(WARNING: This article contains spoilers relating to Black Mirror Episode Four: 'San Junipero')
If you identify as being anything other than straight, you know that living life under the rainbow flag can be difficult. From canceling your gym membership because it's become a depressing graveyard of Grindr hookups, to strangers revealing that between their legs dangles the Excalibur of schlongs, primed to magically turn any lesbian back into a peen-loving heterosexual, life comes with its own unique set of downsides. Oh, and then there's the whole being verbally or physically assaulted and occasionally fearing for your life thing.
All this being said though, at least us real-life LGBTQ'ers aren't (for the most part) currently living out our lives on-screen. Ever since members of the LGBTQ community have been represented on television and in the movies, there's been an alarming habit for having them killed off, a trope infamously known as 'Bury Your Gays.' Likewise, hopes of happiness, of discovering inner peace and of forming lasting romantic relationships are also, hopelessly doomed.
This is why Black Mirror's fourth Episode, 'San Junipero' is so important. Taking this narrative stereotype and essentially turning it on its head, Charlie Brooker has given the LGBTQ community and their supporters alike a rare and special gift which emphatically proclaims from the highest rooftops that love is love regardless of orientation, age, time and space.
Phew. Let's take a look at how 'San Junipero' achieves this rather monumental feat.
Why 'San Junipero' Is Unlike Any Other Black Mirror Episode To Date
- It's A Slow, Character-Building, Burn
In contrast to the pacing of most of the other Episode's in the series, it takes a long time before the sci-fi hook of 'San Junipero' is revealed. Then, by the time the twist finally hits, it almost feels inconsequential as all of our attention has instead has been diverted into the relationship and the characterization of Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Yorkie (MacKenzie Davis).
Shifting the focus from contextualized drama to characterization is in essence what makes this Episode so endearingly engrossing and so impressively successful. It subtly lays the groundwork for its plurality of deeper messages which arrive with its conclusion, and in doing so, ultimately reveals more about human nature than would have been possible had Kelly and Yorkie been less fleshed-out, as it were.
- Goodbye Clinical Sci-Fi Aesthetics, Hello Bright Neon Lights
Accustomed to bleak landscapes, pristine, white interiors and an overarching feeling of claustrophobia, 'San Junipero' provides a hypnotizingly, dazzling alternative to the usual Black Mirror visual signature style. Jumping across time periods but predominantly taking place in a club called Tucker's during the '80s, the brazen neon lights which litter the clubs interior are matched only by the wonderfully garish wardrobe of the clubbers. Kelly's purple rhinestone-studded suede jacket being a personal highlight.
This shift of aesthetic style leads the way for 'San Junipero' to show a different side of the franchise, and teases us with the prospect of that ever illusive happy ending foreign to both Black Mirror and on-screen lesbians alike.
- It Involves Some Forward Thinking Representation
Importantly, this Episode doesn't just focus on representing a woman loving woman relationship. The relationship involves a white, self identified lesbian and a bisexual woman of color. With LGTBQ women of color receiving even less on-screen representation than white LGBTQ characters, this is particularly significant. It's also great that we are given both a lesbian and a bisexual character, as it is important that those who identify as bisexual also feel visible both within the community, and on-screen.
It Butch-ers On-Screen Lesbian Stereotypes
Traditionally, on-screen lesbians fall victim to the following three tropes:
1. The Psycho Lesbian
This particular breed of on-screen lesbian has often become deranged due to their unrequited love for another woman and/or is psychotic purely as a result of their deviant sexuality. Psycho lesbian's of note:
- Roxy from Basic Instinct
- Barbara from Notes on a Scandal
- Nazi Ingrid from Rome, Open City
2. The Hidden Lesbians
Frequently, on-screen lesbians are doomed to have their romantic relationships alluded too, but never actually confirmed. Or, even worse, having their relationship confirmed but then immediately discredited as an experimental phase. Cue straight man with the Excalibur schlong. Hidden lesbians include:
- Xena and Gabrielle from Xena Warrior Princess
- Dahl from The Chronicles of Riddick
- Jules and Nick from The Kids are Alright
3. The Dead Lesbian
Known as the 'Bury Your Gays' trope, lesbians and gays have a dark history of often being killed unnecessarily on-screen. For obvious reasons, their high mortality rate also makes it startlingly difficult for lesbians to engage in long and happy on-screen relationships. In 2016 alone we've already said goodbye to:
- Poussey from Orange is the New Black
- Denise from The Walking Dead
- Lexa from The 100
But Kelly And Yorkie Fall In Love And 'Live' To Tell The Tale
Miraculously, Brooker has managed to write two LGBTQ characters who are neither deranged psychopaths, hidden and/or waiting for a penis to come along and prove their love a mere fantasy, or dead. What's more, Kelly and Yorkie manage to attain one of the most rare and sought after things in LGBTQ on-screen representation — a happy ending.
While we are occasionally given a lesbian romance that lasts the length of it's on-air screen time, it nearly always comes with a catch. Violet and Corky end up together but are probably doomed to a life on the run in Bound, Alex and Piper's on-again-off-again relationship in Orange is the New Black is currently 'on,' but they're stuck in prison and Carol and Therese defy all the odds but have to deal with the hells of a homophobic '50s society in Carol.
Kelly and Yorkie not only manage to keep their love alive (in a very liberal sense of the word) beyond the credits, they also manage to transcend the boundaries of life and death, inadvertently making their love in the utopic 'San Junipero' eternal. Which frankly, takes some beating.
The Best Thing About The Episode? Their Sexuality Is Actually Irrelevant
As wonderfully refreshing as it is to be given an on-screen lesbian couple who both survive and are given a happily ever after, the true success of the Episode lies in the fact that their orientations are neither here nor there. Talking to A.V. club, Brooker revealed that 'San Junipero' was the first Episode of the third Season that he wrote and it is essentially:
And just like that, Brooker hits the nail on the head. 'San Junipero' is not a lesbian sci-fi story, it's a "coming-of-age story" which just so happens to involve two women who are in love with each other. This contributes to the growing movement to normalize LGTBQ relationships by showing them as unremarkable and un-sensationalized, and in doing so, just representing humans as creatures who simply fall in love with other humans. Be that from meeting in a bar, across a dating app or in an afterlife paradise that's floating immaterially in "the cloud," Kelly and Yorkie demonstrate that love is love regardless of sexuality, age, time and space. Thank you Charlie Brooker.