Black Mirror, a descendant of the Twilight Zone and a product of society’s quickly expanding technology, is known for its suspenseful and twisted storylines. In episodes past, the show has explored obsession born of jealousy, perfectionism to the point of self-destruction, voyeurism, and the fragility of humans as they use futuristic technology to act out their worst impulses. And while most of Season Three, which recently dropped on Netflix, follows similar themes as Seasons One & Two, “San Junipero” stands apart. Not only does “San Junipero” end happily, with the characters finding satisfaction and love rather than suffering through the technology of their universe, but the main characters are women- women who are in love and, refreshingly, happy. Spoilers ahead.
The main characters, Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) and Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), relive their youth through technology that allows users to, for five hours a week, upload their consciousness to an idealistic virtual reality, which materializes as a city called San Junipero. Yorkie is awkward and fearful, having been raised by an abusive family, but she’s drawn to the glamorous and carefree Kelly. Through her relationship with Kelly, Yorkie slowly becomes more comfortable in her own skin, and she opens up to Kelly about her family and her physical state in the real world. Kelly also grows through her relationship with Yorkie- still mourning a previous marriage, she had tried to live her virtual life free of attachment, a pursuit that Yorkie ruined.
With Yorkie’s hesitant permission, Kelly visits her in the real world, where she learns that Yorkie is an elderly, quadriplegic woman who needs to get married so that she can legally pass over. That is, obtain a physician-assisted suicide and have her conscious permanently uploaded to San Junipero, a procedure that her family would not allow due to their religious convictions. Although a hospital orderly named Greg had offered to marry Yorkie, Kelly marries her instead, thus freeing Yorkie to live in San Junipero. And although Kelly has her reservations about passing over (her late husband had refused, for good reason, and Kelly had intended to follow suit), she eventually meets Yorkie in San Junipero, to live out virtual paradise together.
The episode plays to the tune of nostalgic and upbeat 80s hits, in a gorgeous, technicolor city on a beach. The technology is fascinating, and the story hints to the extent of it without relying too heavily on exposition. The storytelling is lovely and well done. But the best part? “San Junipero” is a story about two women in love, who actually receive a happy ending.
It’s no secret that television loves to bury their gays, and even should sapphic women survive their storylines, they often end up alone or in a tragic circumstance. Although both Kelly and Yorkie do technically die, they do so to move on to a more beautiful life, where they can love one another without the restraints that they faced in life. At the end of the episode, they’re more alive than they were when they were, well, alive. Yorkie drives a convertible, hair loose and a lazy smile on her face, where before she walked with slumped soldiers and eyes cast downward. Kelly learns to commit again, even after the death of her husband, but without abandoning her love of dancing and going out. Their relationship is mutually respectful and incredibly healthy. Kelly is never punished or assumed to be straight because of her previous relationships with men, and her long-term marriage to a man didn’t deter Yorkie or cause Yorkie to doubt Kelly’s affection. Yorkie, in turn, is gay, and although in life she faced horrible repercussions because of her family’s conservatism, she found release in her afterlife.
Black Mirror, a show that thrives on twisted consequences for human nature, upended the standard for LGBT representation in modern television by offering a conventional love story that was made revolutionary by the indomitable love of two women.
You can watch “San Junipero” on Netflix, and you can listen to the show’s blissful 80s playlist, which was released by the creators, here.