This fall’s most moving LGBT love story can be found on one of television’s scariest shows.
Black Mirror is a Twilight Zone-esque anthology series that is known for imagining the terrors of technology. Each episode of the Netflix show contains a glimpse of a bizarro world of modern society, in which advancements in social media, virtual reality, and surveillance have perilous and often lethal consequences.
But in its strongest episode of season 3, “San Junipero,” Black Mirror also shows a hopeful vision of how technology can bring people — in particular, queer people — together. The story (spoilers ahead) centers on how a bespectacled wallflower, Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis), comes out of her shell to fall in love with the outgoing Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw).
As in many episodes of Black Mirror, there are twists that change reality for the characters as well as the viewer. In “San Junipero,” Yorkie and Kelly meet at a club in 1980s California — complete with Pac-Man, shoulder pads, and Lost Boys posters. When Yorkie flees the dance floor — she fears judgmental stares at the sight of two women dancing — the audience understands this impulse as linked to a stigma of another era.
But as the episode progresses, time shifts decades (soundtrack and accessories do so as well). However, the characters remain the same age. Eventually, it is revealed that San Junipero is not reality but rather a virtual reality designed as a kind of "nostalgia" therapy for the elderly. As with online worlds like Second Life, participants log in as avatars, while their physical bodies remain in repose during the session.
In the real world, technology has been transformative in the way LGBT people find each other. Chat rooms, dating sites, and apps have allowed us to see each other in ways we never could before. Moreover, these digital spaces are oftentimes the only places many queer people can safely be themselves.
Black Mirror envisions the next step of this culture. Yorkie is a character searching for love and community after her family rejects her. Technology gives her a second chance at life as an out person. It connects her to Kelly, in which she finds not only a romantic partner, but also a guide to being a queer woman. Kelly, who is bisexual, also raises visibility of an often-erased community, giving Yorkie (and the viewer) a valuable lesson in what it means to love as a bi woman.
“Can you just make this easy for me?” Yorkie asks Kelly, after struggling to understand the rules of their courtship — and the LGBT viewer knows precisely what she means.
In an interview with Indiewire, Charlie Brooker, the creator of Black Mirror, revealed that an earlier version of this story was written as a different-sex relationship. But he and his team realized it would be a more powerful story if it centered on two women — particularly since one of the plotlines involves marriage.
“It felt thematically richer,” he said. “It made more sense as a story. That’s much more interesting to write about than just ‘boy meets girl.'”
“It’s that thing of taking an 80-year-old voice and transporting them back to the time of their youth, but where attitudes have changed,” producer Annabel Jones added. “It’s not just go back and live your life again, but go back and live your life through different attitudes and different social norms. Which is fascinating.”
In addition to life, death also hovers over Kelly and Yorkie — as it does for many of Black Mirror's characters. However, in a year that has seen a string of unforgivable deaths of LGBT characters on television, Black Mirror shows that dying need not be a horrible end. In fact, it can also be a welcome beginning.
Watch the trailer for Netflix's Black Mirror below.