|Black Mirror episode|
|Episode no.||Series 3
|Directed by||Owen Harris|
|Written by||Charlie Brooker|
|Featured music||"Heaven Is a Place on Earth" by Belinda Carlisle|
|Original air date||21 October 2016|
|Running time||61 minutes|
|Awards||See awards section.|
"San Junipero" is the fourth episode in series three of British science fiction anthology series Black Mirror. Written by series creator and showrunner Charlie Brooker and directed by Owen Harris, it premiered on Netflix on 21 October 2016, together with the rest of series three. The episode has a substantially more hopeful tone than other Black Mirror stories and garnered popularity among both fans and critics, along with many awards.
The episode is set in a beach resort town named San Junipero, where Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis), a shy woman visiting the town, meets and falls in love with the more outgoing Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). The town is revealed to be a simulated reality of 1987 in which the elderly's conscious minds can live, even after death, and Yorkie is a woman with locked-in syndrome who wishes to be euthanised so she can inhabit it permanently. Kelly marries Yorkie so she can legally authorise this, but is reluctant to join her due to Kelly's husband and daughter having died without joining San Junipero. However, she later decides she is ready to join, and is uploaded to San Junipero so she can be with Yorkie.
"San Junipero" was the first episode written for series three of Black Mirror; Charlie Brooker was inspired to write an episode to upend viewers' preconceptions of the show. Initial drafts were based on nostalgia therapy and designed as a period piece; they featured a heterosexual couple and an unhappy ending. The soundtrack contains many songs from the 1980s, and the sets were carefully designed to evoke the era. The episode was filmed in Cape Town, South Africa and in London, England over a few weeks.
The episode has received critical acclaim, with critics rating it highly in comparison to other episodes of the show. Many critics believed it to be one of the best television episodes of 2016. It won two Primetime Emmy Awards, including the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Television Movie, as well as numerous other accolades and nominations. Mbatha-Raw and Davis' performances were very well-received and the episode's plot twist was widely praised, along with the uplifting tone of the episode and its visual style and music, though a minority of critics gave partially negative reviews.
In 1987, a shy woman named Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) visits San Junipero, a beach resort town. Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a vivacious party girl, strikes up a conversation with Yorkie at a night club in order to ditch Wes (Gavin Stenhouse), a man with whom she previously had sex. Kelly invites Yorkie to dance but Yorkie, self-conscious and embarrassed, flees from the bar. Kelly follows and flirts with Yorkie before propositioning her to go to bed together. Yorkie declines, saying she is engaged to a man named Greg. The following week, Yorkie returns to the bar and observes Kelly flirting with a different man. Yorkie and Kelly reunite in the bathroom before returning to Kelly's beach house to have sex. Yorkie confesses it is the first time she has had sex with anyone; Kelly says she is bisexual and was once married to a man.
The next week, Yorkie returns, looking for Kelly. She spots Wes, who advises her to "try a different time". Yorkie visits 1980 and 1996 before finding Kelly in 2002, but Kelly rebuffs her advances. After Yorkie leaves the bar, Kelly follows and confesses that she is dying, and that she avoided Yorkie because she feared developing feelings for anyone in San Junipero. The two have sex again; Kelly tells Yorkie she wants to meet her in real life. Yorkie is hesitant at first, but at Kelly's urging, tells Kelly her location.
It is revealed that San Junipero is a simulated reality where the deceased can live permanently and the elderly are permitted to visit for up to five hours per week; in this reality, they have the body of a younger version of themselves and cannot feel pain unless they choose to. Back in the physical world, the elderly Kelly (Denise Burse) visits a bedridden Yorkie (Annabel Davis). She learns from Yorkie's nurse, Greg, that Yorkie was paralyzed 40 years earlier after running her car off the road in despair when her parents rejected her for coming out as a lesbian. Yorkie wishes to be euthanised so that she can live in San Junipero full-time. However, her family has religious objections, so she intends to marry Greg (Raymond McAnally) so that he can consent to her removal from life support. During a five-minute visit to San Junipero arranged by Greg, Kelly offers to marry Yorkie instead; Yorkie enthusiastically accepts, and Kelly subsequently authorises Yorkie's euthanasia.
On Kelly's next visit to San Junipero, Yorkie asks her to stay full-time. Though Kelly does not believe in heaven, she plans to die without being uploaded to San Junipero. Her husband of 49 years, Richard, chose to die in the same way, because their daughter Alison died at age 39 before San Junipero existed. Yorkie and Kelly argue, and Kelly leaves in her Jeep, which she crashes on purpose. Yorkie runs after her and catches up to her just as Kelly's virtual body disappears, her visiting time having ended for the week.
