Arkangel, directed by Jodie Foster, brilliantly uses a technological advancement to examine some of the fundamental quandaries of child-rearing: How can I protect my child, and still give her space? When do I let go?
From the very start, Marie (Rosemary DeWitt) loves her newborn baby girl, Sara, fiercely. The first time we get a glimpse of just how fierce Marie's love is comes during a routine visit to the park. By this time, Sara (Aniya Hodge) is three. A single mother, Marie relies on the help of her father (Nicholas Russ), to raise Sara. He chooses to stay home while they walk to the slightly nearby park. On the way, Marie is sure to cross the street so Sara doesn’t get scared by the neighbor’s aggressive dog.
Marie lets Sara run free in the empty, small playground near a train line. Sara is pleased to find a small orange cat chillin’ out. As Sara fixates on the cat, Marie speaks to a neighborhood mom who just arrived to the park with her infant. Marie shouts to introduce Sara to the neighbor, but Sara doesn’t respond. And Marie. Goes. WILD!
Cut to a giant manhunt. Marie has recruited the entire small town to shout “Sara” alongside her. She is in full-on panic mode. Luckily, a neighbor finds Sara down by the train tracks. She had followed the cat there. All is well. It was just a typical childhood mishap.
Right? Wrong. Marie decides she can’t let this happen again, so she heads to Arkangel Co. to have a piece of technology installed in Sara’s temple that will ensure Marie will never need to worry about her kid’s whereabouts ever, ever again. Since Marie and Sara are participating in the Arkangel trial program, the implant comes at no cost.
The process is simple. While in the marble-walled Arkangel lab, Sarah is injected with a serum. Then, Marie is shown all the many capabilities of this new technology. Marie has an iPad-like device upon which she can see Sara’s GPS and vitals. She can alert the authorities if Sara goes missing.
There are other features Marie didn’t even know about — like that Marie can now see everything Sara sees. There’s also the parental control filter. When the filter is turned on, anything that would be potentially disturbing to Sara is blocked out by large pixels, and the sound is drowned out. Anything that could raise Sara's heart rate in the slightest is no longer a source of fear.
Grandpa thinks his daughter, Marie, is crazy to go to Arkangel — he had let her run around, and she turned out fine. But Marie has a different philosophy (she can’t help it! She’s a millennial parent). Now, when she and Sara go to the park, they can walk right past the barking dog. With the filter on, Sara’s not afraid.
A while later, Grandpa is watching Sara while Marie is at her job as a physiotherapist. They’re painting together. Suddenly, Grandpa has a heart attack, and slumps into the chair. He’s in pain. Sara is alarmed by what she sees, so the parental control filter blocks Grandpa out. Marie is alerted of Sara’s cortisol increase on her Arkangel. On the Arkangel’s ocular setting, she can see what Sara is seeing, but without the filter: Her father in the middle of a medical emergency. Grandpa recovers, but he lacks the vitality he had had before.
Sara (Sarah Abbott) grows up, and now she’s a middle-schooler. She and her mom visit Grandpa’s grave at the cemetery. Sara blocks out her mother’s grieving face, and continues to draw. Also, I hate to be this person, but earlier in the show, Sara had been a rightie, and now she is a leftie.
As a kid known for being installed with an Arkangel, Sara struggles to adjust to middle school. The kids on the blacktop don't let her see the illicit video they're all watching on someone's phone, because it would be blocked out anyway. They call her Chiphead.
One boy, Trick (Nicky Torchia), is especially interested in provoking her curiosity. He asks her if she’s ever seen blood. She hasn’t. She feels left out. So that night, while drawing a gruesome picture of a man bleeding, she sharpens a pencil and stabs her fingertip. The blood is filtered out, and goes blurry. She smears the blood on her face. Then, her mom gets the notification on the Arkangel, and bursts into her room. Sara is enraged, and slaps her mother across the face.
After that incident, Marie tries to find a remedy. Unfortunately, the Arkangel device can’t be removed. But the parental control filter can be. If Marie puts away the iPad device, then it’s like Sara has nothing different about her, at all. She’ll be fully free-range.
Even though Sara is scared, she agrees to go out into the world without a filter. Her first walk to school without a filter is tough one. The neighbor's dog scares her, and she almost gets hit by a car. Marie, unable to resist turning on the Arkangel, ensures that she arrives safely to school. She does.
Now that Sara doesn’t have a filter, Trick can show her everything she missed over the past few years, like porn (“they can’t make babies that way,” he explains), a clip from Saw, and a terrorist beheading. The world’s full of scary things Sara never could process before.
Gradually, Sara stops being afraid of everything, including the German Shepherd down the road. In a montage of scenes of her walking past the dog, Sara (Brenna Harding) grows up in the 15-year-old we’ll see her as for the rest of the episode. Now, she’s friendly with the dog. She feeds it.
