Black Mirror: Arkangel
December 29, 2017 8:14 AM - Season 4, Episode 2 - Subscribe

Worried about her daughter's safety, single mom Marie signs up for a cutting-edge device that monitors the girl's whereabouts -- and much more
posted by fearfulsymmetry (41 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think they could make a full 22-episode season worth of stories that begin with a "trial".
posted by lmfsilva at 1:40 PM on December 29, 2017 [3 favorites]


This episode was very good; helicopter parenting taken to the extreme. This absolutely feels like the end result of that kind of technology. I was quite intrigued by the "filter" aspect of the story but it wasn't explored as much as I would have liked; the end result of that kind of filtering out of trauma/bad feelings could make for a really fucked up episode of Black Mirror.
posted by crossoverman at 7:13 PM on December 29, 2017 [3 favorites]


Well, she bashed her mum's head in until the tablet malfunctioned and she could see exactly what was happening. With the filter running she probably would go full human bean on her.
posted by lmfsilva at 10:11 PM on December 29, 2017 [3 favorites]


Always interesting to see different applications of the same "technology" across the Black Mirror universe - off the top of my head, the Arkangel implant somewhat overlaps with the tech in Men Against Fire, and effectively contains the tech from The Entire History of You and (IIRC) the ending of White Christmas.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 10:39 PM on December 29, 2017 [5 favorites]


The big surprise for me was at the very end

Directed by JODIE FOSTER!!!
posted by adept256 at 1:45 AM on December 30, 2017 [23 favorites]


This reminded me of the entire history of you, in that it was less about the inevitable consequences of a new technology than what if an awful person used that. While the mother was somewhat empowered by her tech to do the things she did, one suspects she might have managed it without it
posted by Cannon Fodder at 2:19 AM on December 30, 2017 [3 favorites]


The big surprise for me was at the very end

Directed by JODIE FOSTER!!!


'Well that had some nice directorial touches....oh, that's why'
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:23 AM on December 30, 2017 [5 favorites]


I felt this was the epitome of what people criticize Black Mirror for: a single cultural trend is granted a monkeys paw wish through technology, in weird isolation from the rest of technical and social change. For instance, the makers of Arkangel would've had to solve the problem of OTHER helicopter parents not wanting you to monitor their kids. So at the very least there'd need to be a light on everyone's head while broadcasting. And if the technology was banned years after the trial implants, why would they leave the implants in? Why would the system still work? Why wouldn't the kids know countermeasures? Etc.
posted by condour75 at 2:17 PM on December 30, 2017 [2 favorites]


They explained that the implant couldn't be removed. The advice they gave her was to just throw away the tablet, but she decided to keep it. If you haven't noticed yet, black mirror is about people first. The technology is allowed to be magic in places just as a thought experiment as to how it affects people.
posted by adept256 at 3:07 PM on December 30, 2017 [16 favorites]


I like that they just settled on a theme, choice and bodily autonomy and ran with it.

Also nice, all the teenagers names in this not too distant future are extremely uncommon today, like Meryl.
posted by The Whelk at 5:13 PM on December 30, 2017 [2 favorites]


a single cultural trend is granted a monkeys paw wish through technology, in weird isolation from the rest of technical and social change

I feel like this is literally the concept of the show. A few are a little bit more futuristic or whatever, but most episodes are deliberately set in a world very much like ours with just one weird thing. He even says, “they’re all about the way we live now – and the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we’re clumsy” People criticizing it for that should probably just watch a different show.
posted by snofoam at 7:07 PM on December 30, 2017 [10 favorites]


the end result of that kind of filtering out of trauma/bad feelings

is explored a little bit in the scene with the therapist discovering that after six years of filtering, Sara can't accurately recognize human emotions. "They're talking...I don't know what about." "I did this to her." Hat tip to the old "refrigerator mother" theory of autism.

I laughed out loud at 12-year-old Trick instantly showing Sara every kind of inappropriate video he can think of the second he learns the monitor is off, because of course he would. It's the speed run version of going to that one kid's house who has all the cable channels and lax supervision.
posted by Flannery Culp at 8:08 PM on December 30, 2017 [14 favorites]


what is the shooting locale?
posted by mwhybark at 10:36 PM on December 30, 2017


Toronto and area. Some details in this reddit thread
posted by samhyland at 7:21 AM on December 31, 2017 [3 favorites]


Also nice, all the teenagers names in this not too distant future are extremely uncommon today, like Meryl.

"Sara" is uncommon?

I also got the sense that "Trick" was a nickname based on his last name. I thought I saw that when the mother did the photo search she found his name was "Jeremy Trickerson" or something like that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:45 AM on December 31, 2017 [2 favorites]


The main horror for me was the Arkangel company going bankrupt. If this had been worthy of a full season's exploration, we would have watched the corp sell Sara and all the other children's data history to stay afloat before shutting down.