Time passes, and Kelly's health continues to worsen. She elects to be euthanized, and is buried alongside her husband's and daughter's bodies. Her mind is uploaded to San Junipero, where she happily reunites with Yorkie.
"San Junipero" is the fourth episode of series three; all six episodes in this series were released on Netflix simultaneously on 21 October 2016. Whilst series one and two of Black Mirror were shown on Channel 4 in the UK, Netflix commissioned the series for 12 episodes (split into two series of six episodes) in September 2015, and in March 2016, Netflix outbid Channel 4 for the rights to distributing series three with a bid of $40 million. Due to its move to Netflix, the show had a larger budget than in previous series, and a larger episode order which allowed the show to vary its genre and tone more than previous series. Alongside "Nosedive", "San Junipero" was first shown in 2016 ahead of its Netflix release at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Conception and writing
"San Junipero" was the first episode written for series three. Authored by Charlie Brooker, it was a "conscious decision to change the series". Though the show previously focused on technology causing disaster, this episode served as proof that uplifting Black Mirror episodes are possible. The concept of the episode originated in an idea about technology being used to determine whether an afterlife exists. However, Brooker later became inspired by nostalgia therapy for older people. He "kept saying [he wanted] to do an episode that's set in the past", and wrote "San Junipero" as a period episode. Director Owen Harris described the 1980s as a "period in life that was really optimistic".
Brooker says that he wrote the script for the episode in four days. In the initial draft, the love story was between a heterosexual couple, but Brooker changed it because he thought this gave the episode an extra resonance, as same-sex marriage was not legal in 1987. Brooker notes that having a twist makes the writing process easier, as "when you know that 85 percent of what's happening you can't reveal till later on, it actually sort of narrows your options in a useful way". One draft of the episode contained a scene where Kelly visits a kindergarten in San Junipero, full of children who had died, but it was removed because "it was too sad and too poignant of a note to hit in that story", though Brooker notes that he "kept thinking about how [the scene] felt like a whole world in and of itself". The episode was set in California, as another way to "upend" people's preconceptions of Black Mirror. One reviewer noted that "San Junipero" contained "only American characters".
The episode was originally intended to have an unhappy ending. Brooker told The Daily Beast that in the rough treatment, the episode ended at the scene where Kelly and Yorkie meet in the hospital, but "when I sat down to actually write it, I was enjoying it so much that I thought, No, I'm going to keep going!" He had an idea for the ending "where you saw them in loads of different eras", such as the 1920s. Following the episode's release, Brooker was asked about a Reddit post speculating that Kelly is simulated for Yorkie's benefit, rather than really there; he replied "Wrong! They are together", and comments that "[t]hey have the happiest ending imaginable. [...] it's not a big rainbow sandwich, but what appears to be happening there, is happening there."
Setting and music
Brooker was involved in the choice of arcade games for the set; he was a teenager during the 1980s and has worked as a video game journalist, so he had an interest in the topic. He chose the year 1987 "fairly arbitrarily", and mentioned "very specific movie posters" in the script. Brooker put together a playlist of music from 1987 on Spotify. Some music, such as "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" by Belinda Carlisle and "Girlfriend in a Coma" by The Smiths, hints at the episode's plot twist. Each song had to be cleared for roughly 15 years for Netflix. Every song in the playlist was cleared other than a track by Prince.
"Heaven Is a Place on Earth" plays at the beginning of the episode, and over the end credits. Brooker first heard it while running, and knew it would be perfect for the final scene, admitting in an interview he would have been "absolutely distraught" if they were unable to use it. "Girlfriend in a Coma" features in the episode "for about five seconds", yet cost "an outrageous amount of money! It was like shoveling bank notes into a fire", according to Brooker. Executive producer Annabel Jones notes that "it was indulgent but at the same time, it was so important that we set up that era so it felt different". The song "C'est La Vie" by Robbie Nevil was chosen by Harris; it was "one of the first singles that [he] ever bought".
The episode also featured an original score composed by Clint Mansell. Mansell said he was approached by Harris and composed the score around the previously chosen songs, including Belinda Carlisle's. Mansell stated that the "calm electronic" score was influenced by John Hughes movies, as well as the death of his girlfriend over a year before. The episode's full original score was released by Lakeshore Records for downloading and streaming in December 2016.
Cast and filming
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who plays Kelly, had heard of the show but not seen any episodes when she received the script from her agent, though she did watch "Be Right Back" before the shoot. Mbatha-Raw read the entirety of the script as soon as she received it, on a bus journey from Oxford Circus to Brixton. Davis first saw the show with a friend who had pirated it; they watched "The National Anthem".
