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Recap / Black Mirror: ArkAngel

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Black Mirror Series Four
USS CallisterArkAngelCrocodileHang the DJMetalheadBlack Museum

"I was trying to protect you. I was trying to keep you safe."

An overprotective mother, worried about her child's safety, keeps watch over her through ArkAngel, a brain implant that allows her to know her daughter's location and see what her daughter is seeing at all times.

Trailer here.

Directed by Jodie Foster (the first woman to direct a Black Mirror episode), starring Rosemarie DeWitt, Brenna Harding, and Owen Teague.

Tropes related to ArkAngel:

  • Abusive Parents: Marie is a sympathetic example. While she never borders into physical abuse and without a doubt loves Sara, she’s also a Beloved Smother with virtually no respect for her daughter’s privacy or autonomy; she uses the implant on a teenage Sara long after she would have needed to use it, essentially created child pornography by harboring footage of Sara and Trick having sex, and gives Sara an abortion pill without her consent or knowledge. She also has a habit of driving away Sara from others; the implant causes a young Sara to isolate herself because she can’t see what others do, and she tells Trick to stay away from Sara without her knowledge (which, while they did drugs together, was a conversation that she should have been a part of), which leads to him to break it off and avoid Sara without her understanding why.
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  • Age Cut: Sara grows from a toddler to a preteen through a cut showing her on a swing, then from a preteen to a teenager through a cut showing her walking past by a neighbouring house.
  • An Aesop:
    • Children need privacy and to learn how to deal with fears and mistakes on their own. (For example, Sara eventually stops being scared of the neighbour's barking dog once Marie stops using the blur function.)
    • Eventually, your children will grow up and do stupid things you won't approve of. That's normal. There's nothing you can do about it, and the best you can do is make yourself a trusted person they can turn to instead of trying to control every facet of their lives, which will only drive them away if not make them rebel harder against your rules.
    • If you shelter and smother your children and don't teach them the information they need to navigate adulthood, relationships, etc, they'll find it out anyway, and not always from a good source.
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  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Sara's boyfriend is Trick, the boy that deals drugs and used to dangle forbidden things before her when they were kids. However, he seems to genuinely care for her, and how "bad" he actually is is up for debate.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: The other children ostracized Sara due to her implant turning her into a "Walking Snitch".
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Sara is a pleasant and friendly young woman with a healthy social life, but she's scary when sufficiently angered: when she discovers that her mother is still using the tablet, and fed her an abortion pill without her knowledge or consent, she bludgeons Marie into unconsciousness with the tablet in a fit of rage.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Sara loses her boyfriend and after smashing the tablet and beating up her mother, she loses her as well by running away from home. Marie loses her daughter for good, and the last the audience sees of her is her, bloody and battered, crying out for Sara in the street. While a dark ending, Sara is at least free from her mother's surveillance now.
  • Bookends:
    • The very beginning has Marie not directly seeing the birth of her daughter as she has to go through a C-section and is visually cut off from the procedure by a curtain. At the end of the episode, Marie winds up momentarily unconscious from Sarah beating her with the tablet and thus doesn't see the moment her daughter leaves her.
    • One of the first things in the episode is Marie wailing Sara's name in the street after she's disappeared. The episode ends with her doing the same after Sara's smashed the tablet and run away.
  • Call-Back:
    • The video replay feature of the tablet is identical to the redo screen from "The Entire History of You", and the scene where Ffion uses the replay feature on her daughter's memories.
    • The content limitation feature works the same way as the blocking feature in "White Christmas", only that it blocks imagery and words instead.
  • Central Theme: The phenomenon of "Helicopter parenting" and how it can adversely affect the relationship between a parent and their child.
  • Chekhov's Classroom:
    • Sara is seen in a philosophy class about free will in her school in the scenes preceding her discovery that her mom terminated her pregnancy without her consent.
    • It even pulls a double duty by also commenting on the themes of the story by being a lecture on the Greek tragedy, Oedipus. Like a classic Tragic Hero from the Greek tales, Marie wants to prevent a outcome that she fears deeply, namely losing her daughter or allowing harm to come to her, but by trying to prevent her fear from coming to pass, she commits a Tragic Mistake, which makes her greatest fear become a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy; namely by obsessively monitoring her daughter in an attempt to keep her safe from harm, she ends up alienating and harming her daughter, resulting in her losing her.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Sara is shown a clip from "Men Against Fire" from the previous season to demonstrate the parental block function.
    • In her room Sara has posters for Tusk, the rapper who is killed in "Hated in the Nation", and Harlech Shadow V, the famous horror game manufactured by SaitoGemu in "Playtest".
    • Trick's tablet has a sticker of the pink-haired character from Sea of Tranquility, the fictional sci-fi show mentioned in "The National Anthem" and "Nosedive".
    • A postcard from "San Junipero" is seen on the fridge in the Sambrell household. The same postcard later also appears in "Metalhead".
    • The user interface on the Arkangel tablet for viewing recorded history looks very similar to the redo menu for the Grain implant in "The Entire History of You".
