An incredibly middle-of-the-road outing for the acclaimed Netflix programme which, even in this delightfully adequate effort, is nothing in comparison to the rest of Season 4.
Charlie Brooker’s anthology series Black Mirror is finally back with its fourth series, and might just have proven itself to be the best series of the show ever written. Whether you watch the six new episodes in its given order, or completely randomly (à la yours truly), almost each episode raises the stakes for the next and acts as its own individual masterpiece, laced with plenty of emblematic Brooker-bleakness. And that makes it all the more difficult to somehow make more of each individual episode than the others surrounding it, even in any random order. Yet somehow, the series manages it – for the most part.
‘Arkangel’, the season’s second episode, might be closest to the tone and product of early-era Black Mirror. Following single mother Marie, the near-hour-long episode opens with the caesarean birth of her daughter Sara. Marie apologies to a nearby doctor for the inconvenience, already doubting her position as a good mother. The rest of the episode’s plot, which sees a young Sara go missing, found again and then injected with an ‘Arkangel’ chip that will allow Marie to monitor Sara’s movements and vital signs as well as see through Sara’s eyes on a tablet-esque device, would fit right in amongst Season 1’s ‘The Entire History of You’ or Season 2’s ‘Be Right Back.’ But since then, Black Mirror has evolved into showpieces like Season 2’s ‘White Bear,’ or Season 3’s ‘Shut Up and Dance’ and the oddly optimistic ‘San Junipero,’ each boasting something far more eerie and uncanny than its older episodes. ‘Arkangel,’ unfortunately, feels a little too safe to be amongst Season 4’s impressive efforts and is eclipsed by them all.
Rosemarie DeWitt’s performance as Marie should be commended, however, unfailingly rendering the anxious dependency of Marie to the Arkangel device concrete and understandable. Tenderly written, each character and each action, however terrible, is treated with nothing but sympathy. Spoilers aside, Marie’s relapse to the Arkangel recordings of her daughter’s day-to-day actions result in her committing an ultimate act of privacy invasion and sickening bodily violation, leading to Sara explosively reacting. Yet despite both characters committing ultimate acts of betrayal and sickening violence, the scene is treated with impressive neutrality.
There is little to shock, surprise, or earmark in ‘Arkangel,’ but there is also very little to disappoint. Far from the mundane (I think perhaps the closest Black Mirror ever got to mundane was Season 2’s closer ‘The Waldo Moment’), the episode merely doesn’t live up to the expectations set by the show’s ever accelerating vehemence. Still, it’s a nice throwback to the days before the show’s typical plot twists and stupefying endings, however outshined it is by Season 4’s ‘USS Calister’ or ‘Hang the DJ.’
Season 4 of Black Mirror, including ‘Arkangel,’ is available to stream on Netflix.