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Recap / Black Mirror: San Junipero

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"I don't want to like anyone. So you've been just totally fucking inconvenient."

"They say in heaven, love comes first,
We'll make heaven a place on Earth."

It's The '80s in the groovy American beach resort town San Junipero. Shy nerdy girl Yorkie meets quirky party girl Kelly, and both their lives are changed forever. There is much, much more to the town than meets the eye, however.

Starring Mackenzie Davis as Yorkie and Gugu Mbatha Raw as Kelly.

Tropes related to San Junipero:

  • Anachronism Stew: Subverted. The titular 1987 city is named after a saint that was only canonized in 2015. But it turns out to be a simulation, and the episode is actually set in the future.
  • Artificial Afterlife: What San Junipero truly is. Living people who are facing terminal illness or upcoming death, such as Kelly and Yorkie, can have access to it for limited periods of time, (hence why they're called "tourists" in the slang of the community) and then make an informed decision about whether they will opt for Brain Uploading in their wills, or to simply pass on naturally. The concept is explored in depth: a virtual afterlife can offer reprieve to somebody who believes in Cessation of Existence (Kelly) and it can give someone who is quadriplegic or comatose for most of their life a "second chance" to live out their youths and have a good time (Yorkie).
  • Artistic License – Medicine: Greg, the nurse, said that Yorkie was quadriplegic. But, with quadriplegia, she probably would still be able to talk and move her head. Yorkie's condition looks more like locked-in syndrome. Whilst she may be quadriplegic as well, you think he'd name what makes her truly unresponsive.
  • Bisexual Love Triangle: Kelly (bisexual) is in one with Yorkie (a lesbian) and her husband (presumably straight), although her husband is dead. Kelly promised her husband so that she would "move on" and not go to San Junipero, because their daughter died before she had the option. Yorkie, however, who has been lying paralyzed since she was a teenager, represents the possibilities of San Junipero and the new life it provides. Kelly eventually chooses Yorkie.
  • Bittersweet Ending:
    • Yorkie and Kelly are physically dead, but get to spend however long they want together and Happily Married in San Junipero, in younger and permanently healthy bodies.
    • It's very hard to decide whether you should be, or even if you are happy or sad at the end of the episode because Kelly had a point: after a long happy life, much spent believing in and embracing a peaceful death, wouldn't it feel downright wrong to jump from the edge of oblivion to going out clubbing in your twenties forever? But, then, Yorkie has never had an actual life and is more real in this version of death. And then there's Kelly's relationship with her husband, and with Yorkie. It's painfully conflicting on the mind and on the feelings.
  • Book Ends: Belinda Carlisle's "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" appears momentarily in the opening "Mister Sandman" Sequence, and is played overtop the final scene and credits.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: Yorkie and Kelly both have very different viewpoints on being uploaded into the Cloud post mortem, but the episode does not treat either as the "right" one. Yorkie has been paralyzed most of her life, and is thus eager to be uploaded so she can live the life she was deprived of forever. Kelly, meanwhile, is reluctant to go through with it because she doesn't think it fair for her to live in youthful eternity when her daughter never had the chance—which is why her husband did not upload himself. Again, the episode does not offer an absolute solution to the situation.
  • Brain Uploading: People's minds can be uploaded to San Junipero after their bodies die. They can also visit temporarily while they still live.
  • Breather Episode: Sandwiched between two very dark and cynical episodes, even by the standards of this series.
  • Bury Your Gays: Played with all the ways to Sunday. Many critics have pointed out that the episode utterly dismantles the Bury Your Gays trope by the time the credits roll. Technically, Kelly and Yorkie are dead by the end of the episode, having both undergone euthanasia... allowing them to literally live forever together in an artificial afterlife in inarguably the series' most uplifting and optimistic ending.
  • California Doubling: Although meant to represent a Californian beach town, San Junipero was actually shot in Cape Town, South Africa. As was "Nosedive".
  • Call-Forward: When Yorkie enters Tucker's in '80, the song "Funkytown" is playing there and the line "Gotta make a move to a town that's right for me" comes up.
  • Casual Time Travel: Residents and "tourists" of San Junipero can freely move between simulated versions of different years.