  • The Corrupter: Played straight and inverted. When they were kids, Trick took some pleasure in introducing Sara to things like sex and extreme violence online, as she was literally incapable of seeing such material and had grown morbidly fascinated due to their omission. But as they grow older, it's Sara who becomes intrigued by cocaine and pushes Trick to do it with her; he was already familiar with it but very hesitant to involve Sara. Whether this behavior was down to Sara's own curiosity (or lingering resentment of the censorship she lived with as a child), or a direct result of Trick's bad influence isn't clear.
  • Disappeared Dad: Sara's birth is shown, but her father is never mentioned in the whole episode. It's unknown if he died, abandoned her mother or if her mother just underwent an artificial insemination and/or doesn't know who her father is.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Marie has a Freak Out when the doctors take the newly born Sara away for a few seconds to check up on her, indicating her overprotective nature.
  • Extreme Mêlée Revenge: After finding out that her mother never got rid of the ArkAngel tablet, and secretly fed her an abortion pill, Sara unleashes a nasty one on her mother by smashing her head in with said tablet.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Averted against Sara's will. While she had no idea she was even pregnant then, the crushed pills Marie placed into the smoothies were meant to terminate Sara's pregnancy as the doctor revealed when Sara was vomiting at school later.
  • Idiot Ball: There was no pressing reason for Marie to turn into a Knight Templar Parent upon finding out that Sara had lied to her about where she was going to hook up with a sketchy drug dealer. Even if she didn't want to reveal using the tablet again, she had found out about Sara not being where she said she was going to be through perfectly normal ways - all she had to do was wait up and subject Sara to the time-honored maternal "I am very Disappointed in You, young lady, and You Are Grounded!" treatment when she got home. The implication seems to be that the shock made all her previous anxieties flare up and she couldn't think straight, or alternatively, that spending the first decade of Sarah's life parenting through ArkAngel hasn't just messed with Sarah's emotional growth, it means Marie hasn't ever developed the kind of parenting tools or experience needed to have those kinds of difficult conversations.
  • Irony: Marie decides to get Sara the ArkAngel technology due to almost losing Sara as a child when she wasn't looking. By the end of the episode, Marie has lost Sara for good because she wouldn't stop looking after her.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Although Marie is wrong in violating her daughter's privacy in order to blackmail Trick to get away from her, Trick is indeed not a good influence, considering that not only that he is a drug dealer and lets Sara do cocaine, but he also showed her porn and gore videos when they were both younger.
  • Knight Templar Parent: All Marie wants is what's best for Sara, but she takes it in the wrong directions.
  • Missing Child: As a toddler, Sara goes missing for a moment in the playground, causing her mother to freak out.
  • My Beloved Smother: After Sara briefly disappeared as a toddler, Marie started monitoring everything her daughter saw and put a filter on anything that would scare her. This later caused behavioral problems in Sara that caused Marie to turn the program off. She picks up the habit again without telling her daughter, leading to disastrous consequences.
  • My God, What Have I Done?
    • Sara has one herself after beating Marie to near death with the ArkAngel tablet before running away from home.
    • By the end of the episode, Marie is a broken mess, realizing that she has lost Sara forever due to her smothering and surveillance.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Sara beats Marie into unconsciousness with the ArkAngel tablet when she discovers that her mother was not only spying on her after a period of time without the ArkAngel technology being a part of their lives, but has been interfering with her personal life on top of that.
  • Parental Hypocrisy: Marie is horrified to find her daughter secretly having sex, while she herself is doing the exact same thing. Semi-justified, as not only is Sara still 15, her boyfriend ends up giving her drugs on what looks like their second date.
  • Parental Sexuality Squick: Sara reacts with disgust when Trick suggests her mother got laid.
  • Perception Filter: The Arkangel has one as an option which blurs out any sights or sounds that would cause Sara distress, such as the dog that keeps barking at her whenever she passes by. It also means that she can't perceive her grandfather having a heart attack, or his pleas for her to get the phone. Marie turns it off when Sara is 10, but it briefly comes back on again while Sara is beating Marie with the tablet, so she can't see how much damage she's doing to her mother until the filter turns off again.
  • Plug 'n' Play Technology: Zig-Zagged Trope - while the (by then) 10 years old proprietary Arkangel tablet can still interact with a computer built 20 Minutes into the Future, there seems to be no way to access the signal from Sara's chip from any other device. It's likely that, since the Arkangel was banned, the software is also unavailable.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Had Marie tried to talk to her daughter directly instead of threatening her boyfriend and slipping contraceptives into her breakfast, things would have ended up much different.
  • The Runaway: At the end, Sara breaks the ArkAngel tablet and runs away from home to god-knows-where.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Unlike what is par for the course in Black Mirror, the piece of technology in the episode ends up not becoming widely used in society. The massive violation of privacy the Arkangel technology presents seems to have been realized within the universe, as it's stated that by the time Sara is a child the chip has been banned in Europe and will most likely be pulled from the US as well.
  • Time Passes Montage: There is a montage with Sara passing the neighbor's house on her way to school and back home where both Sara and the neighbor's dog get progressively older.
  • Three-Month-Old Newborn: Newborn Sara is clearly not portayed by an actual newborn baby.
  • Teen Pregnancy: Sara, a teenager, gets pregnant on her second date with a guy that becomes her drug dealer. Marie finds out before she does, and sneaks emergency contraception pills into her smoothie. Sara only discovers she was ever pregnant from the school nurse.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Marie put Sara in the ArkAngel experiment just because she cared about her daughter, but she ended up violating her privacy and free will on disturbing levels.