Until we get into that, let’s see what happens in a party town somewhere in California in 1987:
Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis, AKA Cameron from the AMC show Halt and Catch Fire) is visiting the resort town of San Junipero for the first time. It’s 1987, an era of big hair, loud clothes, and lots of dance music. Yorkie’s drawn to a club where she encounters Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, AKA Tish, the sister of Martha Jones, from Doctor Who), a young woman of color out having a good time. Looking to ditch the guy she’s with, Kelly sits down with Yorkie and explains to the dude how she has to catch up with her best friend—who, it turns out, just happens to be dying.
One thing leads to another and after a couple of drinks, Kelly manages to coax Yorkie out onto the dance floor. Yorkie doesn’t handle dancing well, however: she feels as if everyone out on the floor is watching Kelly and her and she’s super aware of the stares that Kelly is sending her way. She runs outside into the rain and hovers under the cover; a few moments later Kelly comes out and joins her. Two things become quickly apparent: one, Yorkie isn’t much of a party girl and two, Kelly is extremely interested in her. So interested, in fact, that she asked if she’d like to sleep with her. Yorkie apologizes, saying this is her first time to San Junipero and she’s not used to everything going on around her. They wish each other well and Yorkie walks off—immediately regretting her decision.A week later Yorkie is back in the dance club looking for Kelly. She finds her hanging out with a guy and she stays nearby, always keeping an eye on the woman. When Kelly goes to the bathroom Yorkie follows. There she tells Kelly that she doesn’t know how to approach her. Kelly takes Yorkie back to her house on the beach and it’s there they make love. Afterwards, as they lay on the bed, Kelly confesses that she is bisexual and Yorkie confesses that it’s first time she’s had sex. They lay together until the stroke of midnight—
Then everything goes dark.Another week goes by and Yorkie is once more looking for Kelly, only this time she’s not at the club where she’s been the last two times. The bartender says that Kelly may be out at Quagmire, a place Kelly has never heard of before now. Turns out Quagmire is an industrial goth techno club located in an old factory outside of town. It’s nothing more than your usual S&M, fight club, strange sex going on sort of joint and Yorkie immediately knows she doesn’t belong there. As she’s leaving she runs into the guy Kelly was with a couple of weeks before. He’s giving Yorkie that jaded “Yeah I know you got fucked” look. He tells Yorkie to look back in 1980, or maybe the 90s, perhaps even the early 2000’s, because Kelly loves going to all those different places.
RT: This is where things got confusing for me and I started to get a slight Westworld vibe. Is Kelly just an 80’s version of Dolores?
CF: I was starting to think they were time jumpers from the future. I was working hard to process this part—
RT: Yes, I wondered that too at one point.
And just like that, Yorkie starts time traveling looking for her friend. She gets all those different times and eventually finds Kelly in the same club but in the year 2002. They once again meet up in the bathroom and Yorkie wants to know what’s going on. Kelly lets her friend she’s not interested in attachments, she’s not interested in feelings. Yorkie tells her that perhaps she should care and storms out. Kelly punches and shatters the mirror, but as we follow her hand down to look at what damage there should be, we pan back up and discover the mirror’s unbroken, just another indication that things here in San Junipero are not what they appear.
Kelly looks for Yorkie outside the club and finds her on top of the building. She climbs up to talk to her and that’s when Yorkie asked the most perplexing question: how many of the people down there do you think are dead? Kelly figures eighty to eight-five percent, but that’s just a guess. She sits down next to Yorkie and tells her that she doesn’t have much time left, that she didn’t expect to find someone like her. It’s a complication she didn’t want but unfortunately, they have it. They kiss and go back to Kelly’s place where they make love once more.
RT: I was seriously wondering if I should watch from the start again here. I couldn’t work out what was going on, thinking I had missed something majorly important earlier. I kept going though, and it all started to click.
CF: All the little clues were starting to click into place for me and by the time the next scene rolled up I kinda had it figured out. Only because I read all that sci-fi for so many years…At the beach house they go deeper into the truths. Yorkie reveals she is getting married in the next week to a guy named Greg. Kelly reveals that she was married to a man named Richard, who died two years earlier but decided not to stay in San Junipero. He moved on and Kelly has decided that when it’s her time she’s going to move on as well. But before she does, she tells Yorkie that she wants to meet her—for real, in person. Yorkie says she wouldn’t like her, but it doesn’t matter to Kelly. They make arrangements to meet— And now we learn the real story. Kelly is an old woman living in an assisted seniors home in Carson City, Nevada. Yorkie is the same, living in what appears to be a hospital in Santa Rosa, California. Kelly gets the bad news just outside of Yorkie’s room: Yorkie is a quadriplegic in a semi-vegetative state and unable to respond to outside stimuli. She can hear Kelly, but she can’t respond. Kelly meets Greg, an orderly working at the hospital. He tells Kerry how Yorkie was 21 she came out to her parents as a lesbian, got into a fight, left the house and drove off, eventually getting into an accident that left her a quadriplegic for almost 40 years now. He’s spoken with Yorkie on a call box that allows them to interface with the virtual reality that is San Junipero: a place for the old and terminally ill to indulge in memories and perhaps even consider living there after they’ve died. This is how they set up the arrangement for marriage, which Greg is doing for Yorkie so that she can be euthanized without getting her parents’ consent, which they refused to give.
