Arkangel (Black Mirror)
|Black Mirror episode|
Promotional poster released as part of the "13 Days of Black Mirror"
|Episode no.||Series 4|
|Directed by||Jodie Foster|
|Written by||Charlie Brooker|
|Featured music||Original Score by|
|Original release date||29 December 2017|
|Running time||52 minutes|
"Arkangel" is the second episode of the fourth series of anthology series Black Mirror. It was written by Charlie Brooker and directed by Jodie Foster. The episode first aired on Netflix, along with the rest of series four, on 29 December 2017.
In the episode, "Arkangel" is the name of an implanted chip technology that allows a parent to track and monitor their children, as well as pixelate images that would cause them distress. Single mother Marie (played by Rosemarie DeWitt) has her young daughter Sara implanted with Arkangel, which while initially effective, becomes a dangerous hindrance, and Marie allows Sara to grow up without the use of Arkangel. As Sara matures into a teenager (played by Brenna Harding), Marie becomes tempted to use Arkangel again.
The episode was the first of Black Mirror to be directed by a woman. It has a strong emphasis on family. The episode was met with mixed reception and compared to an indie movie. Some critics praised the episode's concept, but thought the theme of helicopter parenting was emphasised at the expense of other, potentially more interesting aspects.
Protective single mother Marie Sambrell (Rosemarie DeWitt) loses sight of her daughter Sara at a playground; she is recovered shortly without incident. Fearing future crises, Marie signs up to participate in a trial of Arkangel, a revolutionary child monitoring system. An Arkangel representative administers Sara a neural implant. Via an included tablet computer, Marie can: monitor Sara's medical state, view her past and present vision and hearing, and censor obscenity and other stressful stimuli. The Arkangel system proves initially successful, censoring an intimidating neighborhood dog; however, flaws in the system present themselves, such as the obscenity filter preventing Sara from reacting appropriately to her grandfather's stroke.
Years later, Sara (Sarah Abbott) has become socially outcast and emotionally immature. Marie has Sara assessed by a child psychologist, who concludes that the controversial and soon-to-be-banned Arkangel is responsible. Though the implant itself cannot be removed, he convinces Marie to deactivate the obscenity filter and stow the tablet away. Sara goes to school unsupervised for the first time, where her schoolmate Trick (Nicky Torchia) exposes her to gore and pornography.
At age fifteen, Sara (Brenna Harding), now better adjusted, secretly attends a party with Trick (Owen Teague). Marie grows concerned after Sara fails to answer phone calls and her schoolmates' parents do not know her whereabouts. She reactivates the Arkangel tablet in a panic, only to discover Sara and Trick having sex. Some time later, Marie, having grown distrustful of her daughter, uses the Arkangel tablet again and sees Sara snorting cocaine with Trick.
Identifying Trick with a reverse image search, Marie uses the footage to blackmail him into breaking up with Sara. Later, the tablet informs Marie that Sara is pregnant, and she sneaks an emergency contraceptive pill into her drink at breakfast. After vomiting due to the pill and discovering the reactivated tablet in Marie's bedroom, Sara realizes what Marie has done and confronts her. She pries the tablet from Marie's hands, accidentally reactivating the obscenity filter, and beats Marie unconscious with the tablet until it breaks. The filter deactivates moments later and Sara sees what she has done.
A dazed Marie reawakens and, after attempting to use the destroyed tablet, exits the house and frantically calls Sara's name down the street. Meanwhile, having run away from home, Sara flags down a semi truck for a ride.
One critic compares "Arkangel" to previous Black Mirror episodes "The Entire History of You" and "Be Right Back", as each episode is based on an existing technology, and plausibly demonstrates how the technology could go wrong in the future.
Whilst series one and two of Black Mirror were shown on Channel 4 in the UK, in September 2015 Netflix commissioned the series for 12 episodes, and in March 2016 it outbid Channel 4 for the rights to distribute the series in the UK, with a bid of $40 million. The 12 episode order was divided into two series of six episodes each. The six episodes in series four were released on Netflix simultaneously on 29 December 2017. "Arkangel" is listed as the second episode, though as each episode is standalone the episodes can be watched in any order. The episode has a running time of 52 minutes.
Director and casting
This was the first episode of Black Mirror directed by a woman, Jodie Foster—an actor, director and producer. According to Brooker, Foster was chosen for the episode because as a former child actor, she would understand what it was like to grow up in the spotlight, as well as how to deal with the child actors during filming. Netflix had also recommended Foster to Brooker, since she had previously directed episodes of their series Orange is the New Black and House of Cards. Foster was not previously familiar with the programme. Foster was raised by a single mother, and said that the script brought up "so many questions about who we are as women at this particular time in history".
