BLACK MIRROR. “San Junipero”, or homoerotic science fiction with a heavenly twist

Personally, not only do I think this is the best episode of Black Mirror season three, but it’s also the best episode in the context of the entire series.

Jakub Piwoński

25 February 2023

san junipero science fiction

The biggest mistake in thinking about science fiction is to assume that it’s all about technology and science. Yes, they use technology and science, treat them as plot triggers, but the purpose of these stories is completely different. SF is about who we are and who we can become if we don’t change something in our culture.

Science fiction is not only bombastic and visual splendour. It’s basically an idea. The desire to sell an interesting point of view or draw an intriguing warning, referring to the risk of actions we take. This was the idea of Charlie Brooker, a British critic, comedian and television producer, who in 2012 decided to reach for the roots of science fiction and create a series aimed at showing the crooked mirror or, if you prefer, the black mirror of our technological habits, seeing the ways of development in dark colors . Built on the best traditions of hard fantasy and used in Black Mirror, the hyperbole seemed piercingly real. As if it was all going to happen soon.

The series achieved the expected success, although at the very beginning it was not as recognizable as it is today. However, it can be safely admitted that SF fans finally received a SF series devoid of this characteristic, infantile virtuosity that includes laser shootouts or wars with robots and aliens. They got for the same good, merit, horror of the future.

Black Mirror is a film anthology consisting of short but different stories, always taking up a specific topic. The first episodes were broadcast on the British channel Channel 4. At some point, the Netflix platform became interested in the production, introducing a lot of oxygen and fresh blood into it and ensuring its longer life. The new seasons are slightly different in quality (but also in scale) from the original two, but I have no doubt that the third season, the first one written and shot under the aegis of a new media partner, was no less successful than the first two.

The reason for this uniqueness is fourth episode of San Junipero. Personally, not only do I think this is the best episode of Black Mirror season three, but it’s also the best episode in the context of the entire series. Two Emmys for this episode kind of prove it. Indeed, it is one of the bravest and most original manifestations of sociological fantasy, certainly compared to the achievements of television, although you can also look for such experiences in the cinema. As I wrote in the introduction, Black Mirror is not and has never been a production that seduced the viewer mainly with the help of visual spectacularity. Episode San Junipero thus highlights the underlying strength of both this production and science fiction in general. We were to be captivated by the story, its tragedy and the characters leading it. It is only in the second place that we realize that the starting point is once again, of course, technology.

Taking up final issues

But let’s outline what it is. San Junipero is the name of a party town where a young, secretive girl named Yorkie ends up. She is lost, she does not know what she is looking for and what experiences she expects to experience in the titular San Junipero. At some point, she meets a girl who is her complete opposite. Kelly, because that’s her name, is the type of restless spirit who treats a visit to San Junipero above all as having fun. Hence the need for intense sensations with fleeting sex at the forefront. The Yorkie seems to be looking for something else. Something starts to happen between the girls, a bond begins to emerge. At first both are surprised by the turn of events, but at the same time they agree that – whether they wanted it or not – they clearly love each other.

Allow me to digress for a moment, explaining my perception of the plot element important for this episode. I honestly admit that I don’t feel very comfortable in films dealing with the subject of homosexual relationships. As they say, not my circus, not my monkeys. I also have the impression that in the vast majority of cases such relationships and love are shown in the cinema in an excessively intrusive, or excessively maudlin, or simply hurtful stereotypical way. In my opinion, although this is only my opinion, films such as Brokeback Mountain or Call Me by Your Name are a kind of model for stories with homoerotic overtones. These were the films that shook me to the core, because they didn’t aim to educate an audience unfamiliar with the homosexual minority, but simply wanted to tell a universal story about an indefinable feeling.

That’s why these stories are so good because they go beyond a certain discourse to which they necessarily aspire. So is San Junipero.

As I represent an open approach to cinema (as well as to life), I tried to be equally open about the story of two lesbians who, meeting each other in a certain city, at a certain party, immediately feel that they have something more in common. Knowing the series tradition and knowing that technology plays a large role in the production by Charlie Brooker, I was curious, however, where the catch is in this story, what the fate of these heroines is heading for, what it will all eventually turn into. And here we come to another indisputable asset of this episode, which is its brilliant script, taking into account one of the most interesting plot twists in this series, if not in the history of television in general.

My reviewer’s reliability does not allow me to reveal what exactly the idea presented in the script is based on, explaining both the presence of the characters in San Junipero and the character of this place. However, it is difficult to understand the uniqueness of San Junipero without at least lifting the veil of secrecy. Suffice it to say that this is another case of science fiction boldly addressing the ultimate issues. Remember Netflix’s The Discovery? In San Junipero you will enter a similar topic, only much more interesting and much deeper. You will not find God here, you will not know the answers to fundamental questions. However, you will see that the development of technology will want to replace certain ideas with its language, giving transcendence a dummy.

Not an accidental connection

So we have a meeting of two girls, which is a meeting that transcends time and space. On the one hand, we learn again that love knows no boundaries, on the other hand, we receive an interesting promise from the creators of what can happen to consciousness once it has finished its life. And here comes a kind of dissonance, because once again it dawned on me that just as death can seem terrifying, the idea of eternity is just as terrifying to me. I think that was also Charlie Brooker’s ulterior motive, to demonstrate that, in fact, if we wanted to program and guarantee ourselves “heaven”, in the sense that we imagine it and without the mystical aspect, it doesn’t make much sense. Because just as the idea of an eternal party with a loved one seems cool, in the long run it scares with the promise of constant monotony.

But let’s get down to earth. It seems to me that what this episode “does” above all, what makes us feel good in it, despite the difficult subject matter (homosexual, difficult relationship, the issue of life after death), is its great atmosphere. On the one hand, the music of the 80s and 90s, on the other, contact with nature, the close presence of the sea. In my opinion, this is not a coincidence. I’ve always thought that dancing and partying are the elements that are perfect for conveying a metaphor for life. They refer to movement and dynamics. On the other hand, the action situated close to the sea is for me nothing more than a reference to eternity, infinity hidden in this water vastness.

All this comes together to create a beautiful story about the bond of two seemingly strangers who pair up and decide to connect with the spiritual cosmos together. The feeling of nostalgia mixed with melancholy that accompanied me after the last replay of this episode, let it be its best recommendation. You don’t need to know Black Mirror, you don’t need to be a SF fan. It is enough that you have an open heart and notice the inevitability of passing, for this episode to become an experience.

Jakub Piwoński

Jakub Piwoński

Cultural expert, passionate about popular culture, in particular films, series, computer games and comics. He likes to fly away to unknown, fantastic regions, thanks to his fascination with science fiction. Professionally, however, he looks back more often, thanks to his work as a museum promotion specialist, investigating the mysteries of the beginnings of cinematography. His favorite film is "The Matrix", because it combines two areas close to his heart - religion and martial arts.

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