San Junipero, the first episode of Black Mirror season 3 aired it’s worldwide premiere last night. For anyone unfamiliar with Black Mirror, it was a British anthology series that ran for two seasons (each consisting of 3 episodes), plus a standalone Christmas Special. The series previously ran on Britan’s Channel 4 between 2011 and 2014. Last year, Netflix picked up the series doubling the episode order and matching seasons (two seasons of 6 episodes each). Black Mirror is a dark humour, sci-fi show that questions where technology could lead us – generally down a dark path. The result is somewhat depressing and really makes you think about the future.
***THIS REVIEW INCLUDES DETAILS ABOUT THE EPISODE BUT CONTAINS NO PLOT SPOILERS. THAT SAID, IT DOES CONTAIN DETAILS ON WHAT TO EXPECT.***
1987: San Junipero, CA is a fun-loving beach town synonymous with sun, surf, and sex.
San Junipero opens in the year is 1987, an odd departure from the ‘future world’ that Black Mirror generally centres its episodes around. We are immediately introduced to a female character named Yorkie (played by Mackenzie Davis), who seems entirely out of sorts. She’s wearing plain/bland clothing with old style glasses and sticks out like a sore thumb amongst the colourful dressing style of the 80s. We also meet the other female protagonist of the episode, Kelly (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw), dressed far more in-fashion with a very loud outfit that scream’s ‘party’. She’s telling a guy to give her some space, as she walks into a club.
Yorkie, cautiously taking in everything around her in the city of San Junipero walks into the same club. She moves carefully, hugging the walls as she looks around at the people and the environment as if she’s taking it all in for the first time. Moving away from the crowd, she turns to an arcade and starts a game of Bubble Bobble (a game that triggered memories for me of playing the game with my dad!) Later, she’s sitting down with a soda which is when Kelly comes over and asks her to play along with anything she says. Clingy guy shows up, and Kelly says she needs space because she’s catching up with her friend who is dying. The guy accepts this and walks away, leaving her alone.
Kelly and Yorkie get to know each other, with Kelly really taking the lead as the extrovert while Yorkie’s discomfort with the entire situation gets worse and worse until she simply leaves the club. Kelly finds her outside standing under a shelter from the rains of San Junipero. They talk, there’s a clear attraction between them, and Kelly boldly asks if she wants to go to bed with her… Yorkie panics and says no, walking away. She stops, contemplates and turns back but Kelly is gone. Midnight comes and the screen goes black. It’s one week later, we’re again in San Junipero, at the same club, and the romance dance continues. This time, it’s Yorkie who is pursuing Kelly.
San Junipero is a Slow Build
Compared to other Black Mirror episodes, this one is rather slow to get started. In fact, I felt that the first half of the episode wasn’t that compelling at all. Unlike previous episodes, nothing seems out of place. There’s no indication that this world is any different than what 1987 actually was. As such, I was constantly asking myself – what the hell is the twist? It does eventually come…
Interestingly, the twist of the story isn’t all that shocking. In fact, Black Mirror San Junipero’s biggest twist is that this episode is not dark at all. Perhaps it’s the influence of being made in America, or the Netflix audience but it’s a love story that plays out in a world I think many of us would want. It posts some interesting questions about our lives, but there’s no dark turn. There’s no “Oh god… what are we doing!” moment. It’s just… nice.
Make no mistake, Black Mirror San Junipero (S03E01) is an incredibly well acted, good story, believable plot and has beautiful (nostalgic) visuals… but it’s not the dark world of Black Mirror S1/S2 that I fell in love with. I’m all for love, happiness, and good endings… but that’s not what Black Mirror is to me. Overall, as a standalone episode knowing nothing about Black Mirror, I’d rate it 8/10. As an episode of Black Mirror though, 5/10. It’s a soft intro that is sure to hook American audiences, but I hope it returns to its darker roots.
Black Mirror Season 3 debuts on Netflix on October 21st, 2016. It will feature 6 episodes called San Junipero, Shut up and Dance, Nosedive, Men Against Fire, Hated in the Nation and Playtest.