Arkangel, Black Mirror season four episode 2, Charlie Booker’s Netflix series, explores the consequences of overprotective parents exaggerated by technology. It shows us how often the line between being concerned and overprotective is blurred, and how frequently we find ourselves on the other side. Directed by Jodie Foster, Arkangel is a story about a mother and her daughter and the fragile relationship they had.
In this Black Mirror episode, Arkangel explores the human psychology that demands knowledge of everything that’s going around him, and his obsession to keep things under his supervision, sometimes at a higher cost. Simultaneously, it also shows how weak humans can fall before their obsession.
This second episode of The Black Mirror season four explains the concept of helicopter parenting and all the red flags that go unseen. What would happen if we keep our children away from anything that causes them stress, fear, or harm in any way? Is it wrong to keep an eye on our children? Is it possible to keep our children away from all the negativity in the world just by mere vigilance? Should protectiveness be limited? In this review of the Black Mirror episode Arkangel, we will analyze the nightmarish fallout of helicopter parenting and the vulnerability of human beings feeding upon technological advancements.
Arkangel begins with a woman, Marie, going through her c-section. The child, to be called Sara, is still after birth and while Marie thought she lost the baby, it makes a noise and starts crying. Marie is relieved, but the thought of losing her child stays with her.
Three years down, on one regular day, Sara goes to the park with her mother. While Marie speaks to another parent, Sara goes missing. Panicked, Marie looks for Sara everywhere. A stranger brings her back to Marie. This incident digs up Marie’s deep-buried fears. That’s when she enrols her daughter in Arkangel.
Arkangel is a company that implants a chip in the child’s head and is connected with a device allowing the parents to monitor the children. It allows Marie to keep track of Sara’s location, do a diagnosis of her body and so on. It doesn’t sound alarming until here but then the device also has a feature that lets Marie see whatever Sara saw. The device also allowed Marie to blur out anything that caused stress to Sara.
As long as she was a kid, it goes fine, but as Sara grows older, she finds herself left out in school. Trick, another kid, calls her chip-head because she can’t see the gruesome murder that Trick was showing to the other kids. But then, Trick tells her what blood looks like and to experience it, one night while colouring, Sara hurts herself. She pricks a sharp pencil colour on all her fingers to witness what blood looks like. But the more she hurts herself, the blurrier her vision gets. When Marie comes to stop her, Sara slaps her.
The next day, talking to the therapist, Marie learns that Arkangel was never launched worldwide and that it was banned in Europe. She tucks the device away. Being unmonitored for the first time, Sara takes full advantage of the freedom. She watches all the gruesome violence that Trick used to show other kids. Gradually, she becomes attracted towards smoking, alcohol, sex, drugs and so on.
Marie eventually begins to discover that Sara lies to her on many occasions. She becomes her insecure self again and unable to resist, she switches the device on and what she witnesses marks the wreckage of her fragile relationship with Sara.
Black Mirror episode Arkangel is based on the theme called Helicopter Parenting. As the name suggests, this concept applies to those parents who are insecure about their children and want to create a safe boundary for them by hovering over-head and watching their kids out all the time. Wanting to keep our children safe is natural but to monitor them all day is a bit on the side of irrationality. In doing so, parents often fail to realize how they obstruct their children from growing.
Marie’s father reminds her how kids were brought up when Marie was small – “…we used to open up the door and just let the kids be.” Marie, still adamant, argues that she remembers how she had broken her arm because her father would not make a baby gate. While on the one hand, Marie’s father believes that kids must be allowed to grow and learn things in their own way, she, on the other hand, sticks to her point of making a safe boundary for children.
The Dent in Relationship
Marie’s father’s fears came true when Marie deactivated the parental unit. Sara witnessed the black dog for the first time and got so startled by the barking that she was about to get hit by a vehicle. This incident was the first outcome of Marie’s vigilant eye on Sara. She was more vulnerable now than she would have been otherwise. Instead of keeping an eye on her, had Marie taught her to deal with stress then Sara might have acted differently.
The gap between Marie and Sara grew further when Marie discovered that her daughter is pregnant and without her knowledge, gave her a contraception pill. She went to warn Trick, to stay away from her. After all, this, when Sara comes to know all about it, her aggression, which we had witnessed in her childhood when she had slapped her mother, erupts more violently and she thrashes her mother almost killing her and leaving her forever.
Humans are naturally curious to know everything that’s going around them. This obsession leads to a much more devastating life. We show more interest in knowing what is going on in the house next to ours than looking into our own lives. We want every news, rumour or real, to reach us; more so if it is about our children.
Marie’s concerns are understood, but its conversion into obsession invites terrible consequences. While keeping a watchful eye on Sara, unknowingly she was also feeding her obsession and her irrational fear of losing Sara.
Marie had, indeed, tucked the device away among other junk, but she hadn’t completely removed it from her access. She could get the device back any moment – which means Sara was never completely out of her mother’s surveillance. Marie’s insecurity has sustained within her and when Sara failed to respond to her calls, she logs in to the parental unit, once again failing before her obsession.
Sara’s Disoriented Mind
The blurred patch Sara viewed for blood irked her even more. She was stressed and irritated at the same time. To feed her curiosity, she moved to self-harm merely to experience what blood looks like.
Sara’s mind was disoriented at this point. Fear, stress, and so on are human emotions. Though negative, if they are kept blocked, people would never be able to experience positive feelings either. It creates an emotional blockage and imbalance. To understand the difference between good and bad, we need to experience both, which Marie realized only after that night’s incident.
The deactivation of the parental unit was like freedom to her – as if her mother’s protection was choking her. With this newly gained liberty, Sara sort of swayed towards whatever looked thrilling and developed a fondness towards what Marie had called “dangerous.”
As a consequence of all the restrictions from harmful things, Sara had only harboured an attraction towards them. Further, keeping them out of her mother’s knowledge created a gap in their relationship. She wanted to explore anything that came within her accessibility.
Sara’s aggression towards her mother has been sustained since her childhood when she realized the liberty of staying unmonitored. Years later, when she comes to know that her mother is still monitoring her, Sara loses her mind. Her compound aggression towards Marie bursts out at once marking the end of their relationship. This shows the counter-impact of being over-protective, it closes all the doors on both ends and creates a void in the relationship.
Black Mirror has projected some of the very delicate aspects of man. It has shown us, repeatedly, how terribly we fail our intellectuality. Even though she is concerned about her daughter, Marie has failed as a mother. Sara and Marie’s thoughts diverged at this point. Perhaps, Sara despised her vigilance and didn’t want to lose her free life. Marie on the other hand, still thought she could control her daughter and had all the right to give her the pill without her knowing.
Instead of trying to talk to Sara about her relationship, Marie wanted to take matters into her hand, whether or not Sara approved it. She loved her daughter nonetheless, but she was helpless as a mother. To bring an end to it, Sara ultimately breaks the device, the metaphorical link between herself and her mother, and leaves the house forever.
Black Mirror – Arkangel becomes all the more horrifying when it makes us realize that perhaps there would be a time when our parents would no longer be the safest people we can walk up to at our lows. It not only ruins our mental state but also crushes the bonds we have with our friends and families. It shows how little we have in our hands and how centralized our power and freedom is. Arkangel is also a message to the overprotective parents that perhaps breaking an arm is just fine.