Black Mirror: Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too
June 5, 2019 11:14 AM - Season 5, Episode 3 - Subscribe

A lonely teenager yearns to connect with her favorite pop star - whose charmed existence isn't quite as rosy it appears...
posted by rhizome (26 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I thought this was genuinely fun. The pacing was a bit weird and I kept waiting for it to take a much darker turn than it did. It actually didn't turn dark at all but became a kind of giddy comedy. As far as Black Mirror "twists" go, I'm absolutely going to take that.

I liked how much it centered young women with respect and empathy. Angourie Rice as Rachel and Madison Davenport as Jack were delightful and Miley Cyrus surprised me (but not so much in the "pop star turns bad -- so edgy!" way).

Rewriting Nine Inch Nails songs as pop song is next-level dystopian and I applaud Charlie Brooker for that.

Was this perfect? No, but I also think I'll watch it again.
posted by darksong at 11:49 AM on June 5, 2019 [9 favorites]

Would I listen to an entire album of Miley singing creepily cheer-ified NIN covers? I totally would. And on repeat.
posted by mochapickle at 10:12 PM on June 5, 2019 [14 favorites]

Whoa: Brooker said he also reworked "Hurt" as "Flirt," but couldn't find a place for it in the episode.


I want it. I want it so much.

If Brooker had reeeeeally wanted to be experimental, instead of this episode, he should have just produced and released a whole album of random Miley-pop NIN covers as Ashley O, otherwise uncommented. Like, it just suddenly shows up in stores and in streaming for a week and then just as suddenly disappears, so it feels like a fever dream.
posted by mochapickle at 6:53 AM on June 6, 2019 [9 favorites]

We had a thread recently about Britney's problem. In very broad strokes, the people responsible for her welfare stand to gain the most by keeping her under their permanent control. If borrowing from real life is what makes Black Mirror relatable, it makes me wonder how much involvement Miley had in the creative process here.

And since I mentioned Britney, listen to 'Baby One More Time' performed by Travis. Stripped of the bounce-wit-me beat and r'n'b instrumentation, it's actually a pretty gloomy song. Weird Al has proven that any song can be a polka, so it doesn't surprise me that Head Like a Hole can pass as a pop song. It does delight me though.

The post-pop Ashley was a good place to end, but they flubbed the song. They needed to record the song in a garage with a 4 track. Lip-syncing while crowdsurfing is a punk rock oxymoron. They were so close!
posted by adept256 at 8:17 AM on June 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

Having said that, the other Nine Inch Nails song re-imagined was Right Where It Belongs. You really have to tweak the dials to turn that into bubblegun.

I was about to correct the bubblegun typo, but maybe that's what the cheerified genre should be called
posted by adept256 at 8:26 AM on June 6, 2019 [5 favorites]

I enjoyed this one. I agree that the pacing was a little off, but once it hit its stride it was great.

Sidenote: If they ever need someone to play a young Amy Adams, Angourie Rice is their girl.
posted by Tabitha Someday at 6:50 PM on June 6, 2019

I haven't seen the episode yet - not sure I will as I don’t think I could stomach any reworking of NIN songs for personal reasons, I did find this I09 piece on how the episode frames teenage female fandoms interesting though:

Black Mirror Continues trend of making teenage girls the Punchline.

Also Miley Cyrus has never redeemed herself nor apologise for her blatant racism in the past, so the episode might not work for me if I don’t have empathy for one of the main protagonists.
posted by Faintdreams at 4:37 AM on June 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

In the reimagining-pop-songs subgenre, there's "Oops I Did It Again" as performed by Richard Thompson.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:22 AM on June 7, 2019

I really disagree with that i09 piece -- I didn't think it was mocking teenage girls for what they liked at all, nor do I think it was mocking pop music. Rachel retreated into the superficial positivity of pop music & Jack retreated into the "angry" rock their mom liked. They were both trying to deal with their pain through music.

Rachel found confidence by interacting with the Ashley Too, becoming willing to perform in the talent show (and she criticizes Jack for only ever playing her guitar in her room, saying at least she's brave enough to be in front of people). I think it's important, though, that Rachel was only connecting with an idea of Ashley -- and not the real Ashley.

I feel like the scene at the end wasn't so much Rachel rejecting pop music for the "real" music her sister liked. It was her supporting her sister, who was now performing on stage, and it was her understanding Ashley was a human. I think she still likes pop music.

I am pretty sensitive to media that mocks teenage girls and I didn't get the feeling from this episode.
posted by darksong at 8:08 AM on June 7, 2019 [20 favorites]

One thing I really enjoyed the show zigging instead of zagging on was the talent show dance handling. I was already bracing for it to be a total social implosion from it going disastrously wrong, like Carrie without telekinetic violence catharsis, and be an inflection point for Rachel plunging into a madness spiral (that would intertwine with Jack and Ashley Too, naturally. Black Mirror literacy sets up its own expectation, like instantly calling it the very split second first moment of the "AI" doll appearing that it was a consciousness-copy situation).

Instead it was a pleasant surprise that it was just a little clumsy and awkward and a fall at the end, sure, but the audience wasn't a pointing-and-jeering All Going To Laugh At You horror, but mostly ranged from bored "huh" to pained sympathy. It felt far more devastating to Rachel, of course, but that's all it needed to be.

I also would very much like to hear Ashley O's "Hurt" cover "Flirt"!
posted by Drastic at 11:42 AM on June 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

I honestly thought at the point the dad was going to 'save the show' by debuting his better mouse trap except it doesn't work and the mice escape into the audience and Rachel dies of shame. Him picking up the school's mouse trap was a big misdirection that totally got me.
posted by adept256 at 6:12 PM on June 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

See, I'd thought the Ashley Too was some some sort of Trojan horse. Bad Aunt Catherine knew Ashley O was eventually going to get too hard to control and would need to be seamlessly replaced, so she had adorable tiny robot spies created to end up in the homes of Ashley fans everywhere. The robot would then scan these young womens' faces and bodies, get them to sing, get them to dance, and then tabulate, score and use that data to narrow down the best candidates for a secret Ashley O cyberclone to replace the original Ashley O! Jack figures it out, but she is too late!

