Creator: Charlie Brooker
Director: Jodie Foster
Starring: Rosemarie DeWitt, Brenna Harding, Owen Teague
A toddler going missing in a park: it is every parent’s worst nightmare. Arkangel, the Jodie Foster-directed installment of the new season of Black Mirror taps into this parental paranoia and takes it to extremes. The plot sees a frazzled mother (Rosemarie DeWitt) sign up to an experimental trial of the new technology “Arkangel”, which inserts an implant into her young child’s head that allows the mother to track her location, see through her eyes, and even block out disturbing content she comes across in real life. It’s a disturbing concept, because, like in the Series 3 episode Nosedive, real life is not so far away from this sci-fi horror, with mobile phone trackers and parental controls already normal in everyday life.
This episode presents us with a moral dilemma: given the technology to monitor your child’s every movement, would you? Should you? It may seem relatively harmless at the start, as the mother watches her young daughter’s walk to her elementary school. However, as you would expect from Black Mirror, the story quickly takes a dark turn as
the technology used for protection and reassurance soon becomes a tool for infringement of privacy and interferes with Sara’s (Brenna Harding) ability to develop into a well-rounded and normal person. The first sign that the Arkangel is as much a tool for destruction as it is for protection happens early on in the episode, as a young Sara stabs herself in the hand repeatedly, trying to break the parental lock that prevents her from seeing her own blood. In an episode where no character is clearly in the right or the wrong, it’s difficult to place what the problem is, and that’s what makes the episode so unsettling.
However, for a concept so ripe for exploration, Arkangel falls curiously short of the awful
gut-wrenching effect we have come to expect from the product of Charlie Brooker’s
mind. The episode rushes over several interesting possibilities that are not expanded
upon: Sara is ostracised in her elementary school as ‘weird’ and a ‘chiphead’ for being
unable to watch violent videos, and her sudden exposure to porn at a young age leads
to a later scene where a now-teenage Sara awkwardly copies a pornstar in her early
sexual experiences. Despite being topics so full of opportunities to develop, and highly
relevant in this day and age, the episode seems to hurry over them to get to the ‘point’
of the story. Instead, Arkangel hurriedly rushes to its twisted climax that brings with it more moral dilemmas and extreme cost for the characters.
This episode is perhaps a return to a traditional Black Mirror concept: modern
technology once again being the culprit of damaging social dynamics and the source of
powers that we’re better off not having. Arkangel doesn’t have the gut-punch impact of
previous episodes like White Christmas or Men Against Fire, but it is still a valuable exploration of the highly relevant issue of surveillance and privacy, and a reminder that the concepts of Black Mirror are drawn from our everyday lives.