The episode's director was Owen Harris, who previously directed the series two episode "Be Right Back" – an episode which he described as "strangely similar" to this one as both are "relationship-led". According to Mbatha-Raw, the episode was shot in 14 days across a three-week period, with a week shooting in London and another week in Cape Town, South Africa. She described the shoot as "very rapid", saying they "didn't really have much time to rehearse" and that there was no read-through. Harris says that Cape Town "has these really rich, beautiful settings. [...] Suddenly you could create a version of California that felt slightly heightened because of this slightly strange quality." Mbatha-Raw states that almost every scene was shot at night or dusk, particularly the exterior scenes. Harris claims that during the shooting of the argument on the beach between Kelly and Yorkie in their wedding dresses, "this incredible mist rolled in from the ocean and it turned into this really beautiful scene", which caused "some challenges, but it gave us some really lovely texture". Mbatha-Raw recalls an ostrich walking onto the beach during one filming session.
The editing process altered how overt the hints leading up to the reveal of the twist were. Annabel Jones says that "there may be visual signifiers that you think were going to work and then didn't, so you need more exposition in the edit". Use of sound design such as sound effects were key to this.
Brooker has repeatedly stated that there are no plans for a sequel episode to "San Junipero". He told the Los Angeles Times that "we want to keep [Kelly and Yorkie] happy there". However, Brooker has raised the idea of doing a sequel to the episode in "a completely different form", such as a graphic novel or "an experience". Additionally, he said in September 2017 that the show "may be referring to San Junipero again" in Easter eggs, which the show has used before. This occurred in the fourth series: for example, "Black Museum" shows Kelly's and Yorkie's dresses on display in a museum, and features a hospital named Saint Juniper's.
The titles of the six episodes that make up series 3 were announced in July 2016, along with the release date. A trailer for series three, featuring an amalgamation of clips and sound bites from the six episodes, was released by Netflix on 7 October 2016. A short clip "Orange Is the New Black Mirror", released by Netflix in 2017, is a crossover between this episode and Orange is the New Black, featuring characters Poussey and Taystee from the latter reunited in San Junipero.
The episode is a highly optimistic, emotionally rooted love story and a work of science fiction. It features the first same-sex couple in Black Mirror. Nicholson writes that it "leaves you believing in the power of love to fight pain and loneliness". Some reviewers noted that the love story "transcends consciousness". The episode also has unhappy elements and has been called "bittersweet". It evokes nostalgia for the 1980s with its soundtrack and its style, and can be considered a period piece. It also raises questions about death and the afterlife. Dibdin calls it a "modern fairy tale".
The episode's more hopeful tone is unusual for the show—at the time of its release, "San Junipero" was considered to be the most different from other Black Mirror episodes. Elfring described it as the only episode with "warmth to it", and Jeffery called it the "most upbeat and positive". Handlen believed that the previous episodes' sad tone heightens the effectiveness of "San Junipero", and Stolworthy thought that it was consequently the show's most ambitious episode. Saraiya notes that technology is portrayed as good in "San Junipero", a rarity in the show. Sims noted that the episode follows the season's darkest episode, "Shut Up and Dance".
The episode subverts a common trope in television of killing off lesbian characters: though Kelly and Yorkie die, they have a happy ending. Its Emmy Award wins were considered by some to mark a cultural shift in relation to portrayal of lesbianism, or as proof of concept that works dealing with LGBT characters do not have to be tragic.
"San Junipero" is commonly considered Black Mirror's most popular episode, due to its emotive presentation of a love story with a happy ending. The episode has been highly favorably received by critics, although a minority disliked it. The episode garnered five stars out of five in Irish Independent and an A in The A.V. Club. Along with "Nosedive", Lee of The Guardian gave the episode four stars. The Telegraph and Daily Mirror give the episode three stars. Handlen believes the episode to be "one of the best hours of television" he saw in 2016, while Tassi says Mbatha-Raw and Davis give the best performances of the season. Butler says the episode is "one of the most beautiful, cinematic episodes of television" of 2016.
Mbatha-Raw and Davis's performances were universally praised,[a] even by reviewers who disliked the episode, and their characters were very well-received. Sims lauded the couple's "instant, lived-in chemistry" and said the pair "convey a whole lifetime of angst and desires in just a few interactions". Lopez agreed that they have "some of the most crackling chemistry out there" and praised the episode for making the viewer feel they are "watching lives lived in real time". Welsh believed the episode "hinges" on the characters, complimenting their "understated, pitch-perfect performances" that "make their characters' connection feel completely real". Mbatha-Raw and Davis were praised for their abilities to "impress with their emotional range" for giving "fierce and vulnerable performances", and for anchoring the episode. Georgia Welch of The Mancunion also praised Brooker and Harris for the "multi-faceted" and "richly developed" nature of the characters. The pair also received praise in negative reviews. Collin asserts that though their characters "rarely ring true", the actors have "enough vivacity and conviction" for the ending to work. Aubrey Page of Collider says the episode "works largely due to its perfectly cast pair of leads" even though "the episode is hurt by its surprising lack of originality". However, Wallenstein criticised Mbatha-Raw and Davis for the inability to "pack the emotional punch that this crowd-pleaser needs to truly shine".