Foster was in control of casting the episode, leading to the casting of her friend Rosemarie DeWitt as Marie. The pair had met through Foster's wife Alexandra Hedison; this was only the second time Foster had worked with a friend as a director, after Mel Gibson in 2011 film The Beaver. Australian actor Brenna Harding was cast as Sara, after accidentally misinterpreting part of the audition tape instructions to perform a two-minute monologue in the character of Sara, rather than as herself. The three other children cast as younger versions of Sara had to be chosen to look very similar to Harding. Owen Teague's casting as Trick influenced the character: though written as a character to be distrusted, Foster says that Teague has "sweetness" and Harding describes Trick and Sara as "like two old souls who connected".
Writing and characterisation
Written by Charlie Brooker, the episode is intended to be sympathetic to helicopter parenting; Brooker took inspiration in how he felt protective following the birth of his children. Prior to having children, Brooker was unsympathetic to content restrictions designed for children, but he was concerned by his three-year-old son seeing a horror movie trailer after he had left him alone with YouTube on autoplay. He was also concerned by thoughts of his children accidentally seeing an accident or hearing profanity in their day-to-day life. Foster described the plot as progressing from "a family we recognise" to a mother who gradually "cross[es] the line". She cited the first scene, in which Marie feels guilty about having a Caesarean section, as evidence that she is "an unusually concerned mother", though Annabel Jones, co-producer for the series, remarked that Marie was not intended to be "overly neurotic or controlling", and that her use of Arkangel is a "slippery slope".
Jones said that the idea of Arkangel came from microchip implants used to identify pets that, at the time of writing, were also being considered for children. Jones said, "We wanted to think what the updated version of that [was] and find a really good idea of how that could go terribly wrong". The original script gave Marie's father only a very minor part, but this was fleshed out by Foster. Foster also influenced other changes in the script, and offered many observations on the setting, the technology used and Marie's motivation for her actions after seeing her daughter have sex with Trick.
Explaining the actions of her character Marie, DeWitt said that single mothers "experience betrayal differently". Foster adds that when Marie realises Sara is lying to her, but does not confront her, it causes a "fissure" and Marie begins "fighting a battle to win control". By attempting to prevent her daughter from leaving her, Marie is victim to a self-fulfilling prophecy as she "engendered the exact result that she most feared".
The episode was filmed over three weeks in Hamilton, Ontario, a location chosen to represent "blue-collar America". Foster described the fictional setting as a "place that used to have a foundation and a glory", which reflects how Marie views herself. It began in November 2016, starting just around the 2016 United States presidential election. Foster states that the filming involved "very long hours" and that the scenes starring the younger children were particularly troublesome. Displaying graphic content was avoided in the episode, with Foster believing it would "distract from what the meaning was". An exception was the scene where Sara attacks her mother. Brooker notes that in this scene, more whacks were filmed than made it into the episode, though enough were needed for the viewer to understand Sara's perspective, and for Marie to be plausibly rendered unconscious. The final shot of the episode, where Marie frantically tries to use the tablet shouting "No!" repeatedly, was filmed the day after the election results were in, Donald Trump becoming the incumbent president; DeWitt injected her personal reaction at the results into the scene. Foster flew to London to help with the episode's editing alongside Brooker.
Foster describes the ending as a "parable". DeWitt's first day on set was to film the scene where a bloodied Marie runs out of the house screaming for her daughter. The episode ends with Sara entering a truck, which was originally a small car in the script. The choice of a truck implies that Sara will be travelling far, and Harding describes her feeling for the ending as "a mixture of nervous trepidation and excitement for Sara". The song "I'm a Mother" by The Pretenders plays over the scene, chosen as a "plaintive song" which reminds viewers of "the mother's perspective", according to Foster.
In May 2017, a Reddit post unofficially announced the names and directors of the six episodes in series 4 of Black Mirror. The first trailer for the series was released by Netflix on 25 August 2017, and contained the six episode titles. In September 2017, two photos from the fourth season were released, including one from "Arkangel".
Beginning on 24 November 2017, Netflix published a series of posters and trailers for the fourth series of the show, referred to as the "13 Days of Black Mirror". On 6 December, Netflix published a trailer featuring an amalgamation of scenes from the fourth series, which announced that the series would be released on 29 December.
Praising Foster's directing and DeWitt's acting, Adam Starkey of Metro writes that the episode is about a "recognisable paranoia" which compensates for the "slightly predictable" execution of the episode. In a positive review for Den of Geek, Louisa Mellor praises the "deft balance" given to the ethical quandary explored by the episode, as well as Foster's "sensitive and emotional US indie-movie style" and how the story is told not with authority, but "with empathy".
