San Junipero is a beachside town with theaters, arcades, and bars. San Junipero is not what it seems. San Junipero is a no-frills, timeless paradise. San Junipero is a twisty, endless puzzle. San Junipero is heaven on Earth.
And “San Junipero,” the Black Mirror episode, is the salve to every “White Bear” — or “Playtest”-inflicted wound. It’s the antidote to the poison the technology of Black Mirror appears to promise for our future. It teaches us that sometimes, the virtual can be vital, can even be helpful.
Or maybe not. It depends on your point of view. But we’ll get to that.
Let’s instead begin with Yorkie — yes, like the dog breed — a bespectacled, wide-eyed tourist played by Halt and Catch Fire‘s Mackenzie Davis, plucked from one fictional ’80s reality into Black Mirror‘s. She wanders through a neon-drenched street before spotting a fellow tourist, the purple-clad Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), trying to escape a man named Wes. Yorkie follows, slipping past Rick Astley clones and revelers before reaching the arcade for a round of Bubble Bobble. A man tries to chat her up, but Yorkie floats away to a booth, where Kelly crashes her reverie and asks her to play along with a plot to avoid Wes. It’s an adorable (and somewhat dark) meet-cute: Kelly spins a cover story that casts Yorkie as an old friend who’s dying in six — oh wait, five! — months. Wes buys it, and Yorkie can’t get enough of Kelly. She grabs a drink with her, and lets her take the lead on both choosing drinks and questioning. “Why glasses?” Kelly wonders, because most people don’t look authentically like themselves — they base their appearance on stuff they’ve seen in movies. But for Yorkie, the glasses are comforting; she had them when she was in school. (It’s our first hint to what else San Junipero is! Let’s see… it’s a place where anyone can aspire to be anything.)
Kelly and Yorkie are doing that, at first. As the duo dance, Kelly starts seeing things in slow motion and noticing everyone watching them, so she runs away. Naturally, Kelly follows her outside, into the rain. “Everyone was looking,” Yorkie says, saying she wasn’t sure whether two girls dancing would come off the wrong way before revealing that she also has a fiancé named Greg. She’s new to all of this. Kelly reassures her that it’s okay — and then says they only have two more hours until midnight. (Another hint! Now we know San Junipero is a place with a time limit, a Cinderella-like fairy tale.)
Yorkie refuses this week’s offer, but one week later, she looks much more eager. She’s enthusiastically trying on not just new outfits, but new personas, complete with different soundtracks. It’s as if entering San Junipero is like stepping onto a stage production. This time, Yorkie’s paid attention to her script: She finds Kelly in a glittering green outfit leaving Wes, then drifts through the crowd until she makes eye contact with Kelly, who’s dancing away like a Paula Abdul in the making. When Kelly doesn’t go to her, Yorkie follows her into the bathroom and admits she doesn’t know how to “do this,” so she takes her away from the bar, telling her to just enjoy San Junipero.
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They drive away to Kelly’s beach house — nearly veering off the road at one point — and Yorkie gets more glimpses into Kelly’s life. She finds a photo of a girl named Alison celebrating her birthday, but Kelly goes in for a kiss and takes Yorkie to bed. Later, Yorkie explains she’s never slept with a woman or a man before, and that the whole fiancé thing is, well, complicated. Kelly, in turn, reveals she had a husband who chose not to stick around, and now it’s just her “passing through” San Junipero. It’s 11:59 p.m. The clock ticks. Fade to black.
NEXT: Don’t you forget about me…