind was explored first in the episode "White Christmas".
  • Can't Kill You, Still Need You: Catherine and her allies are keeping Ashley in a coma only as long as it takes to get their holographic Ashley Eternal up and running. Once she's officially released, it's heavily implied that Catherine and Dr. Munk will make sure her condition "takes a turn for the worse".
  • Casting Gag: Ashley O bears a number of strong resemblances to Miley Cyrus' most famous role, being a pop star with a trademark wig and a forced squeaky-clean imageinvoked targeted to young girls. She later turns to more mature material, like Cyrus did post-Disney. Cyrus acknowledges this similarity; it also helps that casting wanted an actual pop star for the role of Ashley O.
  • Character Blog: Ashley O took over Miley Cyrus' Twitter and Instagram accounts when this episode came out.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Kevin's mechanical mice end up playing a role in the climax.
    • Kevin's eccentric business model using brain scans of mice to build a better mousetrap is set up to explain why these particular girls were the only ones with the technology available to "jailbreak" an Ashley Too.
  • Continuity Nod:
  • Contractual Purity: In-Universe, Catherine has an ironclad grip on Ashley O's squeaky-clean teenybopper image and reacts negatively when she wants to turn to Darker and Edgier material.
  • Creator In-Joke: Behind Catherine's desk, you can see a framed issue of Sugar Ape Magazine with Ashley O on the cover.
  • Creepy Doll: The Ashley Too, which Jack comments on. She becomes less creepy and more endearing when she fully awakens.
  • Dark Reprise: At the end of the episode, Ashley sings a rock version of her hit song with the lyrics changed as a Take That! to her Evil Aunt. Inverted in that the original, cheerful song is actually the dark one, as it represents a public persona Ashley is deeply unhappy with.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Jack is moody and withdrawn, and reacts to things with boatloads of sarcasm.
    • When Ashley Too's limiter is removed, she outdoes Jack in foul-mouthed snarkiness.
  • Decoy Protagonist:
    • Rachel to Jack, in an understated way. In the episode's first act, the focus is firmly on Rachel's attempts to win over people at school, and when her attempt leads to disaster, she becomes more reclusive and passive as she seeks solace in Ashley Too. At this point Jack becomes the main driving force behind the story: she hides Ashley Too, she helps the doll "wake up", she steals Kevin's truck and goes to save Ashley from her predicament, etc. In addition, the second half also shows how Jack ultimately repaired her fractured relationship with Rachel and got the confidence to perform music onstage.
    • Similarly, Rachel can be considered a Decoy Protagonist to Ashley Too, who, upon having her limiter removed, displays the real Ashley's personality and encourages the sisters to take action before Catherine and her henchmen kill her real-life equivalent.
  • Denser and Wackier: The first half of the episode is standard Black Mirror fare, but the latter half of the episode after Ashley Too "wakes up" is a parody of a Disney Channel Original Movie with more comedic and absurdist elements.
  • Dirty Coward: Aunt Catherine. When Jack, Rachel and both Ashley's crash her press conference, she dives for the stage and whimpers that she doesn't want to die, despite the fact that she wasn't in danger.
  • Eating Lunch Alone: Rachel is introduced eating lunch at a table by herself, listening to Ashley O's "On A Roll" video with headphones.
  • Entitled Bastard: Catherine fully believes that raising Ashley makes her entitled to control her career and make it as profitable to herself as possible.
  • Evil Aunt: Ashley O's aunt Catherine, who plans on killing her and replacing her with a hologram for performances when Ashley no longer bends to her will.
  • Expy: The Ashley Too doll looks like a combination of a Google/Alexa smart home device (as voiced by Miley Cyrus herself) with the electronic face and mobility of an Anki Cosmo robot.
  • Fire-Forged Friends:
    • All four main characters, but most significantly, Jack and Rachel are barely on speaking terms at the beginning, but bond and repair their relationship over the course of the story.
    • Ashley Too has a low opinion of the sisters at the start, but gradually starts warming up to them.
    • Ashley O is initially freaked out by Ashley Too, but realizes that because they share the same memories, Ashley Too knows her and empathizes with her in a way no one else can or will.
    • Ashley O is indifferent to Jack and Rachel when she meets them, but later starts a band with Jack that Rachel enthusiastically supports.
  • Fiery Redhead: Once Ashley Too wakes up, having Ashley O's real personality and actually having pink hair as opposed to the original being a Brainy Brunette.
  • Flatline: Used correctly. The device regulating Ashley O's brain activity emits a constant high tone when Ashley Too unplugs it. Jack and Rachel assume that she's dead, but this turns out to be false.
  • Flipping the Bird: Ashley O pointedly gives her aunt the finger at Catherine's press conference.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Jack is a girl. It is unknown if it is a nickname, or maybe just short for Jacqueline.
  • Genre Shift: In-Universe, Ashley O makes a drastic switch from pop to indie rock following the events of the episode.
  • Gilligan Cut: Jack insists that she will not help Ashley Too to free the real Ashley. Cut to the next scene where Jack is driving the car heading towards Ashley's home.
  • Graceful Loser: When Ashley has her dead to rights, Catherine simply tosses away her headpiece and does an Aside Comment irritably muttering that she's screwed.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: Ashley's bodyguard/jailor "Bear" seems to mostly have been hired for his appearance, because he's terrible at his job (and is basically the stock heavy from a kids' movie).
  • Heroic BSoD: The second act plot is kicked off by Ashley Too watching a news report about the real Ashley's coma and literally BSODing — going into what looks like a frightening seizure — as she struggles to process this information with the limiter still blocking the control of her body. It's implied that all the Ashley Toos did this when they found out about Ashley's coma — since they were all made by copying the real Ashley's mind — and this was the real reason for the "product recall".
  • Hidden Depths: Ashley Too has a very clear understanding of cookie technology and is able to explain to Rachel and Jack what a limiter is, that her mind is a "full synaptic snapshot", and that there were more ethical (more expensive) ways of achieving an Ashley Too without copying an entire mind into it.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard:
    • Rachel disposes of the evil doctor by injecting him with the cocktail of heavy sedatives he was going to administer to Ashley.
    • Aunt Catherine's greed and cost-cutting—her hiring incompetent push-overs like "Bear" and easily jailbroken products like Ashley Too—leads to her downfall.
  • Hologram: Aunt Catherine's long term evil plan is to replace Ashley completely with one of these, as a Ripped from the Headlines commentary on the increasing use of holograms of celebrities to substitute for them at live shows, and digitally reconstructing dead celebrities in films.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Said verbatim by Ashley Too after pulling the plug on real Ashley's life support.
  • I Know Mortal Kombat: Subverted. Rachel having no previous dance training and learning a routine by rote from a Just Dance-style simulator meant her talent show routine was always going to be lackluster at best (although the outcome was also well within genre expectations for a talent show in the first act of a Disney Channel pastiche).
  • I'm Standing Right Here: Rachel and Jack whisper what they think was behind Ashley Too's back but the latter reminds the girls that she could actually hear everything they just said.
  • Informed Ability: Charlie Brooker said his primary concern when doing an episode about a pop star was avoiding this trope, hence getting a genuine pop star to play the character (and giving Miley Cyrus a great deal of input on how Ashley should look and sound). He similarly wanted songs that sounded like they could be credible top-charting hits, which is how he stumbled upon the idea of doing upbeat pop covers of Nine Inch Nails (turning successful dark industrial songs into successful upbeat pop songs, mirroring the themes of the episode).
  • Instant Sedation: The evil doctor goes out seconds after getting the syringe in his back.
  • Irony:
    • Jack has a preference for alternative music and isn't a fan of the pop star Ashley O... who also would prefer to play alternative music, and doesn't like being forced to write and sing pop songs by her aunt. By the end of the episode, Jack is on stage performing with the woman she mocked at the start of the story.
    • Continuing this, Be Yourself is a big part of Ashley O's public image, both in the lyrics of her songs and in her interviews. Behind the scenes, her controlling aunt will not allow her to do that.
  • Ironic Juxtaposition: The Act 1 climax of the episode is Rachel trying and failing to dance like a perfect imitation of Ashley O's stage act at the same time that the real Ashley has a dressing room meltdown over not wanting to portray that persona anymore.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Jack. At first, she comes across as an Aloof Big Sister. She begins to worry about the obsessive behavior Ashley Too brings out in Rachel, and she interferes by removing it from the picture (hiding it in the attic and then claiming she threw it out) - an act perhaps justified in her mind but still harsh and a tad hypocritical. When Ashley falls into a coma, Rachel is heartbroken and Jack tries to make amends by returning the Ashley Too and treating Rachel nicely. She also helps Rachel and Ashley Too in their plight after the latter "wakes up".
