San Junípero, the fourth episode of the third season of Black Mirror, got an Emmy for “Outstanding Made for Television Movie,” and it’s easy to why. Unlike other episodes of Black Mirror, this one isn’t overtly dark and creepy, but rather somewhat hopeful and romantic. In addition, its premise is something that I think, as technology evolves, will grow to one day become a reality (much like a lot of the Black Mirror technology). The foundation of the episode is TCKR Systems, a company that can upload your consciousness to a place called San Junípero. Now, you know exactly what will happen to you when you die. TCKR is operated solely by machines, we never see humans interacting with the system, except for Kelly and Yorkie, the two main leads. We see them in the real world placing the device on their temples and the nurse clicking “on.” This episode was written by the same writer of my favorite episode of Black Mirror, Be Right Back, and it’s clear that he’s obsessed with death and what technology can do with the afterlife.
Kelly and Yorkie are both “tourists” in San Junípero. They can go there for five hours once a week and live as their young selves again (it’s presumed that only old people on the verge of death can use this virtual reality simulator). They meet and fall in love. In reality, Kelly is elderly and dying of cancer, while Yorkie was made a quadriplegic when she was only 21 (she got into a car crash after her family rejected her sexuality), and has been forcibly put on life support for over forty years. Kelly lived a full life, she was married for 49 years and had a daughter who died before San Junípero was invented. Her husband preceded her by two years and had the chance to go to San Junípero, but declined it because how could he even think about going to a place where his daughter wasn’t?
Kelly has been visiting San Junípero ever since her husband died to live life to its fullest before its her time to join the rest of her family in heaven. Kelly's plan gets interrupted when Yorkie comes into her life and they start dating. Kelly meets Yorkie in real life and marries her in order to override Yorkie’s family’s life support contract. This way, Yorkie can become a full time member of San Junípero. Kelly however, still doesn’t know whether she wants to join Yorkie. The ending is ambiguous. Kelly simply says, she’s “ready for the rest of it.” We don’t see the app on her temple saying that she went to San Junipero, we only see her casket being put into the ground. However, in Yorkie’s life, we do see that Kelly is there. But Kelly could just be a simulation created by TCKR, since when we do see inside the TCKR hard drives, there are just serial numbers, and no names of individuals.
This episode deals with a lot of great questions about death and what virtual reality and AI could mean for death. With an AI afterlife, what happens when we do die is never answered. Just because we found a technology that could replace religion (unless we start worshipping our technology) and whatever happens next “naturally,” doesn’t mean that there isn’t another option. Shouldn’t we try to use this advanced to technology to see what would really happen if we died? What about an episode where we do really die and get to find out what happens, and then relay that back to earth to tell everyone what the “truth” is?
As for the characters, I really enjoyed Kelly and love that she turns into the main character at the end that has an arc. Yorkie gets what she wants in the end and never really has to grow, whereas Kelly has to make all the important decisions. She has to come to terms with her husband and daughter’s deaths, and she has to realize that it’s okay to have feelings for someone else. Yorkie does get to explore her sexuality more and learn to be more comfortable in her own skin, but she never has to make a hard choice, or a choice at all. In fact, I would argue that Yorkie is emotionally abusive and manipulative. Starting with the scene when she’s on top of a building after she and Kelly get into a fight (one of their many fights). She says, “I’m not gonna jump.” Then why are you on the top of a fucking building? She also has no idea what Kelly’s life was like and didn’t even think to ask, which Kelly brilliantly points out in this quote, “49 years. I was with him for 49 years. You can't begin to imagine. You can't know the bond, the commitment, the boredom, the yearning, the laughter, the love of it. The fucking love. You just cannot know! Everything we sacrificed. The years I gave him. The years he gave me. Did you think to ask?”
The episode also delves into something that has been on the news lately to help those with Alzheimer's and dementia which is, immersive nostalgia therapy. It helps to listen to music, see things that are familiar and that you can grasp when you start losing track of time and self. I think that if this type of virtual reality was ever possible, it might help dementia patients. But for now, nursing homes use old movies, songs, and objects to help patients cope.
The episode, though seemingly happy, does have a dark side. They discuss death into San Junípero as “Passing over.” This angers Kelly because she thinks they should just call it dying, that’s what it is. Can no one just die anymore? Instead of dying and things being over, there’s now a “forever.” This is when they talk about the cons of having San Junípero. Forever is a trap as far as Kelly sees it. What can you do with forever? Maybe it seems nice at first, but in reality, with all that time and inability to feel pain, you end up feeling nothing at all and needing to go to extremes to get any sort of reaction. Next, there's the problem of knowing how and where you will go when you die. Even though it seems like a paradise it may also turn some people off - like Kelly. Isn’t it sometimes better not to know, so you don’t take real life for granted, or the unknown for granted? So many things in life are guaranteed, but the afterlife, is one of the last great mysteries we have.
Also, my husband pointed out to me that this premise is very similar to Vanilla Sky (2001). Except in that film, you weren’t dead, the scientists just put you into a dream state while you were in hyper sleep. They would wake you up once technology progressed enough to "fix" you. However, you could do anything in your lucid dream, even though you didn't know you were in one. Even though the two have a semi similar premise, I do think that this is an innovative idea we haven’t yet seen before.
Before I finish this review, I just need to ask some questions where I feel there are plot holes.
21 year old English major and ESL Teacher. Currently living in Fortaleza, Brazil. Feminist and kill joy with a cause.