With season 4 now available on Netflix, let’s look back at the most shocking of all Black Mirror episodes, when Charlie Brooker tells a sweet, charming love story. No, really.
Describing Black Mirror is difficult. Yes, it’s an anthology series, but beyond that? Some are set in the future, some pretty much modern day. There’s a technological bent to most of the episodes, some not so much. But whatever the setting, this series tends to show technology affecting human behaviour with it pushed to its extreme, society changing for the worse, and an alienation and disassociation from each other as human beings. Right?
Based on a script by Booker himself, this episode is directed by Owen Harris, whose credits include last year’s Kill Your Friends, the Python recreation Holy Flying Circus, and the Daniel Radcliffe film about Grand Theft Auto, The Gamechangers. And if it wasn’t for the title card, you would never guess it was a Black Mirror episode.
Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) is walking down a street in San Junipero, with Belinda Carlisle blaring on a car radio. We are in 1987, and San Junipero is a party town. She sees Kelly (Belle’s Guga Mbatha-Raw) arguing with Wes (Gavin Stenhouse) about how, even though they had a great time a week before, she didn’t want to see him again. She says she only has a few hours of Saturday night left, and wants to have fun with it. In the nightclub Tucker’s, Kelly later uses Yorkie to ditch Wes, making up a story about them being old friends and Yorkie only having 6 months to live. Yorkie plays along, and the two of them have a connection. Kelly drags Yorkie onto the dancefloor, but Yorkie’s embarrassment causes her to make a quick exit. They catch up outside, where Yorkie explains that she is engaged, and when Kelly makes a move on her, Yorkie makes her excuses and leaves.
A week later, Yorkie is preparing for another Saturday night in San Junipero. After Kelly had complimented her on her “authentic” dress sense, we now see Yorkie trying on different outfits to an Eighties soundtrack, including “Girlfriend In A Coma” by The Smiths, “Heart and Soul” by T’Pau and “Addicted To Love” by Robert Palmer, before settling on the same clothes as the week before. This time in Tucker’s, Yorkie sees Kelly with another man, but when Kelly spots Yorkie drinking whiskey and coke instead of her normal soft drinks, they meet up in the bathroom and kiss. They then go back to Kelly’s house and sleep together. Yorkie explains that she has never had sex with anyone before, and they lay together until the clock strikes midnight.
The next week though, Yorkie can’t find Kelly at Tucker’s, so takes a trip to The Quagmire, a warehouse outside town that is basically a den of inequity, looking like a S&M rave. There she finds Wes, who tells her that he fell for Kelly as well, and that maybe she should “try a different time” because “she’s worth the shot, right?”
To go into detail about what follows would be too much of a spoiler, and you really should watch the episode now. Suffice to say, Yorkie goes looking for Kelly, to try and persuade her that they should be together.
“San Junipero” is an absolute delight. The period touches are excellent, and we see a 1987 party town lovingly recreated, which is especially impressive for an hour long TV show! Guga Mbatha-Raw is brilliant as the bodacious Kelly, as is Mackenzie Davis as the nervous, shy young woman. Like Alex Lawther in “Shut Up and Dance”, with repeated viewings, these performances get even better.
It is a strange Black Mirror phenomenon that means you are looking for the trick in the episode. I found it similar to watching a M. Night Shyamalan film, when you are trying to spot the twist. It also opens up a whole new direction for Black Mirror to go in. Booker has done political satire, revenge dramas, war episodes (the next episode is “Men Against Fire”), but after a straight love story, who knows what could be next? There really is no limit on what might feature in future seasons – is it time for a Black Mirror knockabout physical-comedy farce?
This could be the first Black Mirror episode since “Be Right Back” to go for the heart rather than the head – in a good way. I’m pretty certain this is my favourite episode of the season so far, it’s definitely the most likable of all of them so far.
All 4 seasons of Black Mirror are available on Netflix, and the first two are on All4.
Until next time, stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold. See you soonish.
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A previous version of this article appeared on TheSnootyUshers.com in 2016.