Cyrus stars as both a heightened version of herself and a miniature robot version of her character in this uncharacteristically comedic romp into the underbelly of pop stardom.
In a shortened fifth season for "Black Mirror," which premiered today on Netflix, most of the initial attention has been on Miley Cyrus’ turn as what basically amounts to a version of herself.
And while most fans and critics are heaping praise on the season’s premiere episode, "Striking Vipers" as its "San Junipero" or "U.S.S. Callister" installment for the year, there’s also a lot of praise being laid at the feet of Cyrus for her performance in "Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too" … even if the episode itself is receiving mixed reviews.
In many ways the installment is a bit of a departure for the "Black Mirror" franchise, feeling more like a quirky ’80s sci-fi comedy film than a bleak look at how technology is going to ruin all of our lives. It still plays with advancements in technology and certainly has dark elements, but it also had what basically amount to a happy ending for all the good guys, which is rare indeed for this series.
That aside, there is still a lot to appreciate about this lighter episode, aside from Cyrus’ admittedly strong performance both as a fictionalized version of herself and as the voice of the Ashley Too robot.
Story-wise, there are some major flaws, unless the message that believing in yourself can lead to humiliation is one they wanted to put out there. The younger sister’s storyline doesn’t really go anywhere and there is no payoff for her attempts to gain self-confidence with the support of the Ashley Too.
Her father missed out on her talent show performance — which was admittedly kind of a disaster — because he was more concerned about mouse traps, but even that plot thread didn’t lead anywhere or mean anything.
What is more realistic is the fact that much of pop music is all fake propaganda, and especially the Disney-style pop star that Ashley O is, and that Miley Cyrus was in her Hannah Montana days. It’s not always about genuine musical connections and sincerity as much as it can be about a brand.
Much like Miley radically broke free from her earlier image and contracts, Ashley wanted to do the same thing. The problem is that she had a ruthless manager in her aunt, and the kind of advanced technology that can pull songs out of your unconscious mind, so what do you really need the person alive for. The aunt even started planning a hologram tour, which is a pretty clear dig at that sort of thing happening in real life with dead celebrities.
Perhaps the flaw of the episode is that its focus was split between Ashley’s story and the story of these two sisters trying to come to terms with the loss of their mother. Neither story was given proper attention and none of the characters were given any emotional depth or weight. Everything stayed pretty close to the surface.
Again, there was no payoff for the sisters’ journey at all and there were apparently no consequences for their dire actions in getting Ashley to the venue where Aunt Evil (we made that name up) was trying to promote Ashley Eternal (the hologram edition). There were police involved, a car was stolen, people were injured back at Ashley’s house and we got no follow-through on any of that. We didn’t even learn Aunt Evil’s fate.
Instead, we got a tacked on ending with Ashley performing in some dive venue with the older sister inexplicably on guitar while the younger sister and Ashley Too watch. Oh and Ashley wrote "Head Like a Hole" in this world (a nod to Trent Reznor, who apparently wrote all the music for the episode).
Dad is still ignoring his children and trying to hawk his better mousetrap ideas and that’s kind of where things were left with that family, so they’re probably just as dysfunctional as ever, but at least they have a new, rich friend.
Regardless of the weaknesses in plot and character, Cyrus did really knock this performance out of the park. You could tell she definitely related to at least her charater’s arc, feeling like someone else is in control of your creative output and your thoughts and opinions are irrelevant to the money machine generated by some version of you that isn’t real.
It’s easy to forget that Miley Cyrus came to us acting and singing as she’s done so much more of the latter. And especially as this is a bit of a novelty role, being as it’s basically a heightened version of herself. Nevertheless, she didn’t treat this as a novelty gig to sell Netflix subscriptions and bring buzz to the new season. She really gave this performance her all, and showed a lot of range and depth.
Her fans are already ready to hand her an Emmy for this performance. It remains to be seen if the Academy will gift her a nomination, but it certainly helps that "Black Mirror" has become a favorite of theirs. Check out some of the early reactions to "Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too" below:
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