Black Mirror has always been a series that pushed the envelope, with some great episodes, some perplexing episodes, and the rare few that fall flat. Fans have been enamored with the show, especially since it was picked up by Netflix and has only asked wilder questions and explored even more shocking scenarios.
While every season has its low points, Black Mirror dropped the ball in its short, three episode season, but not because of quality. Overall, the season was great. Well, 2/3 of the season. The season failed by having its final episode feel utterly pedestrian compared to the other two. “Striking Vipers” explored complex, vague, and undefined sexuality. “Smithereens” juxtaposed the grandness and tragedy of technology with the horrors of grief.
And then there’s “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too”. Compared to its predecessors, it’s a bizarre and uninspired tale that could be found in a lower grade YA novel. Considering YA novels can be damn good sometimes, it’s really a shame. The science behind it doesn’t really make sense, and the characters and story are not strong enough to cover that up.
But the true, difficult trouble with “Rachel, Jack and Ashely Too” stems from a concept students learn in creative writing classes: don’t start your story at the wrong point.
Y’see, sometimes a writer can get an okay idea that, over time, can become something much, much better. However, if started at the wrong point, they can struggle to get to what’s actually interesting and complex.
This Black Mirror story missed the mark by not starting at the release of the Ashley hologram, something that didn’t happen until the last fifteen minutes. Beginning the story here would have been much, much better. The true hook for the episode would have been more about the morality of using an artist’s image and creativity past their ability to approve it. If Ashley wanted to stop, no one would know. No one could honor her wishes.
Instead, fans got stuck with weird family arguments, rat control, and basically a bad Scooby Doo episode.
How interesting could this story have been if they went at it from that different point of view? And that doesn’t necessarily mean Rachel and Jack don’t have to matter; they could still be our lens into the story. Instead, their point of contention could have been how they felt about Ashley’s hologram and continued music. Rachel could have thought it was beautiful for fans to still be able to love and enjoy her music. Jack could have felt it was a breach of identity. This could have been their “hill to die on” when it came to their own conflicts after losing their mom. The story could have slowly revealed that Jack and their dad agreed to pull the plug on her, and Rachel felt helpless and only wished she could just see her, if if comatose in a bed.
And the Ashely technology would only exacerbate that conflict. Jack could think that the connection to Ashley is disingenuous, but Rachel could think they lost a chance to still have their mom by ending it. She would argue that maybe they could have heard her, even talk to her. Maybe then they could have, in teenage desperation, gone to see Ashley to know if it felt real or not.
In the end, Black Mirror could have picked a side, on whether the concept of vegetative holograms and music are good or bad. Or it could have been even better it could have ended on a vague answer, unsure what’s the right response to the concept. That the practice and tech can comfort some people, and others just find it a bastardization of the people they once loved.
Instead, the episode made a clear villain, some ridiculous plot shenanigans, and never fleshed out Ashley, Rachel, or Jack to really believe and understand their feelings and relationships to one another.
Compared to how open-ended most of their stories tend to be, it’s just a very disappointing Black Mirror episode. But the worst part is that it didn’t just give an unsatisfying ending, it gave an unsatisfying experience as a whole.
Ashley, Rachel, and Jack’s stories deserved much, much better, and they could have made something great. But the end product just wasn’t.