How far would you go to protect your child? That’s the big question that Black Mirror “Arkangel” seeks to examine…
In “Arkangel”, a mother looks to protect her daughter Sara by installing a new kind of GPS system in her head. Not only does it tell her where Sara is at all times, she can also see everything Sara sees and can even filter out anything that she does’t want her daughter to witness. The whole thing sounds ideal at first, but when Sara grows up not understanding the full range of human emotions, and as the mother becomes more obsessed with the technology, it begins to seem more like a curse…
In lesser hands, “Arkangel” could have been a one-note parable about bad parenting. However, the ethical ambiguity is kept effectively murky throughout. The key to this is how the mother, Marie (as she is credited, her name is not actually used in the episode), is made into a sympathetic character and not a a two-dimensional monster. In particular, the opening scene which sees Marie feeling guilt over not being give birth to her daughter without a Caesarian section is a very clever way of introducing the idea of her overriding feelings of being an inferior mother.
Writer Charlie Brooker also does a good job of examining the various symptoms the Arkangel could have on Sara, ranging from a thirst to rebel against her safe existence to violent tendencies perhaps engendered by a stunted understanding of right and wrong. The filter on Sara’s vision is the most chilling aspect of the story, which leads to a bleak conclusion as Sara is unable to see herself beating her mother half to death.
Yes, in typical Brooker fashion, the climax is soaked in dramatic irony. Though it doesn’t go as dark as some other BM endings, “Arkangel” finishes as bleak as can be for Marie. After a lifetime doing everything she can to keep her daughter by her side, Marie has lost Sara for good. And she’s also open to all sorts of danger by hopping into a stranger’s truck.
As with the many of the best Black Mirrors, “Arkangel” leaves us pondering a moral quandary: parents will naturally do anything to keep their children safe, but how much is too much? At what point should a mother’s protectiveness give way to the child’s free will? I suppose the answer will vary with each individual. But I wouldn’t be surprised if a real-life Arkangel doo-hickey was invented in the next few years to complicate matters.
Callbacks and Cameos:
- A stuffed version of the foul-mouthed cartoon bear Waldo from season one’s “The Waldo Moment” can be seen in Sara’s stroller in the early scenes. He did become the mascot of a totalitarian regime in his episode, so it makes sense he’d have merchandise.
- Teenage Sara has a poster of a musician named Tusk on her bedroom wall. He previously appeared in season three’s “Hated in the Nation.”
- The Arkangel implant is very reminscient of the memory-recording Grain implant from season one’s “The Entire History Of You.” In fact, the memory scroll-back interface looks identical to the Grain’s, suggesting it’s an updated version of the same tech.
- This episode was thin on the ground of celebrity cameos as far as I could see, but it’s worth discussing that Jodie Foster – yes, that Oscar-nominated actress Jodie Foster – directed “Arkangel.” She did a very solid job, lending the episode an indie movie edge which nicely contrasted with the mini-blockbuster feel of “U.S.S. Callister.”