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San Junipero

"San Junipero"
Black Mirror episode
Two women dressed in 1980s-style clothing.
Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis, left) and Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, right)
Episode no. Series 3
Episode 4
Directed by Owen Harris
Written by Charlie Brooker
Featured music
Original air date 21 October 2016 (2016-10-21)
Running time 61 minutes
Awards See awards section.
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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List of Black Mirror episodes

"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, with the rest of series three.

The episode is set in a beach resort town named San Junipero, where the introverted Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) meets the more outgoing Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). The town is a simulated reality the elderly can inhabit, even after death. "San Junipero" was the first episode written for series three of Black Mirror; initial drafts were based on nostalgia therapy and designed as a 1980s period piece, featuring a heterosexual couple and an unhappy ending. Filming took place in London and Cape Town across a few weeks. The soundtrack interweaves 1980s songs with an original score by Clint Mansell.

The episode has received critical acclaim, with generally higher ratings than the show's other episodes. Some critics considered it one of the best television episodes of 2016. In addition to several other accolades, "San Junipero" won two Primetime Emmy Awards in the Television Movie and Writing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special categories. Mbatha-Raw's and Davis's performances were well-received and the episode's plot twist was widely praised, along with the episode's uplifting tone and visual style.

Plot

In 1987, a shy woman named Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) visits a nightclub in San Junipero. Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a vivacious party girl, talks to Yorkie to ditch Wes (Gavin Stenhouse), a man with whom Kelly previously had sex. Kelly and Yorkie dance, but Yorkie becomes uncomfortable and leaves the club. Kelly follows and sexually propositions Yorkie, who declines, saying she is engaged. The following week, Yorkie returns to the bar and observes Kelly flirting with a different man. Yorkie and Kelly reunite in the bathroom and have sex at Kelly's beach house. Yorkie confesses that it was her first time having sex, and Kelly reveals that she was once married to a man.

The next week, Yorkie returns, looking for Kelly. Wes advises her to visit a different time. Yorkie eventually finds Kelly in 2002, but Kelly rebuffs Yorkie's advances. After Yorkie leaves, Kelly follows and confesses that she is dying; Kelly had avoided Yorkie because she feared developing feelings for her. The two have sex again, and Yorkie reluctantly tells Kelly her real-life location so that they can meet.

San Junipero is revealed to be a simulated reality where the deceased can live and the elderly can visit, all inhabiting their younger selves' bodies. Back in the physical world, the elderly Kelly (Denise Burse) visits Yorkie (Annabel Davis). She learns from Yorkie's nurse, Greg (Raymond McAnally), that Yorkie was paralysed at age 21 after crashing her car when her parents reacted poorly to her coming out. Yorkie wishes to be euthanised so that she can live in San Junipero permanently, but her family objects; she intends to marry Greg so that he can consent for her. Kelly visits San Junipero and offers to marry Yorkie instead. Once Yorkie enthusiastically accepts, Kelly authorises Yorkie's euthanasia.

During Kelly's next visit to San Junipero, Yorkie asks her to stay full-time. Though Kelly does not believe in an afterlife, she plans to die without being uploaded to the simulation. Kelly's husband Richard chose to die in the same way because of the death of their daughter Alison at age 39. Yorkie and Kelly argue, and Kelly leaves in her car, which she crashes on purpose. Yorkie catches up to her just as Kelly disappears, her visiting time over for the week.

Time passes, and Kelly decides that she is ready to enter San Junipero. She is euthanised and buried alongside her husband and daughter, and she happily reunites with Yorkie inside San Junipero.

Production

"San Junipero" is the fourth episode of series three of Black Mirror; all six episodes in this series were simultaneously released on Netflix 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 with a bid of $40 million,[1][2] and in March 2016, Netflix outbid Channel 4 for the right to distribute series three in the UK.[2] Due to its move to Netflix, the show had a larger budget than in previous series,[3] and a larger episode order which allowed the show to vary its genre and tone more than previous series.[4] Alongside series three episode "Nosedive", "San Junipero" was first shown in 2016 ahead of its Netflix release at the Toronto International Film Festival.[5]

Conception and writing

I'd read people saying, 'Oh no! It's going to get all American!' so I said, fuck it, I'm going to set it in California, fuck you, I'll choose protagonists that wouldn't necessarily leap into my head, and I'll explore a hopeful use of technology to shut up people who think it's written by the Unabomber.

