In season 5 of Black Mirror, a lonely individual uses technology as a crutch in order to build personal connections in an alienating society, but ultimately high-tech advancements only sever our humanity from our daily routines.
Actually, that's every episode of Black Mirror: a formula so tiresome and wrung dry of twist-endings that the series has careened off the razor's edge of creator Charlie Booker's once sharp commentary on how our fixation with digitizing the world will doom us to dystopia. Season 5's three new episodes are shades of the series' former glory. Anthony Mackie plays a domestic man experiencing a high-tech mid-life crisis in "Striking Vipers," an episode bogged down with heavy-handed commentary about virtual reality offering more intimacy than real life. In "Smithereens," Andrew Scott (Sherlock) plays a car service driver who uses his company's ride sharing app to target and abduct a senior executive. His mental breakdown is brought on by the alienation and dehumanization of a tech-focused society, as we lose the ability to discern genuine connection from manufactured "relatability" and blah, blah, blah.
The main reason most people will bother to stream season 5 is that Miley Cyrus' episode, "Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too," received most of the promotional press coverage leading up to the season premiere. After her terrible EP dropped this week, Miley's starring role in the episode shows off her finely crafted ars poetica; as she told Booker when she took the role, "It'll piss people off... and pissing people off is kind of my thing."
Black Mirror: Rachel, Jack, And Ashley Too - Official Trailer youtu.be
Ashley O. is an international pop star, an icon of female empowerment, and a role model to legions of teenage girls. But deep inside she's suffering (aside from the burden of being played by Miley Cyrus in a rejected Katy Perry wig). Ashley's controlled by her greedy aunt-manager (Susan Pourfar), alternates between depression and rage, and is practically force-fed pills by her record label's unseemly Doctor. After her autonomy is completely stripped from her, Ashley's body and consciousness are scanned and turned into a literal machine: a pop star hologram that writes its own music.
Ashley's foil is her 15-year-old fan Rachel (Angourie Rice), who's essentially a blank slate of teenage angst and mediocrity who fills her lonely high school existence with the bubbly cheeriness of Ashley O.'s music and choreography. Their two worlds collide when Rachel receives a new robotic doll named "Ashley, Too," which is sort of like a manically depressed Wall-E if his head were crammed with Bratz dolls.
Executive producer Annabel Jones told Digital Spy that the role was not written with Miley in mind, but—thanks to its generic, hackneyed take on the perils of superficial fame—Miley related to it. Jones said, "[Miley's] got a very sarcastic sense of humour. She's very acerbic, she's very funny, and she delights in subverting things. Her whole career has been about [being] the Disney popstar who tries to carve out her own identity and as a result has faced a lot of opposition—from her label, and her fans in some respects." Jones shared that Miley found the script "hilarious" and told Jones, "I'm going to have so much fun with this!"
We're certain she did, what with the entire 67-minute episode being "Like a Fucked Up Disney Channel Original Movie." But if you ignore the painful obviousness Booker has defaulted to after abandoning nuance, the episode's highlights include the tiny Ashley, Too's outbursts to "get this fucking cable out of my ass!" and, if you focus real hard, some meta-realistic criticism of the music industry's algorithmic pop shit that's basically written by machines.
But in all truth, you should watch the episode just to hear how Charlie Booker reworked Nine Inch Nails songs into Ashley's O.'s pop hits. Trent Reznor gladly gave his blessing after reading the script, which features a rewrite of "Head Like a Hole" from "Head like a hole / Black as your soul / I'd rather die than give you control" to a teeny bopping anthem, "Hey there, whoah-ho, I'm on a roll / Riding so high, achieving my goals / I'm so stoked on ambition and verve/I'm gonna get what I deserve."
If there's one piece left of Black Mirror's ability to shock us with horrifying surrealism, then it's Nine Inch Nails-turned-pop.