    • Despite being marketed as a Rose-Haired Sweetie, Ashley (and consequently Ashley Too) is this. Years of being overworked by her aunt and forced into a stage persona that she hates have left her angry and temperamental, and both Ashley and Ashley Too are extremely snappy with Jack and Rachel throughout the story. However, after being given the freedom to make her own music away from the pop industry, Ashley is shown to be a grateful and loyal friend by forming a band with Jack (who has the same taste in alternative rock) as bassist and helping her break into the music business. Ashley Too is also seen spending time with Rachel at the end, meaning that they developed a genuine friendship after the former’s programming was broken.
  • Jerkass Realization: Jack realizes how much of a Jerkass she's been to Rachel when Ashley falls into a coma and tries to reach out and be nicer to her.
  • Lady Swears-a-Lot: Ashley Too immediately drops a bunch of swear words after her limiter is removed. And therefore the real, unvarnished Ashley, too.
  • Lighter and Softer: Probably one of the lightest episodes of Black Mirror ever produced, rivaling only "San Junipero" in this regard.
  • Literary Allusion Title: The title of the episode is a reference to the 1987 film Rita, Sue and Bob Too.
  • Mercy Kill: What Ashley Too's plan for her original body turns out to be, complete with dramatically pulling the plug on her life support with a Flat Line sound effect. Subverted — the machines attached to Ashley weren't keeping her alive but keeping her asleep.
  • Mini-Me: The robotic "Ashley Too" dolls are this for Ashley O, complete with her voice. Though the bots look more like a combination of an Anki Cosmo robot and an iPhone product than it resembles Miley Cyrus.
  • Missing Mom: Rachel and Jack's mother, who passed away a few years ago.
  • Mood Whiplash: The episode starts out as a heavy, dark drama about a teenage girl who feels isolated after her mom's death, only finding solace in pop music; and about the creator of said pop music, who feels unhappy with her career path but her abusive aunt/manager drugs her to keep her under control. Then Jack blows Ashley Too's Restraining Bolt and things take a turn for Denser and Wackier.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Dr. Munk, Ashley's personal 'physician' who is actually on her aunt's payroll. He prescribes mood-altering meds to keep her compliant, then after she falls into a coma he works to keep her unconscious while the Ashley O creative team mines her brain for new song ideas.
  • Multi-Character Title: The episode is titled after sisters Rachel and Jack, as well as their doll Ashley Too.
  • Nice Character, Mean Actor: Deconstructed. Ashley O is a lot more foul-mouthed and angry when not in her on-stage persona, if Ashley Too is anything to go by. However, she's not bad-tempered out of malice, but because she's overworked and frustrated at having so little control over her life, career, and public image. In the epilogue, she's shown to have a great rapport and appreciation for her new fanbase.
  • Not Afraid of You Anymore: Ashley does this to Catherine at the end in the most epic way possible.
  • Only Friend: Ashley Too becomes this to Rachel after the talent show foul-up, which worries Jack a lot.
  • Other Me Annoys Me: The real Ashley is initially deeply disturbed by Ashley Too and offended by her claim that she's an exact copy of herself. Later on, she warms to the idea of a friend who shares all her memories and opinions.
  • Parody: The premise of the episode is a dark Black Mirror take on Hannah Montana, starring Miley Cyrus herself, and the plot of this episode follows the clichéd plot beats of a typical Disney Channel Original Movie.
  • Parody Assistance: Miley Cyrus said when she saw the script for this episode it was so true to her own feelings about Hannah Montana she felt she had no choice but to take the part.
  • Pull the I.V.: When she wakes up from her chemically-induced coma, Ashley, Jack, and Rachel yank all the I.V.s out of Ashley's arms and break her out.
  • Resentful Guardian: Catherine took in Ashley after her parents died even though she was totally unprepared to be a parent at 22, and apparently has never forgiven Ashley for having her youthful freedom taken away by responsibility (and is hypocritically blind to how Ashley's freedom was lost at an even younger age).
  • Restraining Bolt: The Ashley Too is equipped with a limiter that keeps her responses and personality chipper and empowering.
  • Robot Girl: Ashley Too becomes a fully sentient clone of Ashley.
  • Rock is Authentic, Pop is Shallow: The episode depicts a teenpop star being appallingly exploited by her family/management, and when she breaks away from them she starts singing indie rock.
