In the sea of pixelly bleakness and existential horror on levels you’d never thought to contemplate that is Black Mirror, the near-unequivocal fan favourite is the season 3 episode ‘San Junipero’.
Shy Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) and outgoing Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) fall in love in a small town in the 80s, there’s a bit of heartbreak and a bit of Belinda Carlisle and technology isn’t the villain for a change. Go and watch it on Netflix right now if you haven’t already – or just save it for when you really need something purely lovely to watch.
One of the best things about the episode is that the queerness of the love story is an element of it, but not the entire point. A near-identical and very touching story could easily have been told with a heterosexual couple – and it nearly was.
A new book about the making of Black Mirror includes writers Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones talking about the origins of the Emmy-winning episode.
“We couldn’t do this now because of Westworld, but we had the idea of a theme park you went to that was essentially Heaven. All your dead relatives and friends would be there, and you’d pay to go and visit them. So that thought stayed around for a while — this notion of Heaven that you go to as a holiday,” explains Brooker.
“Back then, our characters were a man and a woman. The big twist was one of them was in a coma or dying. That was where it ended.”
“Once you start exploring the world, and the capabilities it offers up, you wonder what else that world might give someone that they may not have had before,” explains Jones.
“Then came that idea of having a life unfulfilled, because you’ve been in a coma for 40 years, and going back to a time when maybe you couldn’t have been as sexually free as you could today.”
Brooker goes on:
“At some point, the thought arrived of making this a same-sex couple. Rather than that feeling like a gimmick, it became both relevant and irrelevant to the story. It informed a whole other layer because these people couldn’t have got married as two women in 1987.”
That simple choice – and the duality of it mattering, and not mattering – made the episode iconic, as well as quietly revolutionary in a time when queer love stories are still treated as a niche interest.