Directed by Jodie Foster and scripted by Charlie Brooker, ‘Arkangel’ does not rely on clever Black Mirror-style twists. Instead it finds its shock value through linear storytelling and the show’s biggest motivator: fear. In the episode’s opening scene, we are introduced to a lone mother nervously expecting her first child by ways of a caesarean section. A kind nurse gently talks her through the procedure, even offers her hand to squeeze. It is the only sense of warmth we get in an otherwise cold and sterile environment, the absence of a supportive husband or family member speaking volumes.
The mother-to-be, Marie (Rosemarie DeWitt), is anxious, yearning to meet the child she has carried inside the safety of her womb for nine months. When her baby daughter finally enters the world, she does so silently, causing Marie to fear the worst. The nurse assures her everything will be okay as the doctors tend to the child, but she cannot be calmed – every fibre of her being senses something is wrong. Finally, her daughter, Sara, cries out for the very first time.
A few years on, Marie takes her three-year-old daughter to the park. While Sara explores the playground and befriends a cat, Marie gets to talking to another mother. Within a matter of seconds, she loses sight of Sara and runs through the park in a panic. Fellow park-goers and neighbours join in the search and Sara is eventually found near the train tracks, where she followed the cat to. She is unharmed and seemingly oblivious to the danger she put herself in, but Marie simply cannot recuperate from the shock.
Determined to keep Sara safe at all times – regardless of the cost – she decides to try the Arkangel, a security system designed to allow parents to monitor their children. At first, Marie is only interested in tracking her daughter’s whereabouts, but with the many other options offered to facilitate Sara’s life, Marie’s protectiveness soon reaches new heights.
It all starts innocently enough, but later Sara is ostracised by her peers due to her lack of worldliness and her inability to read social cues such as anger, sadness and even pain, for these are emotions she has never actually witnessed filter-free. Although she is capable of feeling these sentiments, she does not know how to order them, let alone how to work through them, leading to a violent confrontation with her mother. When it transpires that the Arkangel might be to blame for her daughter’s impeded psychological development, Marie decides to let go of her compulsive need to protect Sara – until a few years on, when her teenage shenanigans cause Marie to relive that nightmarish day at the park.
Like season three opener, Nosedive, ‘Arkangel’ is not what you might be expecting from Black Mirror. Compared to many of the shows adrenaline-charged episodes, ‘Arkangel’ is relatively calm and level-headed in its presentation, an approach that pairs well with Foster’s directorial style. It is captivating and sensitive in its depiction of maternal instincts, but there was one minor flaw to Sara’s “awakening” to an unfiltered world: realistically, it would have taken a child much longer to acclimate to the real world after a lifetime of living in a bubble, but Sara seems to handle the sudden change without much consequence.
‘Arkangel’ takes the concept of Helicopter-Parenting to an entirely new level (“The key to good parenting is control”). The world is rapidly changing, and parenting methods that were considered appropriate just 20 years ago may not hold up today. But, if a parent’s only solution is to edit and control a child’s natural experience, we are certainly doing more harm than good. A kid needs to roll in the mud to build its natural defences, they need to feel and understand the spectrum of human emotion in order to evolve. Postponing, or even attempting to halt these developments entirely, will surely stunt a child’s growth and stop them from becoming the person they could be.
The key to good parenting is knowing when to let go – but given the chance, wouldn’t every parent want access to the Arkangel system when their teenage daughter goes missing? There’s a fine line between over-protectiveness and the invasion of privacy and, in this day and age, it is becoming increasingly blurred. Your mother is watching you, and she doesn’t like what she’s seeing.
Black Mirror Season 4 is available on Netflix from 29 December.
Published 6 Dec 2017
By Ella Donald
The new season of the dark social satire features a refreshingly tragedy-free queer relationship.
The Black Mirror writer discusses the show’s switch to Netflix, and why he loves torturing his characters.
Before Charlie Brooker’s dark social satire, there was Donald Cammell’s technophobic sci-fi.