…our place on Earth.
Full of Spoilers
Director: Owen Harris
Writer: Charlie Booker
Stars: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mackenzie Davis, Denise Burse, Raymond McAnally, Gavin Stenhouse, Billy Griffin Jr.
It took me a while to write about this episode because I needed some time to recover and think about the story and implications of “San Junipero” (it doesn’t help that I have been reading Ready Player One again). Like every other episode, multiple viewings were required. Upon my initial viewing, all I could think about was where is the twist? What is this story trying to tell me? How is this one going to leave me scarred? Harris behind the camera should have been the tip-off it was all about fear of death and the idea of continuing on long after we go. The director previously helmed the gut wrenching and amazing “Be Right Back” for season two.
When we first meet Yorkie (Davis) she is getting her bearings in the California sea-side town of San Junipero (minor side note, Junípero Serra is the Catholic Apostle of California) and follows the beautiful Kelly (Raw) she sees entering a bar. Everything is very 1980’s. The music, hair, and fashion look like something out of a John Hughes movie, but there is something distinctly off. The way each person talks to one another. A man attempting to hit on Yorkie says that a game was the first to have alternate endings, like it had been around for some time. Yet the game looks new.
Eventually it is revealed the town of San Junipero is not a real place, it is a computer program where people’s minds are stored in the cloud after they die. Once a week, older persons or those with a terminal illness are given five hours to “tour” the era of their choice in the simulation. Part of the tour is for therapeutic reasons, part of it is a sales pitch. Look where you can go when you pass on. “Make heaven a place on Earth” as the song says.
Kelly is playing tourist throughout the periods of San Junipero enjoying her youth once again in the 80’s and getting to know other eras she missed out on as a young person. Indulging in her bi-sexual proclivities without guilt. It is all for fun, nothing permanent. Her husband died a few years back and refused to have his consciousness loaded into the simulation because their daughter died before the invention of San Junipero. He didn’t want to exist in a place his daughter did not. Kelly promised her husband that when she goes, she will do as he did and not load herself into the cloud world. She has been given a terminal diagnosis, but she has managed to outlive even that.
Yorkie on the other hand is not playing tourist. She is getting her bearings and picking an era before she fully commits. The shy young woman had no youthful experiences. While fleeing her ultra-religious parents’ rage after coming out as gay, 21-year-old Yorkie was in a car accident that rendered her a quadriplegic. Yorkie has been living in the same circumstances, same bed, for more than four decades. San Junipero has allowed her to have a life she was robbed of. In order to permanently live there she is planning on marrying her nurse, Greg (McAnally), so he can override her parents’ wishes to be euthanized.
Kelly decides to do her friend a favor. She marries Yorkie and fulfills her wish of being uploaded into San Junipero before the sun sets on their wedding day. Kelly meets her back there to celebrate, but still holds firm to the promise she made to her husband. She will not join Yorkie in the afterlife. The time they spend together after their marriage feels like a betrayal to her long gone love. Kelly may not believe in any kind of afterlife outside of San Junipero where her husband can sit on high and judge her for her choices, but that doesn’t mean she can’t turn her back on the promise she made.
In the end, Kelly decides she cannot make the choice to be alone in nothingness for all of eternity. She chooses to pass on and join Yorkie in San Junipero. The two drive off into the sunset in an oddly hopeful ending, something Black Mirror doesn’t normally allow for (though, in a small way, I find the ending of “Nosedive” hopeful).
Since I have been reading Ready Player One, my brain goes past the ending and starts to think about a conversation Kelly and Greg have while discussing Yorkie’s decision. Greg states for both Kelly and the audience, San Junipero has many restrictions. For those who apply for the program, they are only given five hours a week to play in the simulation. There are many restrictions as to who can visit the “city” to keep those who would choose the simulation over real life.
But there are many similarities to San Junipero and the OASIS in the book. Both are escapism for a harsher reality. While the Black Mirror episode doesn’t show or say the future is something bleak and sad, it is telling that there are restrictions on the program for those who would choose it over reality. But the very end where we see the machines placing the uploaded consciousness into the machine gives me pause. There are millions of millions of consciences in the program. The next reasonable step is to make this available to others as a form of vacation or escapism. Maybe I’m thinking too far into this one and should just accept the happy ending as Charlie Booker intended.
What did you think of ”San Junipero”? Were you surprised by the hopeful ending? Do you think Kelly and Yorkie had a happily forever after? Take to the comments section below.