It’s easy to see why the shielding tactics of an overprotective mother might have made an excellent Black Mirror episode but, for whatever reason, Arkangel doesn’t take it all the way. There’s something that jars slightly with this one – I found it too irritating to take its storyline seriously. Even the assault in the episode’s climactic scene felt clunky and random. Arkangel had the difficult task of following on from the witty and intelligent USS Callister, and the former eclipses the latter by lightyears.
The idea was good – new mother Marie (Rosemarie DeWitt) installs a system into her daughter’s mind that allows her to control what she sees. Parental guidance settings blur out anything in her field of vision that is mildly threatening. That’s anything from a dog barking to her Grandad collapsing. As the young girl Sara (Brenna Harding) grows older, she becomes increasingly aware of her inability to see some of the things that her peers are seeing. Marie loosens her grip on the parental control settings but she doesn’t stop watching the world through her daughter’s eyes (on her iPad). When Sara learns that her mother had watched her taking drugs and having sex, the girl loses it and batters Marie half to death with the voyeuristic iPad – wtf.
What’s really annoying about that final scene is that it comes out of nowhere. Literally, the mother and daughter got on really well up until then. Perhaps they should have portrayed the characters differently. They could have got Marie to go full-on Carrie’s mother and taken her character right to the edge…but they didn’t. It left me in an uncomfortable purgatory; either the character should have been fleshed out more so that I could have tried to sympathise with her, or they should have gone all the way with the ‘crazy mom’ act – then I could have some justification for the iPad assault.
The plot felt a bit outdated – implants are quickly becoming a Black Mirror trope, they’re relied upon in a lot of the recent episodes. Anyway, there isn’t even a substantial argument to be made about the use of censorship on children because it wasn’t the censorship that drove Sara to the eventual attack – it was the voyeurism of her mother that rubbed her up the wrong way. The direction is clunky too. Jodie Foster makes the ‘growing old’ thing painfully obvious. We get it. Sara is growing up. You don’t need to cut to black between every scene (as she does in the opening), nor do we need those corny and jarring transitions that involve numerous child actors walking down a street to demonstrate her ageing. This was a nice idea for a Black Mirror episode but it wasn’t pulled off properly – I need the writers/directors to focus on genuine anxieties! If this series is intended as a demonstration of technology’s threat, then I’m sure that they can get a bit more creative than beating someone over the head with an iPad.