Imagine someone hacking the stored data of your entire life. Your dietary choices ("why don't you give her an iron supplement?"), seeing how and where to exploit your moral boundaries, your educational background and family medical history, even your money-spending habits.

Sara will likely be shown adverts for blood-pressure meds in adulthood, for example, because grandpa had that stroke when she was 6.

That for me was the true horror, plus the idea that this tech unwittingly could give rise to an entire generation of sociopaths. Without any normal childhood traumas to calibrate your empathy and fight-or-flight response, would you fear anything? Would you kill out of boredom or curiosity? Blood just looks like pixels, what's the fuss about?

My husband mentioned that it was smart to start with her C-section. Mom's decisions are all driven by fear, fear of losing her daughter, fear of Sara being harmed by someone due to mom's negligence. It was smart to have her be a single mom with granddad as a secondary influence, because we know we'd never let our own partner make a decision like that lightly. We'd try to talk the other one out of putting a permanent bodily implant with continuous monitoring by a corporate entity into our child's brain, if only to protect that child's privacy!

There was zero opportunity for the mother and daughter to build genuine trust with each other. I'm cheered that Sara ran away, and that she didn't actually bludgeon her mom to death.

Imagine someone hacking these nodes with ransomware and paying BTC to un-pixelate everything you see IRL... *shudder*
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 2:02 PM on December 31, 2017 [14 favorites]


I suppose it's worth noting that Sara doesn't (yet) know she didn't kill her mom, and also that my wife read Sara getting into the truck as perfectly equivalent to Sara being murdered by a serial killer, an interpretation I think was intended as part of the spectrum of outcomes but surely was not definitively established.

Another note: the subset of my FB friends who are single moms who have release access to Black Mirror loved this episode.

Really strong episode, subject to the caveats re storybranching and truncation others have noted above. Seriously remarkable, fantastic direction. Thanks, Ms. Foster.
posted by mwhybark at 4:01 PM on December 31, 2017 [1 favorite]


I appreciated the subtlety and understated direction they took this. Many much worse paths are there to imagine, and the presentation invites us to think about them, but instead of following one to a fully dystopian future, we get a complicated response from society to the problem technology, including the way kids on the playground react to it, it being banned (but not everywhere), and the therapist providing some help with the effects.
posted by joeyh at 5:03 PM on December 31, 2017 [4 favorites]


surely was not definitively established.

I think the intent was having the story finish with Sara doing something far more serious (and that in some way mirrored what led to having Archangel installed on her - disappearing) than the things she did that led to this situations - things teenagers do (like saying they are at a friends' but going to some party or watching stuff she shouldn't be watching) and some risky stuff that there are pamphlets about (unprotected sex, teen pregnancy and drugs) but she seemed marginally in control of it, and could always count on her mother to help her through it if the tablet was left on the bottom of a pile of discarded electronics, instead of the mother giving in to fear and breaking the promise she made that allowed Sara to grow, well, normal.

A different question it raises is that if Archangel is able to detect a pregnancy... was it supposed to expire? At first, it seems just one of those smartwatches/smart ankle bracelets for "kids" (who are likely to be banned in Germany, if aren't already) IN THE FUTURE, but if can detect pregnancy, it means it's not some pre-teen device with a limited operating life, but it goes through the teens and... does it ever stop? Is the system supposed to go "%KID% is now 18, so remote access is now disabled", or whoever had it implanted (certainly without their consent) is basically risking someone getting access to their tablet or managing to hack the connection for different tablet? Does that make the kids implanted with it a security liability because they can be "hacked" without being aware*?

Plus other implications: I mean, the tablet had recorded videos of her and Trick in the back of the van. I'm not sure if I'd go straight to the cops (as she threatened Trick) as much as actual possession of child porn, particularly after the device was discontinued, likely for privacy reasons (like those smartwatches I've mentioned before). I mean, I'm not a cop, but if a mother came to me in a station telling me she had recorded evidence of her 15 year old daughter having sex (it seems consensual and Trick is likely still a minor or at least within her age range), I'd probably motion her to "have a seat over there".

* Hey, this could even be the plot for a followup - a top ranking politician is conducting an investigation of treason in the cabinet because state secrets are being leaked, and in the end, it turns out someone thought they were buying some ancient tablet computer from an estate sale, but it was an Archangel linked to that politician, who never knew he had it implanted. Uh. Probably gonna ask Charlie about that.
posted by lmfsilva at 5:18 PM on December 31, 2017 [7 favorites]


read Sara getting into the truck as perfectly equivalent to Sara being murdered by a serial killer, an interpretation I think was intended as part of the spectrum of outcomes but surely was not definitively established.