The episode's plot twist, revealing the simulated reality in which San Junipero exists, was highly commended by critics. Stacey called the twist "ingenious" while Mellor called it "captivating". Chitwood thought he had worked out the twist early on, but commented that he was wrong as "the 'twist' is not the point". Hurley said that although she thought the episode would become "a cautionary tale about the dangers of technology", it actually "swerved away from darkness and ultimately delivered a happy ending". Mullane opined that the episode's "revelations are not depicted as twists" and that it was "refreshing". Handlen wrote that the episode "is structured beautifully" as it "holds information back just long enough to make sure we care about its two leads, but no longer".
The episode's visual style and music, which evoke the style of the 1980s, were well-received. Welch commented that "the subtle 80s synth score aids the strange and beguiling atmosphere of the location wonderfully, which combined with the soft pastel colour palette only adds to the magnetic, dream-like allure of this alternate reality". IndieWire praised both the production design and soundtrack. Mullane calls Mansell's score "wonderfully tender". The Wrap reviewers said the episode was "visually stunning" and "joyous to watch for anyone with any sense of '80s nostalgia". Mellor said "the period settings are diverting".
Many critics praised the emotion evoked by the episode, and how the episode ventured into a new genre for the show. Goodman and Atad both opined that the story would leave viewers in tears. In a positive review, David mentioned crying when watching it. Stacey found "San Junipero" to be "astonishingly well-realised" and "ultimately extremely moving". Meslow praised the episode for being "breathtakingly and tear-jerkingly human". Lee was impressed by the "surprising and ultimately poignant" nature of the episode, while Mellor said the "tender love story" is "genuinely moving". Mullane said that the show was able to tell stories without over-reliance on "bleak and shocking scenarios", and Hall concurred that the episode is "proof that the series is more than misery and darkness". Bone opined that the episode's success was down to "its willingness to try something new", and Wallenstein called it "perhaps the most satisfyingly daring tonal shift" of the show, although he ranked it poorly in comparison to other episodes.
The episode has also received limited negative criticism. Collin noted that the episode's central conceit has been widely used within the science fiction genre. Stolworthy criticised the episode, saying "the overloaded third act creaks at the seams" and that "San Junipero", rather than "Hated in the Nation", should have been 90 minutes long.
Black Mirror episode rankings
"San Junipero" appeared on many critics' rankings of the 19 episodes in Black Mirror, from best to worst.
Other critics ranked the 13 episodes in Black Mirror's first three series.
"San Junipero" has been widely described as the best episode of series three of Black Mirror.[b] It has also appeared at various ranks on critics' lists of series three episodes by quality.
End of year lists
"San Junipero" appears in multiple critics' lists of the best episodes of television from 2016.
Other critics listed their favourite episodes of television in 2016, without giving an order. "San Junipero" appears on these lists:
In 2017, "San Junipero" won two Primetime Emmy Awards, as well as a BAFTA Television Craft Award. It has also won or been nominated for several other accolades:
|2017||BAFTA Television Craft Awards||Best Make Up and Hair Design||Tanya Lodge||Won|||
|Best Costume Design||Susie Coulthard||Won|
|Art Directors Guild Awards||Excellence in Production Design for a Television Movie or Limited Series||Joel Collins, James Foster and Nicholas Palmer
(Also nominated for "Nosedive" and "Playtest".)
|Cinema Audio Society Awards||Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing for Television Movies and Mini-Series||Adrian Bell, Martin Jensen, Philip Clements and Rory de Carteret||Nominated|||
|IGN Awards||Best TV Episode||"San Junipero"||Won|||
|GLAAD Media Awards||Outstanding Individual Episode (in a series without a regular LGBT character)||"San Junipero"||Won|||
|Hugo Awards||Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form||Charlie Brooker, Owen Harris||Nominated|||
|Diversity in Media Awards||TV Moment of the Year||"San Junipero"||Nominated|||
|Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Television Movie||Charlie Brooker, Annabel Jones and Laurie Borg||Won|||
|Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special||Charlie Brooker||Won|
|2018||Broadcast Awards||Best Single Drama||"San Junipero"||Won|||
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