BLACK MIRROR: Miley, Hannah and Ashley Too

Earlier this month, Netflix released the long awaited fifth season of its critically acclaimed series Black Mirror, one that is known for its futuristic technology and often pessimistic story lines. Sometimes, as countless others have put it, it is a vision of what is likely to happen to our world if we continue in our advancements.

The highly anticipated season comes after ‘Bandersnatch’, the first ever interactive episode that allows the viewer to choose the character’s course of action. Much similar to the nature of today’s visual games, the episode was mainly well-received by the audiences despite the disappointment of some who felt like the show did not present a new nor revolutionary idea as the producers claimed.

An example of the interactive choices in Bandersnatch
An example of the interactive choices in Bandersnatch.

Shortly after, the announcement for its fifth season got fans and critics on their toes. Everyone wants to know Black Mirror’s next move, what more could they bring to the table? How many more “Big Brother” like futures can we expect? Is it possible to maintain the standards despite the shift from a British production company to an American one?

And then the cast, teasers and trailers were revealed and the interest suddenly doubles.

Why?  It’s because the cast included BIG names, which was very unlike the show that had previously chosen lesser known actors for their parts. Those big names included Falcon from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) aka Anthony Mackie, Moriarity from BBC’s Sherlock aka Andrew Scott, and one of Pop’s legendary icons aka Miley Cyrus.

Anthony Mackie and Yahya Abdul-Mateen in Striking Vipers.
Anthony Mackie and Yahya Abdul-Mateen in Striking Vipers.

As an enormous fan of the show myself, I managed to watch the three episodes between my exams and here’s what I thought of the season generally as an overall:

The season was frankly a bit disappointing, especially since it is quite below the expectations the fans had set for the show. Compared with earlier seasons and previous episodes such as Nosedive, mediocre writing and repeated tropes just don’t cut it anymore.

However, perhaps that’s a bit harsh. The episodes may not be the peak of the show’s run, let alone modern television, but they weren’t exactly trash. They were just average. I think the best description is that they don’t really feel like Black Mirror episodes, mainly since they don’t offer anything new. There’s no “hot take” and, for some, that’s worse than the episodes actually being bad or awful.

Plus, it’s not only that. The episodes also often felt like they weren’t fleshed out enough; as if we’re merely observing, scratching the surface of each episode’s idea without really divulging into it.

Andrew Scott in Smithereens.
Andrew Scott in Smithereens.

To their defense, I really thought that the actors did their best to make their perspective characters shine. Andrew Scott, the lead actor in Smithereens, is always quite a delight to watch and he doesn’t disappoint. He always excels at making you sympathize with the character he’s playing; I thought his little fits and anxieties felt quite genuine if that makes sense?

Topher Grace, also in Smithereens, felt like perfect casting. He was given a small role, but he managed to feel like a Silicon Valley type and that’s no small feat to me.

Miley in Jack, Rachel and Ashley Too!
Miley in Jack, Rachel and Ashley Too!

My favorite performance, though, was that of one Miley Cyrus. And there’re plenty of reasons why. But before we get into that, let’s discuss her role:

First off, Miley plays Ashley O, a Pop icon that wears a purple wig along with outrageous outfits. (Reminds you of someone? Maybe a certain Disney actress in a show called Hannah Montana?)

Ashley, whose aunt/manager is controlling her life and giving her drugs to be “more creative”, is struggling with her identity and wants to change her life and the kind of music she performs.

Ashley Too, the artificially Inelegant doll.
Ashley Too, the artificially Intelligent doll.

Ashley also has a line of Artificially Intelligent dolls called ‘Ashley too’ that stimulate her brain/behavior. Basically, you could have your own mini-Ashley teaching you how to dance, put on make-up or even give you relationship advice as if it were a person, the real thing.

Now, why do I love this performance?

That’s easy because Miley is the perfect person to play Ashley. In reality, if Miley is anything, she IS Ashley (without, you know, the creepy aunt part).

Just a couple of years back, the name Miley Cyrus was synonymous with the Disney character Hannah Montana. A character that been a worldwide sensation, with Hannah merchandise selling in more than 150 countries. In addition, Miley had 3 albums under her belt as Hannah as well as a major motion picture.

Miley VS Hannah.
Miley VS Hannah.

Miley, as she herself often said, was always regarded as the same person or entity as Hannah. There was no separate identity, which was often problematic as Miley thus never felt as an entirely independent being in her own right.

Understandably, by 2013, Miley was fed up. She was no longer content with just being Hannah, a fictional character made up by writers in a room. She wanted to be more, she wanted to be herself; she wanted to be just Miley.

How did she do that?

Well, we all remember what happened in the 2013 VMAs. (Yes, I’m talking the Robin Thicke and twerking thing.) By doing that, Miley, in a way, set herself free. For many, Miley killed Hannah and released herself. Obviously, similar to Ashley O, Miley had wanted to do her own music, music she related to, music that wasn’t Disney.

Album Art for Bangerz, 2013.
Album Art for Miley Cyrus’s Bangerz, 2013.

And that’s how We Can’t Stop, Wrecking ball and her album Bangerz were born.

Since then, since 2013, Miley had succeeded in creating a new image, in creating Miley, through just simply herself.

It’s only recently that Miley admitted that perhaps it was wrong for her to completely alienate Hannah because, in some way or another, Hannah would always be a part of Miley and her childhood/adolescence whether she wants her to be or not.

Although, the similarity between Ashley and Miley isn’t just in the familiar story-line, it is also in the fact that both of them emerged in a society where Pop culture and celebrity culture is toxic. One where celebrities are forced to always second guess who they are, to aspire to be what they don’t necessarily like being.

Ashley evolved, and so did Miley, but Pop Culture did not and it couldn’t allow them to be who they were (at least at first). Whilst trying to change her imagine, Miley was branded insane and people rushed to call her an addict, or worse, trying to be something she’s not.

Everyone wanted her to just be Hannah, their childhood best friend, the girl who could do no wrong. And it’s the same thing for Ashley; she can’t be who she is because her aunt/manager is so afraid of the change, thinking of change as a risk of losing momentum, and losing momentum means losing fans. And we all know what losing fans mean.

If you think of it, that’s the reality of thousands of celebrities and fan culture doesn’t care.

Miley as Ashley O performing "On A Roll".
Miley as Ashley O performing “On A Roll”.

So for me, I think it’s more ironic than anything for Miley to play Ashley because, in Jack, Rachel and Ashley Too, pop-culture wasn’t just blurry faces of fans or hidden ones behind screens sending tweets. No, here Pop Culture was personified in a person so unwilling to let another change because of their preferences, not willing to let someone evolve, to grow, to become someone else because of what they want, because of their own selfishness.

I love the fact that Miley played Ashley because, in very Miley fashion, she was saying “I don’t care. I’m going to make the music I want to make, I’m going to break the rules I want to break, act the roles I want to act and I’m going to be whoever the hell I want to be simply because I can.”

And that’s a lesson some of us should learn.

P.s. Be sure to check out ‘I’m on a Roll’ aka the pop version of Nine Inch Mail’s ‘Head like a ‘Hole performed by Ashley O. It’s such a catchy bop.