  • Cessation of Existence: Kelly believes this happens when you die. That's why she was reluctant to upload her mind at first, since she would feel guilty about enjoying a virtual paradise when her husband and daughter are gone forever.
  • Commitment Issues: Kelly refuses to get emotionally involved with anyone because she has no intention of sticking around.
  • Continuity Nod: We're not shown it in-episode, but to "White Christmas". Kelly mentions that she will 'red-light' Wes if he doesn't leave her alone; in that episode Matt appears as a red blob after being blocked by the rest of humanity, indicating that he is a sex offender.
  • Coolest Club Ever: Tucker's, where Yorkie and Kelly meet.
  • Costume-Test Montage: Yorkie has one at home when deciding what to wear on her second weekend.
  • Deadly Euphemism: "Passing over" has become one for dying and becoming a permanent resident of San Junipero.
    Elder Kelly: Let's just call it dying.
  • Deathless and Debauched: Those who choose to be uploaded to the Cloud after death spend the rest of their days partying - either in the innocently nostalgic environment of Tucker's bar, or the seedy, perverted confines of the Quagmire. Kelly suggests that this is an ultimately empty existence that drives people to greater and greater extremes of hedonism in a desperate effort to feel anything; however, it's indicated that Yorkie and Kelly will enjoy a much happier eternity as a married couple, as they have something other than meaningless pleasure-seeking to live for.
  • December–December Romance: In the real world, Kelly and Yorkie are this, since they're both well into their senior years.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Neither of them had particularly happy backgrounds. One was permanently hospitalized at 21, while the other buried her child. It also takes a ton of work for both of them to open up. They still end up getting a happy ending.
  • El Spanish "-o": San Junipero. The English version of the saint's name is Juniper like the tree. Adding the O gives it a more Southern touch.
  • Eternal Sexual Freedom: Subverted. Kelly assures Yorkie that nobody will judge her for her homosexuality, which would seem anachronistic for a story ostensibly set in The '80s. This is actually one of the first clues that San Junipero is not a real 1980s beach town but rather an idealized simulation of one.
  • Face Your Fears:
    • Near the beginning, Yorkie gets visibly uncomfortable when she sees a car crash in a video game (because she got in a car accident before entering San Junipero). In the end, she is seen driving a sports car, happily and confidently.
    • Kelly overcomes her fears regarding afterlife. This is quite fittingly emphasized in the music when she joins Yorkie: "In this world, we're just beginning / to understand the miracle of living / Baby, I was afraid before / I'm not afraid anymore!"
  • Fairytale Wedding Dress: Yorkie wears one after she and Kelly marry, allowing Kelly to authorize Yorkie's euthanasia so that she can be sent to San Junipero forever.
  • Faking Another Person's Illness: Kelly tries to lose Wes, who is stalking her, by telling him that Yorkie is terminally ill. Later, it turns out that it's in virtual reality and Yorkie is, in fact, the avatar for a comatose old lady.
  • Feather Boa Constrictor: One patron at the Quagmire wears a snake around her neck.
  • Feel No Pain: When Kelly sees Yorkie sitting precariously on the edge of a roof and climbs a ladder to join her, she asks her whether she's set her pain sliders to zero in case she falls down or decides to intentionally jump down, implying that feeling physical pain in San Junipero is optional and the ability to do so is mainly for the benefit of people who prefer to spend their time in Quagmire.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Little bits and bobs all over the place, but most telling is Yorkie's distaste at seeing a car crash in an arcade game and confessions about never being on a dance floor; she was paralyzed at age 21 (the legal age to be in a bar in the United States) after crashing her car, so she may have never been inside of a real club. This also explains why her entrances into each bar she visits are apprehensive.
    • Likewise, there are subtle hints throughout the first half that this isn't actually taking place in The '80s. The most blatant example is probably when Kelly assures Yorkie that society has progressed enough that homophobia wouldn't be an issue for them; conceivably it could have been a reference to some progress being made in select parts of Reagan's America, but in general terms that was emphatically not the case.
    • When Kelly encourages Wes to try dating one of the locals, Wes dismissively refers to them as "dead people". At the time, it sounds like he's using the term metaphorically to mean that they are placid and boring, which seems incongruous with the constant partying that goes on in the town. It turns out that he's being literal.
