Monday, March 15, 2021

Black Mirror Rewatch: Arkangel


Last year, I compiled a non-definitive ranking of Black Mirror episodes. Once a month, I revisit an episode, starting from the bottom. Herein lies #17.

The Talent: Showrunner Charlie Booker writes, with the one and only Jodie Foster in the director's chair.

The Setup: Marie (Rosemarie DeWitt) is a working single mother who just might be a little overprotective of her young daughter Sarah. When Sarah goes missing (very briefly) after a moment of distraction at a local park, Marie decides to try out the beta version of Arkangel, a tracking software that lets you monitor every aspect of your child's whereabouts and health via a tablet.

Arkangel also includes a handy filter program that lets Marie block upsetting images from Sarah's eyes, thus leading the poor kid to see anything sex or violence-related as a very pixelated blob. Worrying that blocking out content is warping her child's sense of morality, Marie finally turns off the program and lets her kid grow up relatively normally, until, of course, the now teenage version decides to try out boys and cocaine.

The Ending: Marie crosses more than a few lines behind Sarah's back, threatening her boyfriend and mixing an emergency contraceptive in her daughter's breakfast smoothie. When Sarah discovers the truth, she erupts, beating her mother with the now broken Arkangel tablet and hitchhiking far away.

The Theme: I said in my initial brief review of Arkangel that it really seems made for nervous parents, and that holds true. This is an episode about the dangers of helicopter parenting and...that's about it. Parenting is hard. Kids need to push boundaries and grow up, and at some point, moms and dads need to learn how to let go and let their children make mistakes. Otherwise, they risk losing the thing they love the most. 

The Verdict: Like many of the episodes that fall in this tier, you can't call this a bad hour of television. It's a well-acted, adequately written story that just doesn't really offer much new in its ideas. 

Technology Tip: As tempting as it may be, just let your kid watch porn and learn about fight clubs the natural way: from a slightly older rebel who will eventually love her enough to let her try his cocaine.

The Black Mirror Grade
Cruelty Scale: 3/10. DeWitt is good enough that we understand her actions, but it's hard to feel too bad when her decisions are what they are
Quality Scale: 6/10. Perfectly fine entertainment that never ascends too high
Enjoyment Scale: 4/10. The best Black Mirror episodes are either terrifying, innovative, or deeply human, and this one has a hard time with all of those boxes. Two watches was more than enough for me. 

Up Next (Month): Ready Player 1? We wrap up Season 5 with Striking Vipers


  1. I haven't seen this episode for a looooong time but I do remember it was maybe the second or third Black Mirror episode I saw, and I remember watching it and saying "if they are all as bad as this, I quit." I really liked the concept (I'm a sucker for any dystopic sci-fi, hence my general love for BM) and unhappy ending but I thought the acting was ABYSMAL -- like grade 6 xmas pageant quality -- and that ruined the rest of it for me.

    But that said, no one else I've chatted about this episode with has felt that way so maybe I'm wrong. I should revisit it myself and see if I was out to lunch.

    1. I wasn't bothered by the performances (but that's totally subjective so if you were, don't second guess yourself!) but I just found the overall effect very meh. None of the performances helped that.