Sophie Gilbert of The Atlantic opines that despite the episode's excellent premise, it fails due to lack of execution. Gilbert further asserts that the episode's moral is obvious, and the question of what impact adult imagery has on a child is interesting but not explored far enough. In a three star review for The Telegraph, Ed Power has the same criticism that Brooker could "delve further" into the repercussions of children watching violent and pornographic images, calling the episode "archetypal Black Mirror, almost to a fault".
Planned Parenthood has criticised the episode for an inaccurate display of how emergency contraceptive pills work; the episode implies that these pills terminate a pregnancy, whereas some prevent or delay ovulation.
"Arkangel" is ranked below average by critics who rated each of the 19 episodes of Black Mirror by quality:
Other critics considered the six episodes of series four in their rankings:
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- Ling, Thomas (7 December 2017). "Black Mirror season 4 episode guide: Charlie Brooker reveals new plot and episode details". Radio Times. Archived from the original on 10 December 2017. Retrieved 2 September 2018.
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- Miller, Liz Shannon (28 December 2017). "'Black Mirror': Jodie Foster on Directing Season 4's 'Arkangel' Like 'A Really Small Indie Movie'". IndieWire. Retrieved 28 December 2017.
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- Wolfson, Sam (10 January 2018). "Charlie Brooker Discusses the 'Arkangel' Episode of 'Black Mirror'". Vice. Retrieved 10 January 2018.
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- Turchiano, Danielle (29 December 2017). "'Black Mirror': Jodie Foster and Rosemarie DeWitt on the 'Dark' Mother/Daughter Dynamic of 'Arkangel'". Variety. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
- Strauss, Jackie (29 December 2017). "'Black Mirror': How Jodie Foster and Rosemarie DeWitt Made Their Story Personal". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 4 January 2018.
- Stolworthy, Jacob (27 May 2017). "Black Mirror season 4 episode titles and directors revealed". The Independent. Retrieved 10 December 2017.
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- Hooton, Christopher (25 August 2017). "Black Mirror season 4 Netflix trailer teases all six episodes and their titles". The Independent. Retrieved 10 December 2017.
- Velocci, Carli (7 September 2017). "New 'Black Mirror' Season 4 Images Tease 'USS Callister's' Retro Goodness (Photos)". TheWrap. Retrieved 10 December 2017.
- Strause, Jackie (27 November 2017). "'Black Mirror': All the Season 4 Details". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 10 December 2017.
- White, Peter (6 December 2017). "Netflix Reveals 'Black Mirror' Season 4 Release Date in New Trailer". Decider. New York Post. Retrieved 10 December 2017.
- Mellor, Louisa (29 December 2017). "Black Mirror season 4: Arkangel review". Den of Geek. Dennis Publishing. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
- Gilbert, Sophie (29 December 2017). "Black Mirror: 'Arkangel' Mines the Horror of Helicopter Parenting". The Atlantic. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
- Power, Ed (29 December 2017). "Black Mirror, season 4, Arkangel, review: this bleak parental nightmare needs to grow up". The Telegraph. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
- Gaudette, Emily (4 January 2018). "PLANNED PARENTHOOD RESPONDS TO JODIE FOSTER'S INACCURATE 'BLACK MIRROR' ABORTION EPISODE". Newsweek. Retrieved 7 January 2018.
- Atad, Corey (24 October 2016). "Every Episode of Black Mirror, Ranked". Esquire. Retrieved 12 August 2017.
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- Donnelly, Matt; Molloy, Tim. "All 13 'Black Mirror' Episodes Ranked, From Good to Mind-Blowing (Photos)". TheWrap. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
- Hibberd, James (23 October 2016). "'Black Mirror': We Rank All 19 Episodes". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
- Greene, Steve; Nguyen, Hanh; Miller, Liz Shannon (24 November 2017). "Every 'Black Mirror' Episode Ranked, From Worst to Best". IndieWire. Retrieved 1 January 2018.
- Bramesco, Charles (21 October 2016). "Every Episode of Black Mirror, Ranked From Worst to Best". Vulture. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
- Khosla, Proma (5 January 2018). "Every 'Black Mirror' episode ever, ranked by overall dread". Mashable. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
- Tassi, Paul (31 December 2017). "Ranking 'Black Mirror' Season 4's Episodes From Worst To Best". Forbes. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
- "'Black Mirror' Season 4 Episodes, Ranked". TVLine. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
- Pooley, Jack (30 December 2017). "Black Mirror Season 4: Every Episode Ranked From Worst To Best". WhatCulture. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
- Hooton, Christopher; Stolworthy, Jacob (29 December 2017). "Netflix's Black Mirror season four: Every episode ranked". The Independent. Retrieved 12 March 2018.