    • The club where Kelly and Yorkie meet is called "Tucker's". At the end, we see a facility named TCKR Systems, where the data comprising the minds of all the people who decided to "pass over" are stored.
    • When Kelly and Yorkie first meet, Kelly lies that Yorkie is an old friend who has six months left to live in order to get rid of Wes. Wes accepts this without questioning it despite the fact that it would be considered a very dubious excuse in real life. One could think that Wes is being gracious; that he realizes it's an excuse to get rid of him and is accommodating them, but he seems to be taking it seriously. His willingness to take the claim at face value is a lot easier to understand after you learn that everyone in San Junipero is either trying out a digital afterlife because they're in poor health or are already dead and are there permanently. Also, it turns out Kelly has around three months left, and Yorkie plans to be euthanized in a few weeks.
    • Yorkie tells Kelly that as far as her family's concerned, she can't do anything. She means it literally.
    • An easily missed one is the use of past tense about Bubble Bobble being the first game to have multiple endings.
    • One of the people Kelly talks to at Tucker's is a fit young man in his early 20's talking about his arthritis and knee replacement. Not impossible, as some forms of arthritis can hit early, and both arthritis and a knee replacement can happen young, especially with circumstances like a sports injury, but it seems out of place for the scene.
    • Kelly assumes right away that Yorkie doesn't need to wear her glasses, despite no indication of such being given to the audience; in hindsight, it's because she knows that everyone is given 20/20 sight in the computer simulation.
    • Similarly, Yorkie is not fashion-conscious so it seems unlikely that she'd have the fashion skills and wardrobe to recreate looks so exactly from The Breakfast Club or the "Addicted to Love" video. Most viewers likely wrote this off as the standard reality-break of a Costume-Test Montage, but it makes far more sense when you know that residents can create any look automatically.
    • Several songs used in the soundtrack — notably "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" by Belinda Carlisle, "Fake" by Alexander O'Neal, "Living in a Box" by Living in a Box and "Girlfriend in a Coma" by The Smiths — hint at the nature of San Junipero before it's revealed. Brooker went on record saying that the latter song by the Smiths cost an exorbitant amount of money, but was a crucial addition to the soundtrack.
    • Just in general, the period setting of the episode is laid on so heavy-handedly that even Yorkie calls out its artificiality ("Everyone dresses like in a movie"). The opening scene certainly isn't subtle in establishing that the year is 1987, flat out stating it twice in a matter of seconds. That may be a hint that it's actually a simulation of 1987; it may be for the characters' benefit, a way of assuring them that they are in the year they intended.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: In the intro sequence of San Junipero, if you freeze it or are attentive you can see the town has a movie theater called "Bijou" that's currently playing The Lost Boys. The film is about a gang of young adult vampires who exist eternally in unaging bodies (taking the name from Peter Pan), which connects with the episode, and Bijou is famously known as relating to gay pornography (several films, theaters, and a production company).
  • Gayngst: There are hints of it with Yorkie's backstory and her continued insecurity with her sexuality in San Junipero, but ultimately the episode ends as a completely triumphant aversion of this trope. Kelly and Yorkie end up together, happily married, in San Junipero quite literally forever.
  • The Glasses Gotta Go: Averted. Kelly likes them, since they show Yorkie isn't trying too hard to be the person she thinks she should be in San Junipero.
  • Happily Married:
    • Kelly was married to her husband Richard for 49 years and loved him throughout.
    • Yorkie and Kelly by at the end of the episode.
  • Hollywood Driving: When Kelly drives Yorkie home in her buggy, she is staring at Yorkie for like 8 seconds until an approaching car honks at them because the buggy was straying.
  • Hotter and Sexier: The Quagmire, a nightclub out in the San Junipero desert. It's home to punks, rockers, bikers, weirdos, and fetishists, making it an inverse of the groovy and innocent club where Kelly and Yorkie meet. Yorkie is quite spooked at all the people leering at her when she goes to find Kelly, and flinches at the cage fights taking place for entertainment.
    Kelly: If you don't already know what the Quagmire is... you probably don't wanna know.
  • I Can't Dance: Yorkie. She really can't dance.