I think Sara's mother probably would've imagined such an extreme but I didn't see it as necessarily that horrific. What I did see was a young girl left severely hampered in her ability to anticipate potential dangers because she'd been so sheltered and overprotected by Marie. Sara often had to guess at what "normal" behavior is and as result got easily taken advantage of by people like Trick. Then, she when she finds out that Marie had stunningly violated her boundaries by giving her a morning-after-pill-laced smoothie, she's left to question whether she can ever have agency over her own body. Her getting into that truck may have been her way of trying to prove she's in control and not at the mercy of invasive technology. Marie's obsessive actions pretty much drove Sara to that reaction.
posted by fuse theorem at 5:34 PM on December 31, 2017 [6 favorites]


As I mom I found myself drawn to some of the tech, specifically the medical data. If given the chance, would I turn down the opportunity to know if my child is unhealthy or sick?

It’s terrifying to realize about myself but, in isolate from the mind-shatteringly terrible idea of monitoring what your child SEES and fucking up their socio-affective intelligence, I might have to have my husband talk me down from monitoring their iron levels. Which feels like too much of a slippery slope as is, so, uhm, thanks for the ghost of Christmas future warning, Black Mirror.

(I really loved that the device was banned in Europe. Go Europe!)
posted by lydhre at 7:10 PM on December 31, 2017 [1 favorite]


I wish the writing were better in this episode. I agree with condour75 in that this is a sort of clumsy Monkey's Paw story. It's not exactly a subtle story, is it? But great direction and production makes it more than it could have been.

My favorite moment was when Mom starts spying on her teenage daughter and sees her having sex. And is horrified for a moment and then realizes, nope, it was a mistake to look and I have to let my daughter live her life. She puts the tablet away. It's only when she happens to see the drugs that she starts to intervene.
posted by Nelson at 7:04 AM on January 2


it turns out someone thought they were buying some ancient tablet computer from an estate sale, but it was an Archangel linked to that politician, who never knew he had it implanted.

I was terrified that's where this episode was going - mom disposes of the tablet, someone randomly finds it and now has root access to Sara's body/brain. Lulz ensue, cause hey, it's just a tablet!
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 8:24 AM on January 2 [3 favorites]


mom disposes of the tablet, someone randomly finds it and now has root access to Sara's body/brain.

This is why Archangel is one of the most terrifying pieces of tech on Black Mirror: It's a well-meaning device that people get implanted with when they are 3, 4 year old and the best recollection they might have from it is going to the doctor with mommy or daddy. But it can't be removed, and it seems if the parental filter is disabled, they might never know it was active and were being monitored, and this could go to well into their adult years, as long as anyone has access to a tablet they might not even it existed.
posted by lmfsilva at 9:05 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


Black Mirror shows who’s really losing their minds in the digital age – parents
But what, asks the Netflix sci-fi series Black Mirror – and it’s a question that stalks creator Charlie Brooker’s work more than any other – if we’ve got that all wrong? What if the operative word isn’t “digital” but “native”? What if the young have adapted to the new order perfectly well, and the people who really can’t handle it are us, the non-natives, the catcher-uppers? What if we’re the ones who will lose our sense of, first, proportion, then of morality and finally, self? What if the main problem for the next generation is not how to handle new technology but how to watch us not handling it and not hate us?
...
The mother ... is denatured by her control, incapable of stopping what she has started, careless of her daughter’s privacy and autonomy to the point that she becomes locked in the hyper-surveillance of parenting a baby even as the baby becomes a teenager. It’s not her daughter she infantilises, but herself: the act of trying to shield a child from the world is fruitless but not inconsequential. Compulsive prying transmutes into an elaborate narcissism, where her own need to know her daughter’s whereabouts is uppermost, any consideration of privacy or respect secondary. Like any addiction, it feeds itself; the more she controls, the less she can relinquish.
posted by Thella at 3:59 PM on January 3 [4 favorites]


I also got the sense that "Trick" was a nickname based on his last name. I thought I saw that when the mother did the photo search she found his name was "Jeremy Trickerson" or something like that.

It was Ryan Trebecki
posted by numaner at 9:40 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Just like the lead in Ep1 made me think of "puffy Matt Damon," Trick is "slightly-desiccated Adam Driver."

But it can't be removed, and it seems if the parental filter is disabled, they might never know it was active and were being monitored, and this could go to well into their adult years, as long as anyone has access to a tablet they might not even it existed.

I got a twinge of foreshadowing when she only put the tablet in the cupboard, but once Sara was older and Mom started treating the device like a pack of cigarettes, my heart sank. FOMO is a killer, people!

