On Media, pt. 4: San Junipero

I finished this post a day or two before turning on the Roku and seeing “Black Mirror Season 5″ advertised at the top. IT KNOWS, which seems fitting. Also, apparently there’s a new VR-themed episode this season? I’m starting it as soon as this post goes live.

At any rate, in honor of season 5 (or series 5, if you are UK-based) of Black Mirror, here’s a post about my favorite episode of all time (so far): “San Junipero.”

As ever in my “On Media” posts, spoilers abound below. You have been warned.

 


 

I wanted to take a break from some of the heavier stuff I’ve been writing about lately because, well, I’m just not that depressed a person anymore. At least, not like I was. And frankly, I’m tired of writing about such depressive things!

I’ve wanted to write this post from the day I started this blog, but I somehow never got around to it. This post, of course, is about S03.E04 of Black Mirror: “San Junipero.” Or, in other words, “That Hour of Netflix that Gave Me Hope in a VR Future Where I Could Live a Digital Afterlife as a Lesbian in 80s California (Even if I had to Wait Like 50 Years for It)”.

A cursory Google search has shown me that there were plenty of articles and (other) blog posts written about this episode when it came out…in 2016?! Oh my gosh, how time flies. Anyway, I doubt that I will say anything about it that hasn’t already been said, but still, it was absolutely critical to my story. So here’s my hot, if slightly late, take.

For those who (somehow still) haven’t watched any Black Mirror, it is a British sci-fi anthology that is often (fairly or not) described as “a modern Twilight Zone.” That is, it’s often dystopian, the episodes typically have a central theme or moral, and the overall atmosphere of the show tends to be “the future is unstoppable and technology will destroy our definition of ‘humanity’.” Okay, that’s a painfully oversimplified synopsis, but really, it is a great show with fantastic writing, and you should just go out and watch it what are you still doing here?

Anyway (God, I hate how much I begin a new thought, sentence, paragraph, phrase, etc. with “anyway”)…anyway, in a sea of generally dark, pessimistic episodes, “San Junipero” is unique, and was especially so when it was released, and especially for me.

The episode opens with a very neon-drenched 1980s setting, with various groups of young adults driving about in cherry malaise and pre-malaise automobiles. Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven is a Place on Earth” is playing from a convertible as it drives by; this song more or less scores the whole episode, and will play again in the final scene.

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Actually, can we take just one second to appreciate that song? It’s such a feel-good track, and perfectly chosen for this episode. In fact, ever since the first time I watched “San Junipero”, it has more-than-earned its place in the soundtrack of my life.

Everything is just so delightfully 80s, especially in these first few scenes, which hooked me hard when Naomi and I first watched it. Oh, yeah, I guess it’s relevant to say that she and I watched it together the first time I saw it. Why, you might ask?

Did you even read the alternative title I gave this episode?

It’s slowly revealed that “San Junipero” is actually set about 50 years in the future, that it is a virtual reconstruction of a nostalgic 80s beach city, and that the people who “live” there are either nursing home residents (who are essentially using a limited “trial” version of the San Junipero system), or already “dead.” “Live” and “dead” because just before people in these homes pass, they have the option to have their consciousness permanently uploaded to a server that allows them to live forever in, well…a virtual heaven on earth.

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The main characters, Kelly (above left) and Yorkie (right), establish a friendship early on which eventually becomes romantic. With time, both of their stories are revealed: Kelly was married to a man for 49 years, and together they had had a daughter who died tragically at 39; because their daughter had not been given the choice to live in San Junipero, Kelly’s husband chose not to upload his consciousness upon his death. Yorkie, on the other hand, is bed-ridden and completely paralyzed, and has been for some 40 or so years; when she was 21, she came out to her parents as gay, but they reacted poorly, and she got into a bad car accident soon after. She is getting married to one of her (male) nurses, so that he can sign her euthanasia paperwork (which her remaining family refuses to do on religions grounds). Afterwards, unlike Kelly, she plans to remain in San Junipero.

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Kelly visits Yorkie in the nursing home, and discovering her plan, proposes to her herself instead. The two get married, but the honeymoon turns sour when Kelly refuses to stay in San Junipero with Yorkie. By the end, however, Kelly changes her tune, the two remain together forever, and heaven really becomes a place on earth.

I mentioned a couple of years ago that video games were one of my (many) coping mechanisms, and that the promise of a future with full-dive VR in particular helped me pacify my wish for transition. I had had that dream for a long, long time–it probably started with the first time I watched The Matrix (unsurprisingly written by two transwomen), though the “San Junipero” episode of Black Mirror gave me the most targeted portrayal of that future I had ever seen.

I mean, it still took another year for me to start this blog, and another year on top of that to come out and start transitioning, but still–there was really no going back from that episode.

Seriously, it had it all. San Junipero’s residents can jump from decade to decade, for example–I could be in 1987 one day, and 2002 the next. They can drive whatever they want, from the many cars shown above in the opening scene, to Kelly’s YJ Wrangler, to Yorkie’s NA Miata (even today I sometimes find myself wondering which car from the era I would choose to represent “me” in San Junipero). Clothes, outfit, makeup, and hair are as easily changed as a cassette tape. Man, I could go on and on…

But come on, I think we all know what I really wanted: in San Junipero, I could be whoever I wanted to be. I could be exactly the woman I felt I was, exactly the lesbian I confusingly craved to be.

As I lay there watching it with Naomi, as Belinda Carlisle started blaring from Yorkie’s convertible, I knew that that was 100% what I wanted. By the time the two of us had the opportunity to live there, as we inevitably would, we would have lived a lifetime together already. Maybe, occasionally, she would let me “play” as a female character. Maybe, once in a long, long while, she would even love me as one. Not all the time, no…but, well, sometimes? By that point, if we really did have forever, we’d eventually get bored of doing the same thing every single day, so would it really be that big of a deal?

Strange, because now that I write this, I realize that that was really a marriage of two of my fantasies: VR, and an eternal heaven of my own design–my own personal paradise. That is one I owe both to my religious upbringing, and to the Robin Williams movie What Dreams May Come.

I won’t act like a VR future like the one depicted in “San Junipero” doesn’t still have pretty deep appeal for me–it definitely does. But the funny thing is, when I sat to watch the episode for the second time ever, just before writing this post, I realized that I no longer needed it like I did. I am so, so much happier now than I was three years ago, in a way that I don’t always appreciate unless it’s in my face. I’m so excited for my own future now, as my new name, and for all the possibilities that stretch before me–for all the potential avenues to express myself and make my mark on the world. There was definitely a time I was literally prepared to endure the rest of my lifetime just for the chance to die in a nursing home and be uploaded to a server in a warehouse somewhere, just so I could do all the things then that I am doing now.

Thank God that that’s not me anymore. Thank God I’m no longer Nameless.

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