Black Mirror Season 3 Episode 4: San Junipero review
Black Mirror is many things, but romantic is rarely one of them. Every exploration of love the show has attempted have ended in heartbreak and suffering. The Entire History of You showed how paranoia can bring down a relationship. Be Right Back focused on a grieving widow learning that no amount of replicating could ever replace the real thing. There have been traumatised wives, serial-killing couples, and cheated-on husbands, yet never before has Black Mirror attempted a genuine, heart-warming relationship. It’s a bold move for Charlie Brooker but one that works; San Junipero is one of the best episodes of the series so far.
California, 1987. Shy, geeky Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) is out of her depth in a nightclub, until she catches the eye of outgoing Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). The two connect instantly, but Yorkie hesitates and disappears into the night. One week later, they go through it again, quickly falling in love with each other. For half the episode, San Junipero doesn’t appear to be remotely sci-fi, but Brooker has a lot of interesting tricks up his sleeves. It soon becomes apparent that Yorkie and Kelly can flit through time and space, following each other into the 90’s and beyond. Are they time travellers, aliens, or something far more melancholic?
Refreshingly, San Junipero isn’t a cynical look at technology. Instead, it uses science fiction to tell an original, complex love story. To reveal much of the latter half of the episode would be to ruin the fun, but it’s beautifully told and focuses on character types rarely seen in film or TV. It’s clearly a more mature, anthropological Brooker who has written this episode; even when San Junipero threatens to tip into darker territories, Brooker resists temptation, instead focusing on fully-formed characters and a big emotional climax. He’s helped tremendously by his leading actresses. Both Davis and Mbatha-Raw are magnetic, with Mbatha-Raw in particularly holding a pitch perfect American accent and a cocky swagger that hides a devastating secret. Denise Burse is excellent later in the episode, in a role I can’t mention without ruining the best scene of the episode.
By setting the action in eighties California, Brooker set out to antagonise viewers who feared moving to Netflix would ‘Americanise’ the show too much. Instead, he created one of the best, boldest episodes of the series. Remarkably moving and mature in its view of relationships and time, San Junipero couldn’t be more different from Shut Up and Dance, yet it’s equally good. It’s a little rushed and a little cheesy at times, but there’s no denying you’ll be punching the air by the time you hear Belinda Carlisle’s ‘Heaven Is A Place On Earth’.
By Harry J. Ford
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