Charlie Brooker, Interview with The Daily Beast.[6]

"San Junipero" was the first script produced for series three,[7] written by Charlie Brooker as a "conscious decision to change the series".[8] The show previously focused on technology's negative effects;[9] this episode served as proof that uplifting Black Mirror episodes are possible.[8] Brooker initially envisioned an episode in which technology is used to investigate whether an afterlife exists,[6] but later became inspired by nostalgia therapy for older people.[10] Having repeatedly thought of writing an episode set in the past,[7] Brooker wrote "San Junipero" as a period episode.[10]

Image of Charlie Brooker.
Series creator Charlie Brooker wrote the script for "San Junipero".

Brooker says that he wrote the script for the episode in four days.[8] In the initial draft, the love story was about a heterosexual couple, but Brooker changed it to give the episode an extra resonance, as same-sex marriage was not legal in 1987.[10] He has said 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".[11] 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".[12] Brooker chose the setting of California, a location in America rather than Britain, as a way to "upend" people's preconceptions of Black Mirror.[6] One reviewer noted that all of the characters in "San Junipero" are American.[5]

The episode was originally to have an unhappy ending.[10] Brooker told The Daily Beast that in the rough treatment, the episode ended with 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!"[6] He had an idea for the ending "where you saw them in loads of different eras", such as the 1920s.[13] 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",[14] 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."[13]

Setting and music

The nightclub settings featured arcade games, which Brooker took an interest in choosing as he was a teenager during the 1980s and has worked as a video game journalist.[15] Director Owen Harris described the 1980s as a "period in life that was really optimistic".[16] 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.[17] Some pieces of music, such as "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" by Belinda Carlisle and "Girlfriend in a Coma" by The Smiths, hint at the episode's plot twist.[18] Each song had to be cleared for roughly 15 years for Netflix. Every song in the playlist was successfully cleared other than a track by Prince.[17]

"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.[10] "Girlfriend in a Coma" features in the episode "for about five seconds", yet cost "an outrageous amount of money" according to Brooker. Executive producer Annabel Jones notes that the song's inclusion "was indulgent but at the same time, it was so important that we set up that era so it felt different".[17] The song "C'est La Vie" by Robbie Nevil was chosen by Harris, as it was one of the first singles he ever purchased.[16]

The episode also featured an original score by Clint Mansell. Mansell was approached by Harris, and based the score around the previously chosen songs, including "Heaven Is a Place on Earth". He has said that the "calm electronic" score was influenced by John Hughes movies and the death of his girlfriend a year before.[19] In December 2016, Lakeshore Records released the score for downloading and streaming.[20]

Cast and filming

Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who plays Kelly, had heard of the show but not seen it when she received the script, though she did watch the series two episode "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.[21] Mackenzie Davis, who plays Yorkie, first saw the show with a friend who had pirated it; they watched "The National Anthem".[22]

The episode's director was Owen Harris, who previously directed "Be Right Back"[5] – an episode he described as "strangely similar" to this one as both are "relationship-led".[16] According to Mbatha-Raw, the episode was shot in 14 days across a three-week period,[21] with a week shooting in London and another week in Cape Town, South Africa.[6] She described the shoot as "very rapid", saying they "didn't really have much time to rehearse" and that there was no read-through.[21] Harris said that Cape Town "has these really rich, beautiful settings" that allowed him to craft a "slightly heightened" version of California, and noted that during the shooting of the argument on the beach between Kelly and Yorkie in their wedding dresses, an "incredible mist rolled in from the ocean and it turned into this really beautiful scene", which caused difficulties but led to "some really lovely texture".[16] Mbatha-Raw said that almost every scene was shot at night or dusk, particularly the exterior scenes.[22]

Editing

The episode contains hints leading up to the reveal of the twist. A factor considered during the editing process was how overt the hints should be. 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". Adjustments were also made using sound design techniques such as sound effects.[11]

Marketing

External video
"Black Mirror - Season 3"
The trailer for series three of Black Mirror.
"Orange is the New Black Mirror"
A crossover clip released by Netflix.

