“San Junipero” and the episodes of “Black Mirror” I’ve reviewed thus far are as different as night and day, and I love it for that. The story highlights the possibilities and positive effects of technology rather than the dark side and is a refreshing break from the stressful and warped episodes I’ve been watching. In “San Junipero,” virtual reality is regarded as a haven for the deceased and those on the brink of death. The simulation program they use is called San Junipero, a form of immersive nostalgia therapy for senior citizens to take form as their younger selves and play out their “lives” in a digital world. This is where the main characters, Yorkie and Kelly, meet; where they conquer their inner demons, explore their identities, and experience things that they have always wanted to do in the real world but could not.
Living in San Junipero is similar to surfing the internet. In both digital spaces, people can connect with other like-minded individuals, visit different places, and express themselves more freely without judgment — also known as online disinhibition. In my review “USS Callister” I discussed toxic disinhibition, and while I catch a glimpse of this in “San Junipero,” the episode mainly focuses on benign disinhibition — the type of online disinhibition that involves self-exploration, personal growth, and the sharing of personal information such as emotions, fears, and wishes (Suler, 2004). “San Junipero” shows us that there is a place for everyone. While a person may feel excluded in the real world, they can find solace in virtual communities that are accepting and supportive of them and who they are. To quote Kelly, “folks are way less uptight” in San Junipero, and the same can be said about being a part of these online groups.
Both Yorkie and Kelly grow by leaps and bounds, and by the end of the episode, they are able to reconcile their identities and feelings. Yorkie had low self-esteem and social anxiety from being shunned by her highly religious family for being lesbian. Thanks to the virtual reality program, she has the autonomy to do what she wants for the first time in her life. However, she struggles to behave without restraint because she’s afraid of being judged by other people as she had been when she came out to her family. As the story progresses, Yorkie learns to be comfortable in her skin and let loose.
Kelly appears to be the complete opposite of Yorkie. She has high self-esteem and she’s very social. However, the two share the commonality of letting other people dictate what they want to do. Kelly feels conflicted by the prospect of remaining in San Junipero with Yorkie after death because of her commitment to her deceased husband and daughter. She tells Yorkie why her husband didn’t want to try the virtual reality program, but she never verbally expresses whether or not she, herself, wants to stay. Despite this, she does make a decision of her own volition at the very end of the episode as the closing credits roll in.
The way this episode was constructed and filmed was clever. Yorkie and Kelly haven’t died yet, so they are on a trial version of San Junipero that restricts them to a 5-hour weekly limit. The users log in on Saturdays and are forced to log out at midnight. The writers don’t show the characters’ lives outside of San Junipero very much. Although some people may find the time skips bothersome, this setup efficiently reduces fillers, thus focusing on relevant scenes and interactions only. I also appreciate how the episode focuses on one issue at a time — it’s almost like there are two separate arcs to showcase Yorkie and Kelly’s individual character growth.
Everything about “San Junipero” is breathtaking. Watching the characters use the technology makes me want it to be real, which is a first in my history of watching “Black Mirror.” Although I enjoyed watching this episode, I didn’t love it nor do I feel compelled to watch it again. After taking all of these factors into consideration, I rate “San Junipero” 4.5/5 stars.
After reading this review, consider the following: is technology a problem in and of itself, or is it the people who design and use it, or is it both?
What do you think of “San Junipero”? Leave a comment below!
Suler, J. (2004). The Online Disinhibition Effect. Cyberpsychology & behavior 7.3 (2004): 321-326. Retrieved January 31, 2021, from http://truecenterpublishing.com/psycyber/disinhibit.html
Cover Photo: screencap of “San Junipero”