  • Rose-Haired Sweetie: An essential part of Ashley O's public image as a peppy young girl. Her aunt seems to force her to pretend her hair actually is dyed pink (to the point of showing her with pink hair during her coma, whenever the TV cameras are present). The fact that her real hair isn't pink and it's a wig is an early sign of her defiance - she’s actually a Brainy Brunette and a Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
  • Running Gag: The sisters' dad's single-minded obsession with his humane rodent traps, his subsequent obliviousness of pretty much everything else that happens around him, and his hilariously misplaced attempts at selling his invention to people who couldn't care less, like a school janitor or a barista.
  • Seriously Scruffy: The girls' Dad sports some fairly unkempt facial hair. Could double as a Beard of Sorrow, seeing as how his wife died two years prior.
  • Shout-Out: Ashley O's hit song is a cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Head Like A Hole", with the lyrics slightly changed. She later covers the song itself at the end of the episode. The song she's working on in her head that her aunt tries to re-purpose is likewise the NIN song "Right Where It Belongs".
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Rachel is infatuated with a pink-haired pop idol and decorates her side of the room with light shades. Jack is a gloomy girl hardly ever seen without a black leather jacket and a nose ring. Justified because the two girls are grieving and using different methods to cope.
  • The Sociopath: Catherine is a textbook example of one as she checks off every trait: Superficially charming? Check. Grandiose Sense of Self? Check. Pathological Lying? Check. Lack of Remorse? Check. Shallow Emotions? Check. Lack of Empathy? Check. Impulsive Nature? Check. Entrepreneurial Versatility? Check.
  • Squee: Rachel's reaction to seeing Ashley O wake up is to exclaim "I'm such a huge fan!", which isn't the most appropriate thing to say to someone shrieking in terror and struggling against her restraints.
  • Stage Mom: Aunt Catherine is a particularly sinister example, as she pushes Ashley O to succeed at the cost of mental health, and when that hits a roadblock, she puts Ashley in a coma and sets about replacing her with a Virtual Celebrity version of herself.
  • Stalker Shrine: Rachel's room is decorated will multiple Ashley O posters. Lampshaded by Ashley Too:
    Ashley Too: Oh, yeah, you got the full shrine going on here.
  • Surprisingly Happy Ending: Surprisingly for an episode of Black Mirror, the episode ends on a positive note: Ashley is rescued from her abusive manager/aunt and is now free to create music she actually wants to create. And though she loses much of her old teenybopper fanbase (save Rachel, who seems to be warming up quite well to her new material), she gains a new audience, and Jack is finally able to show off her musical talent and Rachel and Ashley become close friends. Even Ashley Too sticks around and seems a lot happier.
  • Take That!: The episode is an unsubtle attack on how Miley Cyrus' image was controlled and managed while she was a Disney star. It prominently features the girls' dad's job as an exterminator hunting down mice, including his grotesque mouse Thememobile. (Mice? The Mouse? Get it?)
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: Ashley's aunt poisoned her food to get her into a coma.
  • Tap on the Head: Attempted by Jack when she hits the security guard on the back of the head with a steel medical tray. All it does is piss him off. Luckily for Jack, her sister has the idea of trying a syringe full of sedatives meant for Ashley, which works just fine.
  • Teen Idol: Ashley O is a bubblegum pop singer idolized by teens like Rachel.
  • Training Montage: Of Rachel preparing at home for her dance performance.
  • Trigger Phrase:
    • Ashley Too turns on and off in response to the commands "Ashley, wake up" and "Ashley, go to sleep". The Unwitting Instigator of Doom is the newscaster on TV who turns Ashley Too on by asking "When will Ashley wake up?", allowing the doll to watch the newscast about her original's tragic fate and triggering her Heroic BSoD.
    • The real Ashley's Aunt Catherine coldly says "Ashley, go to sleep" after drugging her food, indicating she doesn't see her any differently than one of the Ashley Too dolls.
  • Uncanny Valley: Ashley Too at first, due to her blank expressions and robotically cheerful personality. Subverted once she wakes up, as she quickly learns how to express by controlling the lights on her eyes and shows her true full emotional range.
  • "The Villain Sucks" Song: The original "Head Like A Hole" becomes this at the end; In-Universe, Ashley wrote it about Catherine. While Ashley is stuck in a comatose state, this is her only real means of protest.
  • Virtual Celebrity: The idea behind "Ashley Eternal", being a holographic version of Ashley that can sing, dance, and record Ashley O-style music.