Arkangel, one of the new episodes in Black Mirror Season 4, started out innocently enough. We all thought the technology would take a bad turn, but as usual with Black Mirror, that turn was even darker than we had expected. It’s a cautionary tale of a mother who is so intent on never losing her daughter that she puts herself in danger of causing her own worst fears to happen. But will she triumph in the end? Anyone who’s rebelled against their parents at some point will relate to this episode, and anyone who’s worried excessively about their children will be able to relate to this episode too. This review and analysis is going to have spoilers for the episode Arkangel and previous seasons, so make sure you’ve watched the episode before reading on.
The episode begins with Sara’s birth, which apparently required a C-section. At first Sara didn’t cry, and the fright of that may have started her mother, Marie, down the road of being pretty much the ultimate helicopter parent. Marie’s dad is doubtful about his daughter’s decisions, noting that he wasn’t nearly as watchful and let her have bad experiences from time to time, and she turned out just fine. But she won’t be heeding this warning, not even a little bit.
When Sara’s a toddler, Marie turns her back for a second and Sara’s following a cat out of the park. She gets lost for a while and with the help of other people in the area, Marie’s able to find Sara. But this is enough to make Marie decide that the dangers are not worthwhile and she has to find a better way to keep an eye on her daughter.
We’ll eventually learn that everything Marie tries to do to protect her daughter backfires and ultimately puts her daughter in more danger. Marie’s anxiety and overprotectiveness leads to the very thing she’s trying to avoid. She’s creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that will cause her worst nightmare to come true. This is a cautionary tale for anyone who uses tech (or other means for that matter) to create a false sense of security. Yes, certain modes of caution are worthwhile. But you should always watch yourself to make sure you don’t go overboard. At some point, too much security and caution becomes just as dangerous, and you lose the very life you’re trying to protect.
Marie takes Sara to the Arkangel office, where they take part in a trial that’s “fully tested,” she’s assured. It’s interesting how Marie is so worried about her daughter, but she’s willing to trust this woman with new, unproven tech. As we learn later, the tech is eventually banned. Why is Marie willing to trust untested technology more than herself and her child?
I watched the Arkangel office closely and couldn’t find any signs of what company is running Arkangel. If you see a clue, let me know in the comments below. This season is revealing some interconnections from previous episodes, and it would be fascinating to see if this tech is part of that. The only thing I did notice was that the device they used to inject Arkangel is similar in some ways to a device we see in Black Museum, except the one in Black Museum looks like it’s older tech. (I won’t say anymore, so I don’t spoil Black Museum at all for you. But when you’re watching the episode, you’ll notice what I’m talking about.)
Arkangel will always show Marie where Sara is and it will let Marie see through her daughter’s eyes (very creepy.) It also keeps track of her vitals and, most creepy of all, has a parental filter feature that blurs out any unsafe images or words that cause Sara’s heartbeat and other stress-indicative levels to increase. Honestly, the blurring is super creepy and looks almost scarier than the images the blur is hiding. Also, it shelters Sara way too much. She needs to slowly learn over time how to handle stress and negativity. Instead, it’s all hidden from her. She can’t see a dog that’s barking, her grandfather while he’s in distress, or even violent videos. She won’t be emotionally prepared once the filter is finally off.
We’ve seen tech sort of similar to this on Black Mirror before. In White Christmas, there was a tech that would “red” a person out via a Z-Eye block. This prevents the person from hearing anything the blocked person has to say or interacting with them at all, and the person only appears as a silhouette. This can even be taken a step further, where someone gets Z-Eye blocked by everyone (for example, if they are registered as a sex offender.) In some ways, this method of blocking someone is similar to the blocking done through the parental controls of Arkangel. Arkangel’s goes so far it even filters graves and crying.
It turns out that Sara has no recognition of emotions, thanks to the filter. She thinks fighting is just talking. Yes, this had a very bad effect on her. Because of privacy issues and other problems, Arkangel is banned. Sadly, Sara’s can’t be removed, but at least it can be turned off. And Marie does this, thrusting Sara into an unfiltered world with no preparation.
Sara seems to adjust well. She makes friends with the dog, makes friends at school, and gets a boyfriend. Like any teenager, she rebels and lies to her mom about where she’s going. Marie freaks out and pulls out Arkangel, realizing her daughter was experimenting with drugs. She forces Trick to break up with Sara in the most heartbreaking way possible.
Once again, we see that Marie’s protectiveness is misplaced. Her emotions are becoming warped. She wants Sara for herself, it seems, not really caring how she gets hurt in the process. She even goes so far as to force Sara to have a miscarriage by putting a drug in her smoothie. Marie no longer has boundaries and no longer considers her daughter’s emotions.
Sara, meanwhile, still doesn’t truly understand how to handle anger. She beats her mother with the Arkangel tablet, the filter turning on and essentially prompting her to beat her mom more because she can’t feel or see the effects of what she’s doing. She takes off, hitchhiking out of town and putting herself in the most danger she’s ever been, all because her mom was so overprotective.
In the end, Marie is calling out for Sara and can’t find her. The scene is eerily similar to when she lost Sara at the playground. It’s all come full circle, but now things are much, much worse. Her father warned her this would happen. She didn’t listen, and now Sara is gone.
I’m wondering if Sara will show up in a future episode, perhaps mentioned on a ticker. She could end up anywhere, now that’s taken off and is hitchhiking far, far away.