‘Black Mirror’ Study Guide: Arkangel
‘Black Mirror’ is a satirical anthology series that examines the dark aspects of modern society, particularly as it relates to our relationship with technology. Each standalone episode presents a picture of a world that’s futuristic, yet believable; cool, yet horrifying. Each of these study guides will touch on some of the themes the episode explores.
Relying On Technology For Peace of Mind
The opening scene of “Arkangel” shows a mother giving birth, then being ignored by doctors who crowd around her newborn daughter and refusing to tell her she’s okay. Sara, her daughter, ends up being okay. The same cannot be said for the mother, though, as beginning motherhood in that way leaves her with a constant and lifelong fear of losing her daughter. She turns, of course, to technology. Particularly, an implant that acts as part-GPS tracker and part-Orwellian Big Brother.
This implant lets her see where Sara is at all times, provides notifications when Sara’s vitals fluctuate, live-streams video of what Sara sees, and even blurs out stressful images (e.g., violence). The heart of what this technology really provides, however, is not protection for the child, but peace of mind for the parents. She’s protecting her daughter, of course, but also protecting herself from losing her daughter. The implant makes it so that she’ll never feel as powerless as she did when Sara went missing, giving her a sense of security that is so invaluable that it blinds her to how it can affect Sara.
This is all an extrapolation of our current infatuation with “Smart Home” products. If we’re so fearful of forgetting to turn the stove off that we install cameras in our homes, who’s to say we won’t do the same when it comes to our children? Everything has to be accessible on our mobile devices — thoughts; memories; people. If it’s not, we’re scared we’re gonna lose them forever. Technology can do a lot for us, but few of its capabilities are as appealing as giving us peace of mind.
Becoming One With Technology
In the original Blade Runner, Deckard says, regarding Replicants and technology in general: “they’re either a benefit or a hazard.” This is a false dichotomy. Technology, more often than not, fluctuates between both. Where it is on the spectrum at any given time depends on how we use it. At the core of Black Mirror is the belief that technology in and of itself is not dangerous; it’s us and our inability to moderate our use of technology that makes it a hazard. We’re so blinded by the “cool” factor of technology that we welcome it into our lives with open arms, so much so that we’re slowly becoming one with technology.
A lot of science-fiction ponders what happens if robots start to become human-like, but humans becoming robot-like might be the bigger cause for concern. First we welcome it into our homes, next we let it into our bodies. Don’t say it’s impossible. I’m sure there are people who once despised “Big Brother” who now have an Amazon Echo or Google Home sitting in their living room. We just can’t quite say no to a cool new gadget.
The scary part is much of our transformation from human to robot-like human will go unnoticed, because all of it is gradual. In “Arkangel”, Sara starts off as a lively and playful little girl who excitedly runs around the jungle gym and curiously chases after cats. By the end, she’s beating her mother’s face in like a robot rising against its oppressive creator. Sara’s loss of empathy and other human qualities is subtle, and gradual. Some of it is because of her mother’s actions, but those actions are only made possible by technology. Maybe in our hands, technology can only be a hazard.
Bonus: Two Small Details I Loved
- The melancholic score
- The emotionless blank stare of toddler Sara