The titles of the six episodes that make up series 3 were announced in July 2016, along with the release date.[23] 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.[24] 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.[15]

Analysis

Reviewers have described "San Junipero" as a highly optimistic,[25] emotionally rooted[26] love story and a work of science fiction.[27] It features the first same-sex couple in Black Mirror.[27] Rebecca Nicholson of The Guardian writes that it "leaves you believing in the power of love to fight pain and loneliness".[25] Some reviewers noted that the love story "transcends consciousness".[28][29] The episode also has unhappy elements[27][30] and has been called "bittersweet".[31] It evokes nostalgia for the 1980s with its soundtrack and its style,[32] and can be considered a period piece.[10][33] It also raises questions about death and the afterlife.[34] Esquire reviewer Emma Dibdin calls it a "modern fairy tale".[35]

At the time of its release, "San Junipero" was said to be the most different from other Black Mirror episodes due to its more hopeful tone.[4] Mat Elfring of Gamespot described it as the only episode with "warmth to it",[36] and Digital Spy reviewer Morgan Jeffery called it the "most upbeat and positive".[32] Zack Handlen of The A.V. Club believed that the previous episodes' sad tone heightens the effectiveness of "San Junipero",[37] and Jacob Stolworthy of The Independent thought that it was consequently the show's most ambitious episode.[38] Variety critic Sonia Saraiya notes that technology is portrayed as good in "San Junipero", a rarity in the show.[39] The Atlantic reviewer David Sims noted that the episode follows the season's darkest episode, "Shut Up and Dance".[40]

Flag with vertical stripes of pink and blue, overlapping in the middle to form a lavender stripe.
The episode provides an example of bisexual lighting, as colours from the bisexual pride flag are used to represent the sexualities of Kelly and Yorkie.[41][42]

The episode subverts a common trope in television of killing off lesbian characters: though Kelly and Yorkie die, they have a happy ending.[43] Its Emmy Award wins were considered by some to mark a cultural shift in relation to portrayal of lesbianism,[44] or as proof of concept that works dealing with LGBT characters do not have to be tragic.[45] "San Junipero" has also been cited as an example of bisexual lighting, in which neon and pink—the colours on the bisexual pride flag—represent bisexual characters.[41] Amelia Perrin of Cosmopolitan criticised that this and the episode's nightclub setting reinforce a stereotype of bisexuality as "a 'phase' or something experimental".[42]

The episode's plot raises many philosophical questions, including the nature of consciousness and experience and the consequences of digitally simulated existence,[33][43][46] though these issues are not the focus of the episode.[43] Reviewers have questioned what San Junipero would mean to believers in an afterlife,[43] and what would happen to its inhabitants in case of technical malfunctions.[46]

Reception

At the time of its release, "San Junipero" was Black Mirror's most popular episode among fans,[a] which has been attributed to its emotive presentation of a love story with a happy ending.[47][50] It has been favourably received by critics, receiving a score of 89% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 18 reviews, with an average score of 7.5 out of 10.[51] The episode garnered five stars out of five in the Irish Independent[28] and an A in The A.V. Club.[37] Along with "Nosedive", Benjamin Lee of The Guardian gave the episode four stars,[3] while The Telegraph gave "San Junipero" three stars.[52] It has been described by critics as one of the "best hours"[37] and one of the "most beautiful, cinematic episodes" of television in 2016,[53] while Paul Tassi of Forbes said Mbatha-Raw and Davis gave the best performances of the third series of Black Mirror.[54]

Mbatha-Raw's and Davis's performances were universally praised.[b] Sims lauded the couple's chemistry and said the pair concisely communicate "a whole lifetime of angst and desires".[40] Mullane comments that the strong acting keeps the audience interested prior to the plot twist.[56] Caitlin Welsh of Junkee complimented the "understated, pitch-perfect" performances for making the characters' relationship feel genuine.[57] Mbatha-Raw and Davis were praised for their emotional range,[3] for giving "fierce and vulnerable performances",[58] and for anchoring the episode.[59][60] Georgia Welch of The Mancunion also praised Brooker and Harris for the "multi-faceted" and "richly developed" characters.[61]

Mbatha-Raw and Davis also received praise in negative reviews. Robbie Collin of The Daily Telegraph criticised the characters' dialogue but praised that the ending is emotional due to Mbatha-Raw's "vivacity and conviction".[52] Aubrey Page of Collider reviewed that the episode is unoriginal, but this is compensated by the perfect casting and emotion of the acting.[62] However, Andrew Wallenstein of Variety criticised Mbatha-Raw and Davis for an inability to "pack the emotional punch" needed for the episode to stand out.[60]

The episode's plot twist, revealing that San Junipero is a simulated reality, was commended by critics. Pat Stacey of Irish Independent called the twist "ingenious"[28] while Louisa Mellor of Den of Geek described it as "captivating".[33] Adam Chitwood of Collider notes that there is more to the episode than its twist and praised Harris for how the story unfolds.[5] Similarly, Alex Mullane of Digital Spy said the developments in the story are "refreshing" as they are not presented as twists.[56] Handlen liked how the episode finds a balance between revealing information and making the audience care about the characters.[37]