You know, kind of like how they replaced Avril Lavigne with a clone after she died in 2003.

Anyway, I thought Rachel was going to either end up cyborged up and shining on a megastage, or instead sadly abandoned in pieces in a lab, sort of beeping and whirring, blinking blankly at the background sound of tinny pop emitting from somewhere in her throat.

The dad's real mouse/fake mouse is an easy and persistent metaphor for real Ashley/robotic rachelAshley.
posted by mochapickle at 6:54 PM on June 7, 2019 [8 favorites]

I'm still not sure what to think about the ending. It is like a kids' movie ending, like FaintDream's article notes, but I don't quite see that it's making teen girls the punchline. It is another kind of teen fantasy, they win and then they get to just be young and express themselves, but in the fictional world it is not being shaped, industrialized, packaged and sold. In the real world, though, it is a little bit; it's a BM episode yes, that's fine.

Maybe I'm too hesitant to think a show can be saying something so different than its tone, without clear signaling.

Anyway I laughed when I recognized "Head Like a Hole". They overused it but it was good to play it for the aunt in her big moment as her words and her dream, and the other end of the self-actualization pipeline.
posted by fleacircus at 7:48 PM on June 10, 2019

One thing I noticed about all three of these episodes is how there's alot of emphasis on listening/being heard. In Striking Vipers, Theo is begging Danny to let her listen to him and when he finally does, everything works out for the best. In Smithereens, Chris just wants to be heard and asks over and over again and Billy says he hears him. In this one, I think it's Ashley Too that puts the emphasis on listening to Rachel.
posted by LizBoBiz at 4:45 AM on June 12, 2019 [6 favorites]

I thoroughly enjoyed this one. And I'd listen to a bubblegum NIN cover album.
posted by biscotti at 12:58 PM on June 14, 2019

I totally did not twig that the songs were NIN covers until I was talking about the "Head Like a Hole" cover at the end on Facebook and one of my old roommates wrote back "dude, did you not get that that's the same song as "I'm On A roll"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:35 PM on June 15, 2019 [1 favorite]



Nine Inch Nails has commissioned a T-SHIRT tie-in with this
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:41 PM on June 15, 2019 [10 favorites]

That was great. I liked both the lead characters and so was full of dread about the inevitable dark twist.
And then it turned in to a mad cap 80s teen comedy.
That’s a bold tone switch!

BTW, I noticed a Sugar Ape magazine meaning that Black Mirror and Nathan Barley exist in the same universe. That’s ringing a faint bell so maybe it’s something that was linked before. Either way, it brought me pleasure.
posted by chill at 2:12 PM on June 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'm pretty lukewarm on Black Mirror overall, but this was pretty good, or at least pretty entertaining.

I was excited to see Jack reading Jim Dodge's novel Stone Junction at one point. I bought it years ago because Thomas Pynchon wrote an introduction to the 1997 edition. I should re-read it soon, because I remember liking it a whole lot.
posted by heteronym at 6:58 PM on June 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

If this season is a prequel to the others, then presumably Ashley's pills are an early version of Cuppliance from Fifteen Million Merits.

Do you think there was also a component meant to enhance her dreams and thus songwriting? At least one real-life antidepressant has vivid dreams as a common side effect. Possibly she's just good at lucid dreaming and/or grabbing a pen and journal immediately on waking, though.
posted by Flannery Culp at 6:13 AM on June 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

This was actually my favorite episode of this season which really surprised me since I tend to like the darker Black Mirror episodes better and I have a deep antipathy for Miley Cyrus.

I kinda want my own foul-mouthed Ashely Too.
posted by Julnyes at 12:12 PM on June 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

Ok, I'll go back and read all the other comments in a minute, but first:


Which happened four days after this episode went live on Netflix, so while it's possible they hastily threw together a parody this episode it's equally likely that "spokesperson/CEO gets put into a coma and her marketing team decides to steal her coma thoughts to keep using her image to sustain their business empire" is just, like, a thing that's in the zeitgeist now.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:17 PM on June 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

Anyway, since Ashley O wrote "Head Like a Hole" in this universe, does that mean the inflection point between our universe and the show's is that Trent Reznor doesn't exist in the Black Mirrorverse?
posted by tobascodagama at 7:25 PM on June 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

In most universes, he is mild-mannered Ron Zertnert.

I am usually down for the most unrelentingly grim episodes, but I found this one entertaining (although I grant it didn't feel much like a Black Mirror episode).
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:58 PM on July 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

The high point of this episode for me was when Ashley Too squared up to Jack and asked her if the only music she was interested in was the stuff her dead mother liked. But then they sort of dispensed with the idea of Ashley Too handing out unsettling insights.

The tone shift from her freaking out about the news report to the reveal of her true personality worked for me, but the wacky car chase stuff did not. Once the kids started screwballing around the big scary security guy pretty much all of the tension the rest of the episode had built up started bleeding off rapidly, and that felt unfortunate.
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:24 AM on July 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

This was terrific and I loved it, for reasons mostly identical to what nice people above have already listed.

For a UK-originated show, they had a pretty good handle on America. There was one clanger where Rachel says "My mother was called Genevieve." That's such a UK way to give a name. It's minor, but it clanged a bit, like if Rachel had taken a lift or gone to the loo.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:23 AM on July 13, 2019 [4 favorites]

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