It was a straightforward elision to couch all of Sara's missed-life experience under the neighbor dog's aggression, then on Trick's schoolyard "NSFL tourguide" routine, but I think that would have clogged up the plot too much to include more detail there.
posted by rhizome at 3:35 PM on January 4


In my head, I kept thinking of Trick as Human 4chan. Though he was sightly more benign than that in the end (surely he was like 17 at most, so the sex didn't seem all that sinister to me, especially at it was consensual), so maybe he's more like a Human Rotten Dot Com.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:48 PM on January 6


I read someone note that Black Mirror often is less science fiction than moral tales with some science fiction hook. This episode really shows that difference. The implications of this technology are so far-reaching, but they're keeping it focused. It took me a while to stop thinking about the company that made Arkangel.

I suppose there could be some other show that focuses on the capitalist behemoth that must exist to create this device, and what it would demand as sacrifice.
posted by RobotHero at 9:43 PM on January 7


what if parenting, but too much?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:14 PM on January 9 [6 favorites]


I know this is a minor plot hole, but... if the company went away for reasons, why would the servers even still be online? At least right away, I figure they'd be dead until either someone else acquired them legally, or illicitly turned them back on. And at that point, I figure they'd make whoever still had tablets, if they wanted to, pay for the privilege of continued spying.
posted by bitterkitten at 6:52 AM on January 17


I didn't think Trick was taking advantage of Sara and I don't get the reading of Trick as a jerk. They were obviously close in age, they were in middle school together. Their after-sex conversation felt really sweet and vulnerable and authentic. He tried to talk her out of doing the drugs, she begged him to let her try it and he gave in. She seemed like she was an enthusiastic participant in all of it. I got the impression he genuinely loved her and it was extremely painful for him to cut her off. And yeah he showed her all that porn and violence when she first got the implant disabled, but he was like 13 or maybe 14 then, that's totally normal kid stuff.
posted by the turtle's teeth at 9:12 AM on January 17 [10 favorites]


I was watching the national news last night and they were talking about Bannon's subpoena. I suddenly wished I had the image scrambling technology from this episode.
posted by AFABulous at 11:03 AM on January 17


I know this is a minor plot hole, but... if the company went away for reasons, why would the servers even still be online?

Maybe I'd have to watch the episode again, but what would you need remote servers for, other than software updates? GPS works via satellite, POV imagery can be transmitted via cell towers or satellite or nearby wifi, and health data can be stored on the tablet itself. The image manipulation occurs when cortisol levels rise, not from some predetermined database of disturbing situations.

I do agree it'd be a subscription service, because capitalism.
posted by AFABulous at 11:09 AM on January 17 [3 favorites]


Yeah, that's the sort of thing I was getting at re: capitalist behemoth. It's a magical device that behaves the way the story needs, rather than the way that profit motives would shape it.

Maybe we can imagine there was some sort of Butlerian Jihad against subscription service nonsense.
posted by RobotHero at 11:41 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


I think one of the conceits of the show is that those kind of details are just part of the suspension of disbelief.
posted by rhizome at 12:12 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]


Maybe I'd have to watch the episode again, but what would you need remote servers for, other than software updates?

The reason remote servers get used now is for processing. But if there was enough onboard processing power in the device, then arguably it wouldn't be necessary.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:18 PM on January 17


According to the credits kid Sara and Trick are 9 and 12, which makes them 15 and 18 in the high school scenes - which explains why he backs off so thoroughly after Marie's threats, since things won't end well for a legal adult charged with a) having sex with and b) selling drugs to a minor.
posted by Flannery Culp at 5:29 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]


Was interested in the scene with the child psychologist/psychiatrist -- I couldn't believe he was evaluating Sara for autism in earnest when a conversation about the consequences of Arkangel, as well as parenting culture in itself, was so clearly called for. A similar phenomenon seems to happen today, too (easier to prescribe stimulants or SSRIs instead of having a conversation about life events and family dynamics)-- the institution of psychiatry can, unfortunately, be used as a culturally acceptable tool to further remove parents from their native roles.

I watched Crocodile before this episode, but by the time I had finished Crocodile, I felt like I was already tired of the strangling/head-bashing-type thing, even though within the episode itself that scene was needed as a portrayal of Sara's ultimate rage towards her mother (especially as the technology again clouded the effect of what she was doing).
posted by gemutlichkeit at 7:39 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]


I was 100% sure when the tablet got busted that it would have Sara end up locked in Filter mode...forever.
(I am wrong a lot)
posted by Cookiebastard at 7:29 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]


I thought that too! But then the main consequence of the technology would fall on Sara, who never asked to be born implanted, and Black Mirror is usually more of a traditional morality tale than that.
posted by Flannery Culp at 7:47 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]


« Older Black Mirror: USS Callister...   |  Black Mirror: Crocodile... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments