Major spoilers ahead for Black Mirror Season 3, Episode 4, 'San Junipero'. Don't read on until you've indulged in this perfect hour of TV.
I'd heard great things about 'San Junipero' before I got around to watching Season 3 of #blackmirror. Various friends and colleagues described it as the series' best episode since 'Be Right Back,' so I went into it expecting to feel the usual spectrum of Black Mirror emotions: dread, queasiness and trauma, with a hefty side dish of disillusionment about the unhappy places our tech-happy world is headed.
'San Junipero' begins as a story of attraction, exploration and sex between Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis, both excellent). It's not until the technology element of the story reveals itself, halfway through, that it even really begins to feel like an episode of Black Mirror. Then, with the realization that Kelly and Yorkie are both elderly, sick women recapturing their youths once a week inside a virtual reality paradise town on the coast (the titular San Junipero), comes the expectation that this episode will suddenly twist and contort itself into something bleak.
But it doesn't. #SanJunipero ends exactly as it started — a story of romance and hedonism, of optimism and the possibility of a beautiful future, Kelly passing over in the real world and committing herself to a life-after-death spent with Yorkie in San Junipero (relive the final scene in full below). Its beauty and shocking lack of cynicism render this the only episode of Black Mirror in which technology doesn't come weaponized with tricks or caveats, and hope and love win out.
Unless they don't. Unless there's more to the finale of 'San Junipero' than meets the eye.
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As if to prove Black Mirror's thesis that the internet is gradually destroying all that's good, one cynic on Reddit has discovered a series of clues that open up the possibility of the episode's ending being nothing more than an illusion masking a much sadder reality: Kelly chose not to spend her after-death with Yorkie, instead letting her consciousness float away into the unknown.
The first piece of evidence? After her death, Kelly is lowered into the same grave as her husband and daughter, her name etched onto the gravestone below theirs. That doesn't exactly prove anything (where else would she be buried?) but it could be a hint that she chose to join her family in death. Another — Kelly tells her carer she's ready "for the rest of it". The wording is deliberately ambiguous, which could be an attempt to keep us guessing about whether she'll join Yorkie until the reveal, or could be designed to mislead us about the real nature of Kelly's decision.
By far the biggest clue, though, arrives much earlier in the episode when Yorkie is showered with the attentions of a male gamer in the bar's arcade room. In what could be read as a delicious piece of foreshadowing, the guy tells Yorkie that her game "has different endings, depending on if you're in one- or two-player." That sounds an awful lot like it could also relate to Yorkie's own "ending" — will she roam San Junipero in one-player mode, alone, or in two-player, with Kelly at her side?
What initially seems to be the one-player ending, Yorkie driving her car alone along the coastal road, segues into the two-player ending when Kelly joins her new wife at the beach house. Considering San Junipero has been designed to resemble a limbo-paradise of sorts, would TCKR (the company who maintain the "game") really allow somebody to fall in love inside it, only for one to decide against living there after death? It's not outside the realm of possibility that TCKR have enough data from Kelly's time inside to create an illusion of an avatar whose interactions with Yorkie are generated by a sophisticated algorithm. That way, Yorkie receives her happy, "two-player" ending, blissfully ignorant to the fact that Kelly chose not to preserve her consciousness.
Personally, I choose to believe that the climax to 'San Junipero' really was at it seems, that Kelly really did U-turn and that, just for once, Black Mirror's vision of the future is simply crafted with optimism. Still, even if you buy into this theory, it's not necessarily the bleakest outcome — sure, advanced technology has tricked us once again, but at least this time it's doing so in order to give Yorkie the loving relationship she never had time to experience in the real world.
You can read the Reddit thread in full right here for further convincing about the credibility of the one/two-player ending theory. All credit goes to bgrizz101 for spotting the signs. If you haven't watched the rest of Season 3 yet, watch the trailer above for a taste of what you're missing, and for more on 'San Junipero' check out our piece about why its portrayal of a gay relationship is a major step forward for television.
Did Yorkie and Kelly really drive off into the sunset together, or was it all a perfect illusion?