Marie is braver, too — she hasn’t checked the Arkangel in years. It’s gathering dust in the attic, along with her other childhood toys. She and Sara seem to have a close relationship. Marie makes her the same smoothie every morning, and adds in crushed probiotic pills, because Sara can’t take care of herself with quite the same fervor that Marie can.
Sara is back at the blacktop of the same school, only now she’s cool and dressed like a teenager who doesn’t care what people think of her. She and her friend, Meryl (Abby Quinn), run into Trick (Owen Teague). He’s all grown up, too, and not in school anymore. He’s in the driver’s seat of a black van along with some of this friends. He runs some delivery service; it’s implied his goods are illegal.
As it turns out, our Sara has grown up to be a great flirt. To have that know-how at such a young age! When Trick asks them to hang out at the lake that night, Sara gives a simple, “We’ll think about it.” On their walk home, she and Meryl come up with a plan to trick their mothers into thinking they’re having a movie night at their friend Riley’s house. Instead, they’ll go to the lake.
Marie goes out with her casual sexy buddy as Sara goes to watch The Breakfast Club at Riley’s. She says she’ll be back by 11 or so. But she doesn’t go to Riley’s! She goes to a campfire near a lake, where she cuddles with Trick on a log as the sun goes down. Love is in the air.
On her way home, Marie calls Sara. No response, other than Sara’s quintessentially teenager voicemail: “Hi, it’s Sara. Leave a message. Make it good.” Being the highly intense and neurotic person that she is, she calls a string of different parents, and starts a whole other manhunt to find Sara. Marie is transfixed with fear, and so does something she hadn’t in three years: Resort to the Arkangel.
Marie turns on the ocular setting at precisely the wrong time. On her screen, she sees a topless Trick leaning over Sara. They’re having sex, and Sara is whispering lewd, lewd things no mother should ever have to hear. Marie turns off the Arkangel in a fit.
Sara, unaware that her mother spied on her in the precise moments she was losing her virginity, is still in a chipper mood. She and Trick are genuinely adorable, to the point that I miss being a teenager. Unfortunately for them, a distraught Meryl bursts into their Love Shack to inform Sara that they’re busted – their mothers know they’re not at Riley’s.
Marie manages to keep her mouth shut, and not go tiger-mom on Sara. She and Sara keep their normal morning smoothie routine intact. After school, Sara goes to hang out with Trick in the lot where he keeps his van. She flirtatiously (and a wee bit aggressively) convinces him to show her what he deals. It’s coke. She begs him to try some — she's curious. He's reluctant.
Back at home, Marie’s Arkangel starts blaring the “Narcotic Alert” alarm. She sees Trick setting a line of coke, and Sara snorting. Naturally, Marie freaks out and kicks down a chair. Granted, sex and drugs in two consecutive days is enough to throw a parent into some degree of alarm. So she gets serious. Marie scrolls through all the faces Sara has encountered in recent days, and finally comes upon Trick’s mischievous smile. Then, she uploads Trick’s face to “Faceseeker.com” (now that’s a Black Mirror episode!). She’s able to track down where she works.
Before we know it, she’s at the used furniture shop, yelling at Trick to “stay the fuck away” from her daughter. Trick is horrified to learn that Marie has been watching her daughter, and has seen them together. But he’s also scared enough of Marie the Banshee to stay away from Sara.
Sara, who has no idea what her mother did, assumes Trick is ghosting her. She’s devastated. Marie watches as she texts Trick over and over again. Sara goes to the warehouse to confront Trick. He’s cold to her, and tells her that he doesn’t want her. Trick doesn’t mention Marie’s actions. As Sara is having her heart broken, we see Marie walk into a pharmacy.
The next day, Marie crushes the pills she bought at the pharmacy, and puts them in Sara’s smoothie as she normally had done with probiotics. The pills have a terrible effect on Sara. She becomes nauseous during a lecture on Oedipus, and runs to throw up in the bathroom. The school nurse informs her that Sara had become so nauseous because of an emergency contraceptive pill.
At first, Sara is confused. Contraceptive pill? Then, in a gust of awful comprehension, she realizes that Marie must have known she was having sex, because she was watching her. Sara leaves school and digs through her cabinets and trash can, before finding the crushed up Plan B cardboard box. Then, she finds the Arkangel iPad underneath her mom’s pillow. Very subtle, Marie.
Marie comes home and looks at the Arkangel. She sees Sara, standing behind her and watching her with fury. Sara is seized by some otherwordly sense of betrayal and anger, and she starts whacking her mother with the Arkangel. Over and over and over. Marie’s face is full of blood, that substance Sara had been blocked from seeing for so long.
Thanks to Sara's violent outburst, the Arkangel no longer works. The screen is completely bashed in. Sara, now more free than ever, leaves the house.
Marie manages to rouse herself, and she walks out in the street, crying for Sara the same way she had when Sara was a little girl who wandered away to follow a cat. But this time, Sara isn’t coming home. She’s hitchhiking. Sara gets into the first vehicle that picks her up — a huge black 16-wheeler. Bye bye, Mom. Bye bye, Arkangel. Hello, world.