Kelly has a different idea, however, and asked for a few minutes to speak with Yorkie. She gets five minutes, goes into the San Junipero reality, and proposes to Yorkie. She accepts, they are married, and Kelly stands by as Yorkie is euthanized later that day.
RT: This is where I started crying.
CF: You saw what I said below. I was a bawling mess by this time.
Now a full-time resident of the reality, Yorkie spends her time sitting in the sand and walking through the ocean. Kelly shows up, wearing a wedding dress and it only takes a thought for Yorkie to find herself wearing similar attire. They drive off, ready to celebrate, but that’s when things start to go wrong. Yorkie is happy and she’s found love. She asks Kelly to stay with her in San Junipero, but Kelly refuses. She tells Yorkie that she had a daughter who died when she was 39, before the software was available, and since she couldn’t be downloaded into this reality her husband didn’t want to go, either. She was married for far too long to her husband not to pass on, even though she tells Yorkie she knows there’s no afterlife, she knows that her husband is not with their daughter, that there’s nothing waiting for her after death.
Kelly takes off in her Jeep, driving recklessly. She crashes into a barrier and is thrown through the windshield of the vehicle, but doesn’t die. How can she die? She is a fake person here. But she is real to Yorkie, who shows up and offers to help Kelly to her feet. Just as she reaches for her the clock strikes midnight and Kelly disappears, leaving Yorkie all alone in the rain, in the dark. It’ll be another week before she can spend five hours with the woman she loves and to whom she is married.Back in the real world Kelly finds that her time is growing short and decides it’s time to go. She agrees to be euthanized—
In San Junipero Yorkie hops behind the wheel of her car and pushes in a cassette tape playing Belinda Carlisle’s Heaven Is a Place on Earth. She drives to the beach house, honks the horn, and out comes Kelly, who has decided that she doesn’t want to pass on, but that she’d rather spend her time with the woman she married. They drive down the road and into the sunset, kissing and laughing, and eventually find themselves back in the dance club where they first met. They are no longer self-conscious about being together; they are in San Junipero as permanent residents, determined to enjoy life and love each other—
Until death do they part.
Personal note: Of all ll six episodes of this season of Black Mirror, this episode hit me the hardest. If you’ve read any of my other recaps where there were women in same-sex relationships, you’ll know I have a soft spot for these characters. But in this episode I focused hard on Yorkie and her relationship with Kelly. In many ways I’m like Yorkie: I’m a lesbian who’s never had a real lesbian relationship with another woman who would love me as much as I’d love her. And, just like Yorkie, I’ve never had sex the way a women would have sex with another lesbian.
It’s a frustrating way to go through life and just like I’m sure Yorkie yearned to feel someone to be with her, I’m much the same way. I cried through most of this episode because I sensed what Yorkie was getting: she was finding true love, something she’d never had her entire life. (She’s also, like me, a bit of a U-Haul Lesbian, which is why I suspect she acted the way she did later in the episode). When Kelly and Yorkie married in the real world I was literally on the verge of a breakdown and it was all I could do to follow this episode for the next few minutes.
The moment Kelly indicated that she was ready to die and Yorkie began walking toward her car in San Junipero, I was almost bouncing out of my chair. I was saying out loud, “Go get Kelly, go get Kelly. She’ll be waiting for you.” And sure enough, she walked out on that porch, got in the car, and they drove off together to spend however much time they want to spend with each other, in love and happy.
The episode itself is nearly perfect. All the songs point to key parts of the episode: Need You Tonight, Fake, Don’t You Forget About Me, and Girlfriend in a Coma. But most of all was the end song, Heaven Is a Place on Earth: something that we saw during the end credits when we caught a glimpse of the server farm that was San Junipero. Charlie Brooker, the creator of Black Mirror and the writer of this episode, said that he heard the song on his Spotify feed after he began writing the script and said that he would’ve been completely distraught that they not been able to acquire it for the episode, as it was perfect for the ending.
There was another small clue right at the start of the episode: Yorkie stops for a moment to look at Max Headroom playing on the television, a character who was really nothing more than the uploaded persona of a living person stuck inside a computer. Should have caught that one right away.
And going back to what I said at the very beginning of this recap, we get something we’ve never seen in the Black Mirror universe: we get a happy ending. In nearly every episode of Black Mirror, the reveal at the end shows that someone, somewhere, gets fucked badly. But not Kelly and Yorkie, oh no. They find happiness: they find their heaven on earth.
And that is why this episode makes me cry and why am fighting back tears as I write this. Because my Kelly is out there somewhere–it’s only a matter of time before I can become her Yorkie…
RT: Thank you so much for your insight into this episode Cassidy *hugs* I am so, SO glad this episode has a happy ending. Her’s hoping you get your perfect episode of Black Mirror as well 😉
CF: And then we get to Episode 6 and Charlie Brooker says, “Oh, you liked that happy ending back in Episode 4? Well, now I’m gonna fuck you UP!” And I hope I get my happy ending, too. I could use it.
RT: Oh no, now I’m scared 🙁
As always, leave a comment and tells what you think!