Hey all, with Black Mirror returning next week (can’t wait!!), I figured I’d give you guys my updated review of my favorite episode of the show. Spoiler Alert: I still love it. I contend San Junipero is possibly the best single hour of television that I’ve ever seen. So yeah, TLDR: it’s great! However, I wrote this for my Intro the TV class back in the fall (I think I actually wrote the majority of it on my birthday? which was a delightful way to spend some downtime that day) and figured I’d spell out why you guys should definitely watch this episode before the series returns.
No spoilers! Enjoy!
On paper, Black Mirror’s third season should have been an utter failure. The series is an anthology with each episode serving as an entirely isolated and semi-futuristic story about the dangers of advancing technology. Though intriguing, the show moved from the British network Channel 4 to Netflix after its second season. Such a transition took a toll on Arrested Development’s fourth season and increasing the budget of Black Mirror was a massive gamble. However, what some have dubbed “the modern Twilight Zone” only gained traction on the streaming service, in some part due to social media and bingeability. Additionally, the show began to include American actors and locations, gaining an international fanbase while still maintaining its original British crew. On top of these factors, it would be foolish not to additionally attribute some of this popularity to awards darling and Black Mirror masterpiece San Junipero.
San Junipero, much like the idea of Black Mirror’s first Netflix season, certainly did not scream smash-hit. Pitching “an ‘80s nostalgia-fueled, lesbian romance taking place across multiple dimensions and times” was likely not easy for writer Charlie Brooker and director Owen Harris. Yet, much like the show’s success on Netflix, the duo executed the episode perfectly. San Junipero stars Mackenzie Davis and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Yorkie and Kelly, two young single people in a party town called San Junipero during the summer of 1987. The two become close and ultimately Yorkie falls head-over-heels in love with Kelly. Then, various twists re-conceptualize the episode, their romance, and the idea of falling in love for the first time.
The most praiseworthy element of the entire episode is the heartfelt performances from Davis and Mbatha-Raw. Not only is their on-screen chemistry impeccably realized and strikingly cute, but Yorkie and Kelly feel as though they are real people with complicated lives and multiple layers. A sixty-one minute runtime on Netflix, longer than almost any broadcast episode, allows Brooker to tell a full story yet also incorporate the characters’ fully realized backstories with precision and grace. Speaking further towards the naturalness of Brooker’s writing, he executes several twists that may confuse audiences upon their reveals. Yet, after three or four minutes (using only visual imagery and music as exposition), the true brilliance behind these twists is revealed and Brooker is to be applauded for such creativity in such an initially simple-looking story.
Yet, beyond the writing and acting, the design and music of San Junipero are exquisite. Adding neon vibrancy to a mostly nocturnal story creates a delightfully appealing color scheme. The episode only receives further kudos upon discovering that its primarily featured colors are pink, purple, and blue: the three colors of the bisexual flag. This ties directly into the Kelly’s bisexuality and is such an intricate and beautiful detail. Elaborating upon beautiful details, the music of the 1980s brings San Junipero to life with each song emphasizing a theme of the story. After watching the episode, you will never hear its main theme “Heaven is a Place on Earth” the same way again. Similarly, The Smiths’ “Girlfriend in a Coma” and Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” provide subtle yet important commentary about the mindset and actions of Yorkie.
Many often praise Black Mirror for its dark depictions of the future. Yet, San Junipero provides a hopeful look ahead at how technology can positively benefit thousands of lives. Beyond the show’s tech-driven theme though, San Junipero is this writer’s essential television episode recommendation for one primary reason: it is amongst the most accurate portrayals of first love ever put to television. Heartache, heartbreak, yearning for more, and smiling when you know you’ve found the one are all present in San Junipero and will take a viewer back to his or her happiest moments in love. Regardless of age, sexual orientation, or other defining characteristics, love is a universal feeling that is so warmly encapsulated in San Junipero. The best types of entertainment, whether it be film, television, music, etc., are the ones that can break your heart and put it back together again, fuller than it was before. San Junipero executes precisely this through its heartfelt acting, brilliant writing, superb twists, insightful color palette, vibrant music, and overall sense that love is magical. Out of all the episodes of Black Mirror currently streaming and even when considering the abundance of romance-centric content, San Junipero truly is the peak and is the heaven on earth of Netflix programming.