  • Immortality Begins at Twenty: Most of the people in San Junipero, including Yorkie and Kelly, appear to be an age between teens and late 20s.
  • In-Universe Soundtrack: The episode features a soundtrack of '80s music (and some '90s and '00s) played at the nightclub in which most of the episode is set.
  • Lighter and Softer: By far the most optimistic and hopeful episode in the series so far.
  • Lipstick-and-Load Montage: Yorkie gets an extended one. Turns out everyone in San Junipero can change their outfit and makeup just by thinking about it.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: Possibly Yorkie, though she appears most comfortable wearing casual shorts and shirts and minimal or no makeup. Kelly is arguably much more Lipstick Bi.
  • Longing for Fictionland: This is the reason why visitors are restricted to a couple of hours a week in the virtual party town.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: San Junipero. Living people are limited to 5 hours a week in San Junipero to avoid this effect.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: The episode plays with this trope. At first it seems like this is going to be a story about the zesty Kelly pulling the timid Yorkie out of her comfort zone. Then it turns out that Kelly is scared to death of actual intimacy and it's up to Yorkie to push her to feel something real again. Kelly teaches Yorkie to have fun, Yorkie teaches Kelly to truly live again.
  • Marriage of Convenience: Yorkie is marrying Greg so he can authorize her euthanasia when her family won't. Discovery of this prompts Kelly to make her own Wacky Marriage Proposal to Yorkie instead.
  • Mercy Kill: Both protagonists are euthanized. However, only their bodies die, since they upload to an artificial reality that's much nicer.
  • "Mister Sandman" Sequence: Each era starts with one of these. Likely deliberate, in-universe, to help orient tourists to what specific year they're recreating.
  • Montage: Kelly's death and funeral, and the minds of her and Yorkie getting moved by a robot and permanently uploaded.
  • Mr. Exposition: Greg is there to give us Yorkie's backstory.
  • Nested Story Reveal: Happens two thirds in, when the scene cuts to Kelly in real life.
  • Newspaper Dating: Done twice: a radio announcer saying "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" is "one of the biggest hits of 1987 so far" and a TV shop advertising a 1996 model of a television. This is averted in 1980, 2002, and in-universe present day.
  • No Social Skills: Yorkie, in spades. She's had nothing of a social life to practice with.
    Yorkie: [trying to chat up Kelly] I... don't know how to do this. Just help me. Can you just... just make this easy for me?
  • Nothing but Hits: The soundtrack plays hits from the relevant era. Justified, since it's a purposely nostalgia-filled version of each decade.
  • Odd Couple: Brash Kelly and nerdy Yorkie become this, Tomboy and Girly Girl and Red Oni, Blue Oni all rolled into one.
  • Older Than They Look: Pretty much everyone in San Junipero.
  • One Head Taller: At 5'10", Yorkie is a full six inches (or half of a foot!) taller than Kelly (who stands at a mere 5'4").
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Both Kelly and her husband outlived their daughter, but it really gets played straight when Kelly chooses to go to San Junipero when she dies rather than following her husband and daughter to death.
  • Popular History: Besides the soundtrack, the tidbits of pop culture in each decade are this (such as the movie poster and the video games). Kelly lampshades this by saying everyone dresses up like in a movie.
  • Production Throwback: Kelly says Yorkie danced "like a frightened horse on a frozen lake". The series creator Charlie Brooker described his own dancing skills with the same words seven years before the episode was released.
  • Purely Aesthetic Glasses: No one actually needs glasses in San Junipero, but Yorkie still wears hers out of habit, and keeps them (in slightly different designs, but always round wireframes) from era to era. Kelly notes that they look "authentic" on her.
  • Queer Colors: Pink, blue, and purple lights are a recurring motif for Kelly. She's bisexual, having been married to a man in her life on earth and now in a relationship with Yorkie.
  • Rage Against the Reflection: Kelly punches a bathroom mirror after Yorkie calls her out. This reveals that Kelly has Invulnerable Knuckles and, in a seamless cut, that the mirror has repaired itself.
  • Really Gets Around: Kelly is having fun in San Junipero before she dies and after a lifetime in a loving monogamous relationship. Yorkie wants more from their one-night stand and convinces her to have another loving monogamous relationship.
