Netflix’s Black Mirror
Season 4, Episode 2: “Arkangel”
Directed by Jodie Foster
Written by Charlie Brooker
* For a recap & review of the Season 4 premiere, “U.S.S. Callister” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Crocodile” – click here
Marie (Rosemarie DeWitt) needs to have a c-section while delivering her daughter. There are complications initially, but things are fine, the baby is alive, well.
One day at the park one day when Sara’s about three she goes missing when mom isn’t looking for a minute. This prompts people to search the neighbourhood, the surrounding area. Finally a man locates Sara. Crisis averted.
All this prompts Marie to take Sara to a company called Arkangel. The little girl’s distracted with cartoons on a tablet while a doctor puts an implant in her head. Simple, no fuss. Arkangel helps parents keep track of their kids, right down to an “optic feed,” so that they can literally see what their child is seeing remotely. Foucault’s Panopticon, right in a child’s head. Sure, it helps keep an eye on an infant, preventing many tragedies. However, it’s eerie, a creepy way for parents, and the state, and private companies, to monitor regular citizens. Gives me the willies, personally!
Mom cheats playing Hide and Seek, watching her daughter on the tablet as she wanders around the house. She uses a filter to prevent her daughter from having to deal with a loud, potentially scary dog. This is another worry, about how we let our young experience the world from a place that’s too safe (I’m not arguing against safe spaces here at all; arguing against overly concerned parenting). Seems convenient, except it’s less about the safety of the children, more about peace of mind for the parents/society.
When Sara is at home with grandpa (Art Hindle) and he’s having serious health problems, it all looks muted to her. Although it shows in the system as an increase of cortisol, alerting mom at work. This allows Marie to get help for her dad. One good thing in a heap full of bad, I say. Just another way for this implant to be justified. Nevertheless, the good doesn’t last too long. A handful of years later, grandpa dies. Sadness, death, it’s all blocked out by the implant. Sara doesn’t get to experience actual life like other kids. She’s a “chiphead” and she can’t even see the crazy videos online everybody else at school sees, she can’t even hear it when explained. Everything unsafe, everything bad is filtered. She can’t even prick her own finger and watch the blood trickle. Mom catches her one night stabbing herself in the hand with a pencil. Of course this leads to therapy for young Sara.
Just like today, people are subjecting kids to modern technology without knowing the full ramifications and side effects of said technology, then parents want to call it mental illness, believing therapy and counselling and maybe drugs down the line is the right course of action. Marie decides to put away the parental unit, let Sara be on her own. No filter. This means the dog barks, obscenities aren’t bleeped out, she can see blood and aggression and all the things she was blocked from before. A kid from school shows her pornography, videos of terrorists cutting heads off, all the worst of the internet. Yikes.
Sooner than later young people are desensitised. Just as Sara (Brenna Harding) is eventually when she grows up more. The harshness of life is no longer surprising. She’s also a teenager, getting rebellious, doing what young people do. She starts lying to mom a little, which freaks Marie out. When mom can’t reach her daughter one night, this prompts her to bust out the old parental unit she boxed up a few years ago. She turns it on right as Sara is having sex with Trick (Owen Teague), hearing her daughter moan: “Fuck me harder.” That is some awkward shit.
Boundaries have been crossed. This gets into sketchy territory morally, worse than it was already in the beginning. We’re seeing an elevated version of what parents and their kids go through normally, the issues of trust. Tenfold what most of us have experienced. A bleak future for childcare.
Make things worse with Trick selling shady things, getting Sara into doing drugs. This, naturally, sets off the parental unit. Narcotics alert for mom at home. She watches her daughter sniffing away with Trick, unable to do anything or else totally shatter her daughter’s trust, likely to an irreparable level.
So, what exactly can a mother do? She starts with Trick. She threatens him, saying she’ll go to the police with the videos of him with her underage daughter, all that. She makes him cut off all ties with Sara. Oh, this is going to go real well. This drives Sara crazy, not getting any answers from Trick. She goes to confront him at work and he simply breaks off their relationship.
Marie is continually keeping an eye on her daughter, seeing that she’s struggling. She also sees something else. She puts a pill in her daughter’s daily smoothie. An “emergency contraception” pill. Mom’s manipulating her life to an extreme extent at this point, as if it wasn’t creepy enough before this Marie is stepping it up notches. When Sara figures it out she starts packing in a rage. Her mother gets back, and she beats Marie bloody with the parental unit.
And now Sara is gone. Disappeared. Just like when Marie lost her once before, all those years ago. Except this time it’s forever, and the parental unit can’t help her anymore. A necessary tragedy, one that cuts no less deep to the bone. Bittersweet watching Sara start hitchiking off into the distance, no filter, no one watching, free at last in a dangerous world.
Wow, this one was intense. They flubbed a bit of terminology on the EC pill, which is surprising given Jodie Foster and Charlie Brooker are both smart people. There’s a bit of a debate about it over on Twitter; as usual. Still, I loved this episode! Very disturbing, very prophetic about technology and parenting. So much good stuff packed into one tight episode.
“Crocodile” is next, from a director I adore, John Hillcoat.