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'Black Mirror': ‘Arkangel’ is a Half-Hearted Cautionary Tale

Season 4, Episode 2

The fault with “Arkangel” lies in its inability to commit to its own terms. When Marie Sambrell (Rosemarie DeWitt) is introduced, it’s clear that her hyper-protective nature will draw some sort of divide between her and her daughter, Sara (Brenna Harding). Initially, it seems that “Black Mirror” will run its usual intense course, especially when Marie has a controversial neural implant installed in Sara’s head in order to monitor her daughter’s every move and even filter out stressful content from her vision.

As Sara grows older, Marie realizes that the neural implant—the Arkangel—is doing more harm than good, stunting her emotional growth and ability to respond to necessarily stressful events. She promises to stop using Arkangel, but that’s when the show loses its trademark “Black Mirror” emotional strength. Rather than being a full exploration of the complications of protective instincts and rebellious teenagehood, “Arkangel” comes off as more of a warning label for helicopter parenting instead. It just doesn’t have the same moral twists that other “Black Mirror” episodes tend to have.

The dramatic weight of its final scene feels unearned. Marie does micromanage Sara’s life to a horrifying extent, going as far as putting an “emergency contraceptive” in her breakfast, but the episode’s philosophy and emotional potency simply don’t live up to the premise’s potential. “Arkangel” wants to be a cautionary tale against pushing too hard, and thus inadvertently pushing your loved ones away. But it shouldn't take its family advice for its writing—what’s the point in watching if you don’t push your story at all?

—Staff writer Grace Z. Li can be reached at grace.li@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @gracezhali.

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