If you haven’t binge-watched all of ‘Black Mirror’ series 4 yet, you need to get your priorities straight. It’s nowhere near as bleak as the previous three series of the show have been. So you don’t even need to wait until the dark days of January are over to get stuck in.
But of course, the very best episodes of ‘Black Mirror’ are always depressing. You can keep the likes of awards-nabbing ‘San Junipero’ and the similarly romantic ‘Hang the DJ’ from series 4. Give me a ‘White Bear’, or a ‘Shut Up and Dance’ any day of the week please.
That’s why ‘Arkangel’ is the best episode of series 4. It harks back to ‘The Entire History of You’ from series 1, an episode that also featured an ever-present camera inside a human head. In ‘Arkangel’, mother Marie has the ‘Arkangel’ chip implanted in her daughter Sara’s brain so that she can keep track on her.
It’s the most brilliantly morally ambiguous episode of the series. Who can’t empathise with a mother wanting to know where her child is at all times? I’m not even a parent and I can understand that desire.
It’s the extra features that come with the ‘Arkangel’ chip that make this so ripe for Black Mirror’s cynical eye. There are spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t seen ‘Arkangel’ yet, read no further.
Not only does the chip offer Marie the opportunity to locate her daughter, but it also offers her the opportunity to distort and filter what Sara sees. If something could be distressing, Sara will get a blurred view of it to prevent her from getting upset. OK, so surely no parent in their right mind would use this function?
Well, being the protective mother bear that she is, Marie does use it for a while. Not for too long though, and a brief bout of Sara self-harming stops Marie from using the ‘Arkangel’ device until Sara is a teenager.
It’s here where Marie makes her most grave error. The other feature of the chip is that it can allow Marie to watch exactly what Sara is seeing from her point of view. Marie gets out her ‘Arkangel’ tablet and she can essentially hack in to Sara’s point of view. Marie does this just as Sara is having sex for the first time.
Dear God, no parent wants to see that. In fact, what parent would ever want to see what their teenage son or daughter is up to during those difficult, troublesome, experimental years? But on the other hand, if you do decide to watch your daughter’s point of view on the world, and there she is having sex with a cocaine dealer before sniffing some of the drug up her nose, you might want to get your kid back under a little control. Maybe have a quick word with her about life choices?
Parental Advisory: Explicit Content
This is the fundamental crux of the episode, brilliantly directed by Jodie Foster. How much does a parent’s own paranoia feed into the dangerous behaviour of their children? There is a very depressing inevitability both to where Sara ends up in ‘Arkangel’, and the state of her relationship with her mother at the end of the episode.
More than a warning about technology though, this is a warning to all parents. It can’t be easy finding the balance between controlling your children and giving them the freedom to make their own mistakes. But remember, your voice is inside the head of your children enough already. Don’t stick a chip in their heads to make matters worse. And maybe speak to them instead of spying on their Instagram accounts.
What was your favourite episode of Black Mirror series 4?