Black Mirrothon Part 15: ‘Arkangel’
Now that was a good episode! Clearly the creative juices behind Black Mirror are still flowing!
Director: Jodie Foster
Writer: Charlie Brooker
Cast: Rosemarie DeWitt, Brenna Harding, Nicholas Campbell, Owen Teague, Sarah Abbott
Premise: A mother implants her daughter with monitoring technology which allows her to watch through her eyes and censor out anything that upsets her throughout childhood. As her daughter grows older the mother is tempted to spy on her once again.
Review: ‘Arkangel’ sets itself up well, getting straight into parent nightmare scenarios. Marie (DeWitt) has a difficult birth which includes a heart stopping moment where is looks like the child hasn’t made it, and as a 3 year old her daughter Sara (Aniya Hodge) wandered off from a playground to follow a cat, causing a manhunt. DeWitt is a strong enough performer to help us feel the full weight of fear that would accompany these moments. It’s after these instances that Marie decides to equip Sara with the Arkangel technology, the most immediately noticeable effect being the censorship of anything that causes Sara to feel stress.
After jumping forward a few years we find Sara (Abbott) has been somewhat outcast by her implant, but very curious about what she’s missing out on. When she starts experiencing mental health issue, Marie is informed that Arkangel technology was to be taken off the market as a result of these side-effects. Not that we, the audience, were surprised to learn this. We already saw all the side-effects, including not knowing what is wrong when her Grandfather suffers a stroke or being able to see her mother express grief.
Marie shelves her tablet, which links her to Sara, and we return to their lives when Sara is 15 (Harding). In one of the episode’s strongest features, the teenage characters are very well written. They feel complex and conflicted, embodying common traits of teenagers without reducing them down to stereotypes. It’s worth noting because, best intentions or not, this is rarely achieved.
What happens from this point is largely inconsequential. When Marie starts spying through her daughter’s eyes she happens to do so at the specific moment Sara experiments with dirty talk during her first sexual encounter and the exact moments she experiments with drugs. These snapshot moments are enough to convince Marie that Sara is off the rails and begins interfering in her life, leading to violent confrontation that results in Sara running away.
By this point in the story we’ve already seen the damage and risks caused by the Arkangel implant, and we already know that clingy and overly protective parents can be problematic. It’s the premise behind Psycho, one of the best known thrillers of all time. It becomes very clear where the episode is going to end up and it does nothing to surprise us from that point forward. The narrative is also weakened by the ridiculously precise timing in when Marie spies on teenage Sara when they could have make it less shocking or unclear what was happening, with Marie jumping to conclusions due to her over-protective nature.
It’s also unclear how the technology is activated. It’s explained simply as the censorship kicking in when Sara shows biological signs of stress. But later we see it censoring out pictures drawn by Sara herself. I can’t imagine she would be that stressed out by a crude representation of violence that she created herself. It feels very iffy.
Unfortunately this is the first episode that felt like a disappointment despite being fairly well directed and acted.
That Moment When You Feel Your Stomach Drop: Honestly I don’t think there is one.
Links to Other Episodes: In a weirdly heavy handed reference we see a clip of Raiman from ‘Men Against Fire’ shooting at Roaches. Lifting an entire clip from a previous episode, such an obviously displayed one, feels like a real disconnect.
If you want to count it, there’s also the similarity between the user interface of the Arkangel system and the Grains from ‘The Entire History of You’.
Ranking Black Mirror: The only unexpected thing in this episode is how predictable it is.
- ‘U.S.S. Callister’
- ‘Fifteen Million Merits’
- ‘San Junipero’
- ‘White Christmas’
- ‘Shut Up and Dance’
- ‘Be Right Back’
- ‘White Bear’
- ‘The National Anthem’
- ‘Hated in the Nation’
- ‘The Waldo Moment’
- ‘Men Against Fire’
- ‘The Entire History of You’