As we’ve come to know Black Mirror, we know there is one simple rule to it: Nothing is as it seems. In worlds enhanced by different kinds of technology, one can only imagine the consequences and the implications of each invention. As we begin watching episode 4 of the new season, “San Junipero”, it strikes again: We are in the 80’s, but something does not add up. What is it?
Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis, you may recognize her from “Halt and Catch Fire” and from the movie “The Martian”), who appears to be quite nerd-ish, slowly enters a night club called “Tuckers” in what appears to be 1980’s USA. The music, the clothes, the vibe, everything has a nice vintage touch to it. She wonders around, finds an Atari machine, and plays. Another guy comes, but she doesn’t want to play with him. She is reluctant, shy, even weird. Then she sees a girl she saw outside the club, and the girl uses her to distance her date (note: remember the excuse, Yorkie has only 5 months left to live). This is Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, “Doctor Who”, “Touch”, “Jupiter Ascending”), a beautiful and free girl who seems to want Yorkie’s company. She invites her to drink and dance, but in the middle, Yorkie flees.
Outside, Yorkie tells some facts about herself that doesn’t add up: She fears other people might see them dancing together (two girls, 80’s), she was never on a dance floor, she has a fiance, and “all this” is new to her. Is she an immigrant? Is she freed from a cult? So many questions, and then midnight arrives, and she’s gone. At this point, we have no answers whatsoever.
Next week, Yorkie finds Kelly in the same place. Kelly may have another date, but she abandons him, enters the restroom and leaves with Yorkie. They both go to Kelly’s place, the chemistry between them sparks. Yorkie wants Kelly to “teach her”, and they both have sex. Later, in bed, they talk about feelings: Yorkie was a virgin up to that point, but she somehow has a fiance. Kelly just passes through San Junipero, and she was married to a man in the past, though she likes both men and women. The clock strikes midnight, and it’s over. What is happening? Is it a Cinderella story? At this point we can only guess, but we know this “thing” / “city” only happens once a week, and ends by midnight.
Next week, Kelly in nowhere to be found. Yorkie searches “Truckers”, and the bartender advises her to check the other club, “Quagmire”. She drives there, only to be disappointed yet again. Though she found Wes, Kelly’s first week’s guy, who says she might be “in the 1980’s, 1990’s, or 2002”. The mystery extends. Is it some sort of time travel thing? A virtual reality for sure. Isn’t it?
Going through the decades (the details are amazing, I liked the effort they did with every decade), she managed to find Kelly in 2002, to the sound of Alanis Morisette in the background. She confronts her in the ladies room, and Kelly insisted she comes “here” for fun, not for having feelings. When she hits the mirror in anger, nothing happened to her hand, and the mirror reset. It is a futuristic virtual reality, for sure now. But for what?
Yorkie went on the roof. She is not gonna jump (her pain scale is even set to 0), but she is sad. 80%-85% of the people “here” are dead, or “full-timers”. While talking, Kelly explained she didn’t plan on getting close to anyone here. She didn’t believe she would ge to like a person like Yorkie. They go home again, and then talk some more. Yorkie marries Greg next week, her fiance but she hates that he pities her. Kelly has only 3 months left, but “they” said it also 6 months ago. The cigarette has no taste. Richard, her husband, didn’t stay “here” when he died, and so she won’t, too. Yorkie says she would have never met someone like Kelly without this place. Kelly insists on “really” meeting her, tough Yorkie doubts.
By this time, we see the “real world”. All those little hints from the beginning form what is essentially a virtual reality for sick people, mostly old. Using a coin that sits on a person’s temple, they visit San Junipero, a VR city, where they can experience what they can’t in real life. They choose the year, the clothes, and set some parameters (i.e. pain levels), but only have 5 hours weekly, because otherwise they begin to lose it. After dying, they can choose to be “uploaded to the cloud”, to “pass over”, for eternity.
We see Kelly, old “real” Kelly, visit Yorkie in her medical facility. A male caregiver, Greg, is the one to marry Yorkie, to sign as her spouse on the documents that allow her to “pass over”, because her religious family wouldn’t sign. He tells Kelly that when Yorkie was 21, she came out (of the closet) to her religious parents, there was fight, she took the car and ran off the road. She is quadriplegic ever since (So that’s why everything was new to her. Most of her adult life she was in comma, basically). Kelly, being in love with Yorkie, proposes to marry her instead. They marry, and the day after, Yorkie dies and is transferred to the cloud. At this point, I seriously doubted watching the remaining 10 minutes. This series tends to have dark and upset endings, and at this point I was quite happy. Though, I couldn’t just stop.
When Kelly visits again, Yorkie tries to convince her to “pass over” as well, because this is the best way to live eternity, but Kelly refuses. She respects her husband, they were married for 49 years, had a daughter who died young (without a choice to “pass over”), and she plans on dying. She crashes her car into a roadblock, but since nothing permanent happens there, midnight arrives and she’s gone.
We see Kelly in real life, as her state worsens. One day, she tells her caregiver: “I guess I’m ready for the rest of it”. We know she’s been deep in thoughts recently, but by “Black Mirror” style, we believe she still wishes to die. But lo and behold, the opposite happens, and she joins Yorkie in San Junipero. All is well. Well, except they are both dead, but still.
Both leading actresses did an excellent job portraying their characters. Even though they are young, you could see, by second viewing, the burden of the years, as they are actually old women, one that lived a long life and had a family, and one that was forced to stay a child. Denise Burse did a fine job playing the elder Kelly, given what we saw in the VR.
The end of the episode is hopeful and sad at the same time: We see a company called TCKR systems. They have a room full of chips, all the people that have “passed over” to San Junipero, blinking lights in an endless facility. May we have this kind of technology in the future? It reassures to know that you might be able to live forever, and join the people you loved, and it is also a very similar idea of the religious afterlife. Religious people wouldn’t want to participate in a thing that defies religion. But what if nothing stands behind all those religious beliefs, and in order to “pass over”, we need to invent that kind of technology? Or are we already living in an advanced virtual reality?
It is indeed a very thought provoking episode. It wasn’t particularly a sad one, and it’s a good thing. Some things are better left with hope. I’ll end with my favorite song from the episode: