The “San Junipero” episode does this interesting thing where it takes its thesis statement and completely throws it at the butt of it. And by doing that, it takes what starts out being an almost metaphysical mystery (where in the world does the Black Mirror stuff start happening?) and turns it into the antithetical statement on what the series prides itself on. It’s a deeply affecting story that actually squeezed a tear out of this dusty old heart of mine.
As it establishes itself, it’s one of the greater and more effective puzzles of the season. For the most part, all you see is Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) visit a small seaside town called San Junipero. It’s 1987 and everything—everything—is not only tinged but soaked in neon, hairspray, and bad dance moves. She may not know anyone, but visiting arcade/nightclub Tucker’s introduces her to both a Bubble Bobble cabinet and Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw).
Kelly is an almost hilariously prototypical 80s party girl, right from the pushed-up sleeves to the coolly debonair interactions with similarly classic thirsty dude suitors. But as they catch each other’s eyes, it becomes apparent that they are both more interested in being with one another. Yorkie, though, is spooked at the proposition, admitting she’s engaged to be married a fellow named Greg soon and runs away.
That’s all I really want to say about what happens. Taking place over several subsequent weekends, we follow this budding relationship and romance as it reveals what it means to both players and how it breaks down into our own world. And as the so-called twist rears its stupidly beautiful and well-architected head, it starts to infuse the whole ordeal with equal amounts of grave despair and endless hope.
It’s a question of change, both within ourselves and our love. We promise to never change, but isn’t it inherent in being people? In interacting with others and existing near them? What do we value in those changes? It takes it into the far end of the spectrum and infuses it with literal forever and the intrinsic madness and joy in that prospect.
The story it sculpts through this retro-futuristic frame is deeply gorgeous, almost in a purely Platonic sense. These forces—they at points feel less like characters and more like entities—construct a push and pull of love and hate, real and fake. It’s almost a polar repulsion to season two’s “Be Right Back,” just as poignant and grim but with a touch of infinite regard for why we’re worth it.