If you’re confused, read my post on add-ons. So, now that we’re through that, here’s the review:
Black Mirror is designed to be a British Twilight-Zone-like anthology about media and spectacle. The screen we look at, the screen upon which this is read, the screen upon which it is written, these are all the black mirrors in which we look to see ourselves, others, and ourselves through others. For the first 2 seasons, the show usually had about 1 great episode in 3, with another 1 being good/really good, and another being okay. After Netflix took over, I think the quality rose a bit in season 3, if only because they managed to produce this episode.
“San Junipero” is, in a lot of ways, the opposite of a Black Mirror episode. The episodes usually take the point of view that the “Screen” is bad. That our virtual lives and obsession with spectacle are actually hurting our existence and our society. They manage to convey this through exaggerated scenarios, ranging from the contemporary to the dystopian future. To be fair, there are a few episodes in which the screen is not entirely negative, such as using it to punish pedophiles or child murderers through psychological torture, though in those episodes they point out that the pedophile and child murderer both used screens to commit their offenses. The closest they’d had to a positive episode was “Be Right Back,” which features a woman replacing her dead husband with an android copy… and it’s not super happy. This episode completely goes the other way and shows the absolutely magical potential of social technology through something that everyone can understand: Falling in love.
The episode starts in the 80s-est 80s that ever 80s-ed, in the beach town of San Junipero. The audience is then introduced to two women, the timid virgin Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) and the bisexual party-girl Kelly (Gugu “I deserve much more work” Mbatha-Raw), who admits she was previously married to a man. The two form a quick, complementary relationship, which ends with the two having sex. When Yorkie returns the next week, she seeks out Kelly, but is unable to find her. Yorkie is advised to “try a different time.” She then searches through bars in the 1990s before finding Kelly
in the 2000s. Kelly brushes her aside, leaving Yorkie crushed, until Kelly finally seeks her out to inform her that she is dying, and is just trying to avoid finding any real connections before she passes on. Kelly then asks to meet Yorkie in her real life.
At this point, it shifts to the Real World, where we are introduced to the real Kelly, an elderly woman with terminal cancer in a nursing home, and the real Yorkie, a woman who has been in a persistent vegetative state since she was 21 years old, 40 years ago, when her religious parents’ rejection of her sexuality led her to drive her car off the road. Now that San Junipero exists, Yorkie is trying to get euthanized so that her consciousness can be permanently uploaded to the program. In order to overcome her religious family, Kelly agrees to marry Yorkie to authorize the procedure. However, afterwards, Kelly reveals that she doesn’t want to spend eternity in the program, because her daughter and husband won’t be there. She acknowledges that she doesn’t believe she’ll be with them in the afterlife, but she also thinks that it would be breaking a promise to them if she stayed in San Junipero. Ultimately, though, Kelly chooses to join her new wife in their digital afterlife, together forever.
As I said, Black Mirror doesn’t do happy endings. Usually, their take is that technology is leading society to revel in spectacle, rather than actually living. But, this episode points out that spectacle isn’t always bad. Yes, San Junipero isn’t exactly the best place for deep introspection, but that’s not what they’re using it for. This isn’t the story of two young people using it to avoid living their lives, it’s the story of two people who can only really live through it. It isn’t replacing their real world, it’s giving them a chance to have a real world. It gives them a chance to really be with people in a way that life hasn’t or no longer does.
Some people probably complain of the ending, because it is somewhat cheesy and unbelievably upbeat, but here’s the thing: Unless you die young and fast, there will come a time when you have to rely on something beyond yourself. It’s a part of mortality. You will look for something more to deal with the fact that you aren’t going to be here anymore. Several episodes on this list deal with that very thing. You might find faith, you might find peace in nihilism or existentialism, but, ultimately, you’re going to want something. This one just picks a different thing in the end. It’s a heaven of man’s own creation. It’s the ultimate showdown of science v. religion, because in this science has managed to replace the afterlife, the biggest and best “spectacle” religion has to offer. One day, this episode’s premise may be a reality, and we’ll have to see what people choose.
It’s on Netflix. Watch it.
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