Black Mirror S04 E02 Review – Arkangel Mother knows best

Technology and parenting are starting to become intrinsically tied together. Nowadays, it is not uncommon for parents to monitor their child’s whereabouts via their smartphones. Hell, parents have been keeping an eye on the browsing history of teenagers everywhere for years now. What is interesting though is where the imminent advancements in wearable tech and augmented reality will end up intersecting with everyday parenting. Devices to keep track of weight and nutritional levels are already in development so is it such a long time until we start to see these tools used to help raising our children?

Arkangel starts off with a rock-solid premise ripe for exploration and poignant social commentary. After her child goes missing, an event which would shake any Mother to the very core, Marie fits her daughter Sara with the Arkangel software which enables her to keep track of her whereabouts, monitor nutritional info and even see through her very eyes (more on that later). Another important aspect of this bio-tech enhancement is that Marie has the option to limit the content that her daughter sees. Blood, porn and anything else that spikes her cortisol levels gets immediately blurred out (Christmas episode style), audio and all.

The episode spans many years, charting Sara’s growth from a small child to teenager. After an incident in which Arkangel impairs her ability to act in a stressful situation, Mother Marie abandons the use of the software altogether but while she may put the tablet used to monitor away, there is actually no way to remove the chip in her daughter’s head. If this all sounds like it is all about to go terribly wrong that’s because it is, all too predictably.

The problem with Arkangel is that it so clearly doesn’t know what to do with the plot devices it sets up early on. Most of the episode is spent watching Sara do things which most kids do. Drugs, underage sex and porn are all on the agenda as Sara explores her teens, all with her Mother itching to get back into her head. Another event does spur her to do so but it feels largely forced. Sure, Sara goes missing for a couple of hours, which fair enough did happen before, but to immediately go back to spying on her is a little bit of a jump.

Arkangel

Something I do absolutely love about the episode was my difficulty placing when exactly it is supposed to be set. This is nothing new for the series of course, but something about the way the tech, cars and clothing never quite matched up really unsettled me, which was the intention of course. The plot largely goes where you’d expect it to, which is Arkangel’s main misstep. As the final scenes played out I found myself rolling my eyes at the heavy handed and totally on the nose messaging of the dangers of over-parenting, no matter how satirical and exaggerated it is here.

Alongside the aesthetic, the performances here are on point too. Marie plays the warped Mother figure with a thrilling and at times unpleasant nature. It becomes abundantly clear that Arkangel is shaping Marie’s mind just as much as Sara’s, if not more so. This ability to check up on her Daughter at her whim sculpts her into a shivering wreck of insecurities and misplaced motherly love. Something that I have trouble believing is just how relatively normal Sara is despite being shielded from all conflict, fear and stress throughout her childhood. There are brief scenes exploring this but they largely amount to very little.

Arkangel takes the primordial fear that every parent has and wields it as a weapon. While it may not have much to say in terms of plot and story, it certainly nails the realistic tone and exploration of paranoia. At this point, television and cinema have given us countless examples of the over-bearing Mother but rarely has it been presented in such a close and personal manner. It’s hard to not feel for both Marie and Sara as the credits roll even if the outcome is so completely predictable.

The ways in which we choose to use technology to monitor our children is a very real and intriguing issue, one that is really just starting to be discussed. It’s disappointment then that the writers fail to really add anything to the conversation in the same way previous episodes have. The message here is don’t spy on your kids, which when presented without any real plot or consequence to cling on to, ends up being a little dull.

Verdict – 6 Out of 10

 

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Jake Green

Written by: Jake Green

My name is Jake Green. Currently living in London and can be found rambling about video games online. I have a soft spot for VR, and value storytelling in games above all else.

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