  • Residual Self-Image: Most people appear to have picked an idealized younger version of themselves.
  • Roundabout Shot: A variation happens when Yorkie stands still while Kelly and the other Quagmire residents dance.
  • Second Love: Yorkie is Kelly's, after a lifetime of being Happily Married to her husband.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Shrinking Violet: Yorkie is painfully shy; justified as she was paralyzed and bedridden for over forty years and doesn't have much in the way of normal human interaction.
  • "Shut Up" Kiss: Kelly gives Yorkie one at the beach.
  • Signature Song: "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" by Belinda Carlisle.
  • Sitting on the Roof: When Kelly looks for Yorkie, she finds her sitting on a roof.
  • Something Else Also Rises: A rare female example when Kelly, ahem, "deflowers" Yorkie. They kiss, Kelly begins undressing Yorkie and slides her hand down her panties... and the scene abruptly cuts to a shot of waves breaking on the seashore.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Aside from the opening, the light-sounding "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" starts playing over the ending, where it shows Kelly being euthanized and buried.
  • Speculative Fiction LGBT:
    • The Hugo-nominated episode plays with the Bury Your Gays trope like a cat with yarn, with this likely being one of the episode's social commentaries given that it's Lighter and Softer than the rest of the series. It takes the dream beach from The Zero Theorem, and allows people to infinitely upload their minds there during death, letting wives Kelly and Yorkie have the life together after passing that they can't whilst alive.
    • One review also points out that the setting as created with the San Junipero technology as norm legitimises and justifies homosexual relationships, as theoretical "salvation" is possible without the need to live through children (also enforced by Kelly's daughter's death), and it prioritises individual enjoyment. The moral philosophy arm-in-arm with the SF setting has normalised and even promoted homosexuality, which might be more the allusion that Kelly makes when she tells Yorkie that nobody cares anymore (rather than just that it is about 2030).
  • Surprisingly Happy Ending: Certainly compared to the rest of the series; Kelly overcomes her fears and grief and joins Yorkie in San Junipero for good to live Happily Ever After.
  • Suspiciously Apropos Music:
    • Yorkie's second Saturday starts to the sound of "Girlfriend in a Coma" by The Smiths.
    • The dance club plays "Living in a Box" by Living in a Box and "Fake" by Alexander O'Neal, both extremely suggestive of the actual setting.
    • The INXS song "Need You Tonight," the lyric 'twenty-first century's yesterday.'
  • Symbolism: Kelly smashes a mirror in a darkened bathroom, i.e. breaking the black mirror. When she looks back up, it's fixed.
  • Timeshifted Actor: Different actresses play elderly Yorkie and Kelly.
  • Together in Death: A lighter take on this trope than usual. Yorkie and Kelly both die, but they die happily and their minds are uploaded to San Junipero so they can be happy together.
  • Totally Radical: Only in The '80s could someone say "bodacious" with a straight face. Justified in that the space exists specifically as a nostalgic throwback, and people are deliberately trying to recreate their memories of the era.
  • True Love Is Boring: Mentioned by Kelly as one of the things she remembers about her marriage, but in a suitably impassioned monologue.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Non-residents of San Junipero - people who are still alive - are called tourists.
  • Vanity License Plate: At the end, the metal plate on Yorkie's car reads Y O R K 1.
  • We Will Have Euthanasia in the Future: It's commonplace in the present day, although some places (including the state of California) have harsh restrictions on it.
  • Wham Line:
    • "Try a different time. [I've] seen her in '80, mid-nineties, 2002 one time..."
    • "How many of them are dead?"
  • When the Clock Strikes Twelve: "Tourists", as opposed to permanent "residents" of San Junipero, are allowed one 5 hour visit per week, 7-12 Saturday evenings. As soon as the clock hits 12 they are booted.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Part of the reason for Kelly's reservations about whether to remain in San Junipero with Yorkie.
    • Also subverted. Some dialogue from Yorkie suggests people can opt to leave San Junipero, if they ever get sick of it, even those who have passed on. And in any case, 'forever' there only lasts as long as the computer system maintaining it all.

Alternative Title(s): Black Mirror San Junipero