Black Mirror Season 3, Episode 4: San Junipero A.K.A Big Critics Do Cry

Tease out your hair and pull out your tissues, let’s take a trip to San Junipero with the 4th episode of Season 3 of Black Mirror. 

WHAT’S THE IDEA HERE?

An afterlife of nostalgia and what it means to those who have it.

An awkward young woman named Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) visits San Junipero, an idyllic resort town, for the first time in 1987. While there, she meets the vibrant Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). Yorkie helps Kelly out of a jam, and Kelly invites her new friend to dance. Then invites her to have sex. Yorkie turns her down.

At midnight, they disappear.

The following week, Yorkie looks for Kelly again. Yorkie finds her, and takes Kelly up on her offer.

At midnight, they disappear.

Yorkie can’t find Kelly in 1987. So, she looks for her in 1996. And 2002.

Spoiler alert: It actually doesn’t get worse from there.

SPOILERS BELOW. LIKE LAST WEEK, I CAN’T REALLY TALK ABOUT THIS ONE WITHOUT TALKING ABOUT THE WHOLE THING. JUST WATCH IT. THEN COME BACK.

HOW’S THE IDEA WORK?

“San Junipero” is an episode basically unlike any other of Black Mirror, in that it’s one that dares to ask what good technology might be able to do for us. Even in a form that seems scary and dehumanizing, one that literally removes our minds from our bodies, it gives us something more.

A new chance, a new life. An afterlife.

You see, San Junipero is introduced to us as a city, as a resort. It is those things, but it’s something more. It’s a Heaven. In this story, San Junipero is a computer simulation of a perfect place during any time you want. The living can visit for just five hours, but the dead can upload their minds to it permanently and live on forever.

It’s probably the most remarkable maturation for Black Mirror as an anthology show to do an episode so different from its normal purposes while retaining what makes it special as a show. At its core, this is still Black Mirror. It asks tough questions about our relationship to technology while still grounding it in the effect it has on very real people.

In this, they’ve found a story of love and loss and hope. It’s gorgeous and beautiful and I implore everyone to take a chance and see it.

If only for the questions it raises, see it. “San Junipero” is a show that divorces the afterlife from religion and asks the toughest question about eternity as a human. Does it mean anything to be human when death is gone, when any feeling but bliss is gone? After all, won’t we one day grow numb to even total joy? What is love after we’ve had it for so long and lost it? For once, Black Mirror sought to find some joy in its questioning. The idea that love can happen again, and that this technology gave some people a chance to start anew.

I want to expand a little more on the optimistic view this episode takes on technology. At its core is the fact that Yorkie is a gay woman. When she told her parents (in the ’80s), she was 21 and they rejected her. That distress caused a car accident that put her into a coma for the rest of her life. That is until San Junipero gave her a new chance. A world where she was allowed to live her life with freedom, to do all the things she was never able to do. For this episode, the virtual world, the connection of technology, is for one fleeting moment a freedom. A way to break the chains of a society that stifled her.

There’s something brilliant and thoughtful at the core of this episode and all without a single dark twist.

If only for the workmanship involved, see it. This episode is unlike almost any other of Black Mirror (minus maybe “Nosedive”) because its palette is teeming with life. The filter of nostalgia rests over these episodes, San Junipero is an idealized version of the years you can visit. We spend most of our time in the 80s, a brilliant and beautiful neon landscape. Director Owen Harris captures a perfect idealism, clean and beautiful and colorful. The work is stunning, not just for how it captures the joy, but for when it manages to capture the sorrow. The little moments of regret, the way during conversation the faces of Yorkie and Kelly (both young and old) are caught, Harris finds the little moments inside the big ones. This shouldn’t have been a shock after his direction of “Be Right Back,” but damn is it good to see.

The music is great too. I can’t imagine what the budget to license all of this was, but I’m glad Netflix opened up their wallet for it. “Heaven Is A Place on Earth” will never be the same to you.

If only for the two actresses and characters at its core, see it. Mackenzie Davis has had a moment coming and this is the episode that convinces me she deserves it. The shy way Yorkie holds herself and those little moments as she starts to become comfortable and realize the love she does have for Kelly.

But dear god Gugu Mbatha-Raw. I knew she was amazing (Beyond The Lights, watch it) and she owns this episode. She gets the heartbreaker speech and knocks it out of the park. The two seem so real, so natural. I can’t help but think of Carol (with a different direction, for sure) in how naturally it all seems to unfold.

Every cylinder is firing here. Brooker took a chance, and I’m so glad he did.

OVERALL?

If every other episode of this season and the next was Charlie Brooker literally pissing on an iPhone, “San Junipero” would have made it all worth it.

Ecsatically joyful, colorful, and deeply moving. This isn’t necessarily the core of Black Mirror at its best, but it’s almost something more. It’s Brooker talking about life, love, and what could lie beyond. I laughed, I cried, and I’m recommending it to anyone and everyone.

Grade: A

SERIES RANKING

  1. Fifteen Million Merits – A+
  2. San Junipero – A
  3. Be Right Back – A
  4. White Bear – A
  5. The Entire History of You – A
  6. White Christmas – A-
  7. The National Anthem – A-
  8. Nosedive – B+
  9. Playtest – B+
  10. Shut Up and Dance – B-
  11. The Waldo Moment – C
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