The episode's visual style and music, which evoke the 1980s, were well-received. Welch commented that the score and pastel colours contribute to the "magnetic, dream-like allure of this alternate reality".[61] IndieWire praised both the production design and soundtrack.[55] Mullane calls Mansell's score "wonderfully tender".[56] The Wrap reviewers said that the episode was "visually stunning" and its nostalgia for the 80s was "joyous".[63]

Many critics admired the emotion the episode evokes, and how it ventured into a new genre for the show. Corey Atad of Esquire and Tim Goodman of The Hollywood Reporter both opined that the story would leave viewers in tears,[59][64] and Adam David of CNN Philippines cried whilst watching it.[27] Stacey found the episode "extremely moving".[28] Scott Meslow of GQ called it "breathtakingly and tear-jerkingly human".[65] Lee was surprised by the episode's poignancy,[3] while Mellor wrote that it is "genuinely moving".[33] Mullane said the episode demonstrated that the show can tell stories without a dark tone,[56] and Jacob Hall of /Film concurred.[66] Christian Bone of WhatCulture opined that the episode was successful as it explored a new area for the series,[67] and Wallenstein called it "satisfyingly daring", although he ranked it poorly in comparison to other episodes.[60]

The episode has also received negative criticism. Collin noted that the episode's central conceit has been widely used within the science fiction genre.[52] Stolworthy criticised the third act as "overloaded" and commented that "San Junipero", rather than "Hated in the Nation", should have been 90 minutes long.[38]

Black Mirror episode rankings

"San Junipero" appeared on many critics' rankings of the 19 episodes in Black Mirror, from best to worst.

Instead of by quality, Proma Khosla of Mashable ranked the episodes by tone, concluding that "San Junipero" is the second-least pessimistic episode of the show.[73]

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.[c] It has also appeared at various ranks on critics' lists of series three episodes by quality.

  • 1st – Paul Tassi, Forbes[54]
  • 1st – Liam Hoofe, Flickering Myth[77]
  • 5th – Jacob Stolworthy and Christopher Hooton, The Independent[38]

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:

Awards

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:

List of awards and nominations received by "San Junipero"
Year Award Category Recipients Result Ref.
2017 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".)
Nominated [80]
BAFTA Television Craft Awards Best Make Up and Hair Design Tanya Lodge Won [81]
Best Costume Design Susie Coulthard Won
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 [82]
Diversity in Media Awards TV Moment of the Year "San Junipero" Nominated [83]
GLAAD Media Awards Outstanding Individual Episode (in a series without a regular LGBT character) "San Junipero" Won [84]
Gold Derby Awards Best TV Movie "San Junipero" Won [85]
Best Miniseries/TV Movie Supporting Actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw Nominated
IGN Awards Best TV Episode "San Junipero" Won [86]
Hugo Awards Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form Charlie Brooker, Owen Harris Nominated [87]
Online Film and Television Association Awards Best Motion Picture "San Junipero" Won [88]
Best Production Design in a Non-Series "San Junipero" Nominated
Best Costume Design in a Non-Series "San Junipero" Nominated
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Television Movie Charlie Brooker, Annabel Jones and Laurie Borg Won [89]
Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special Charlie Brooker Won
2018 Broadcast Awards Best Single Drama "San Junipero" Won [90]

Future

In August 2017, Brooker said there were 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".[15] But in an interview with NME, Brooker mentioned that some ideas for the episode were later removed, such as a scene with a kindergarten in San Junipero that "felt like a whole world in and of itself".[12] He raised the idea of doing a sequel in "a completely different form", such as a graphic novel or "an experience".[17][91] "San Junipero" has been alluded to through Easter eggs in subsequent episodes: for example, "Black Museum" shows Kelly's and Yorkie's dresses on display in a museum,[92] and features a hospital named Saint Juniper's.[93]

Notes

  1. ^ "San Junipero" is described as the show's most popular episode by reviewers for Complex,[47] Entertainment Weekly,[48] Vulture[49] and The Daily Beast.[50]
  2. ^ Mbatha-Raw and Davis have been praised in Collider,[5] the Irish Independent,[28] IGN,[29] Paste,[34] and IndieWire.[55]
  3. ^ The episode has been described as such in The New York Times,[4] IGN,[29] GameSpot,[36] The Atlantic,[40] Junkee,[57] Vox[58] and Collider.[76]

References

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