In “Black Mirror,” Miley Cyrus is wearing a wig.
It’s a purple wig, not a blonde one, but the sight of the singer and actress done up like a peppy, cookie-cutter pop star immediately brings to mind the one she once embodied on Disney Channel’s tween hit ”Hannah Montana.” But the “Mirror” version of a world full of platinum records, stadium tours and double lives is distinctly bleaker than Disney’s.
Cyrus stars in one of three new episodes of “Mirror” (Netflix, now streaming) as pop star Ashley O., an emblem of positivity and smiles idolized by teen Rachel (Angourie Rice) and loathed by Rachel’s punk-rock sister Jack (Madison Davenport). Rachel is so obsessed with Ashley she gets an “Ashley, Too” robot doll that channels Ashley’s personality, offering aphorisms, dance moves and makeovers.
The real Ashley, however, is nothing like her candy-colored persona. She’s miserable, and not just because she’s being abused and controlled by her manager/aunt Catherine (Susan Pourfar). Ashley is trying to build enough evidence to get out of her contract and away from her aunt when Catherine figures it out and drugs Ashley into a coma. Catherine then scans Ashley’s body and mind to create new songs and a hologram that can replace her niece forever.
Ashley is saved when Rachel and Jack accidentally unlock the real Ashley personality on the robot, and the foul-mouthed little toy helps them break into the Ashley O compound and free her human counterpart. The three girls and robot literally crash into Catherine’s presentation of the hologram to investors, with the police in tow, and Ashley flips the bird to her deserving aunt.
The idea that fame, success and celebrity is a prison isn’t new, but “Mirror” helps the tale immeasurably by casting Cyrus, who went from a Disney persona to a wild-child image. From the moment Ashley O. appears with her pop-star looks, it’s clear she’s not what she appears. Cyrus is essentially playing herself (or the version of herself many of us have projected on her), and she does it well. The episode is a nightmare version of what the future of celebrity could look like: they’re not people, they’re hit machines.
But the episode isn’t that much of a nightmare. The strangest aspect is its happy and just ending. Ashley lives, the evil aunt gets her comeuppance and scenes of Ashley and Jack rocking out together at a dive bar accompany the closing credits. By “Mirror” standards, that’s the same as a “they lived happily ever after” scroll.
So maybe there’s a little bit of Disney in “Black Mirror,” too.
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