Warning: The following recap contains spoilers. If you don’t want to know about what happens in this episode, “San Junipero,” or don’t enjoy chart toppin’ ’80s music, leave the page now!
“San Junipero,” which was written by showrunner Charlie Brooker, takes us through past decades Black Mirror style: meaning nothing is as it seems, and all Spidey senses must be on high alert waiting for some big twists. And this episode, which plays with the ol’ heart strings like it’s been taking lessons, has plenty of big twists.
It opens where you’d never expect an episode of Black Mirror to open: in the ’80s. The 1980s. We almost immediately meet the two heroines of the episode, Yorkie—yes, like the dog—played by Mackenzie Davis (Halt and Catch Fire); and Kelly, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Beyond the Lights). Both women go into a trendy club—so many jean jackets—and when Kelly tries to shirk annoying suitor Wes, she uses Yorkie as a decoy.
Yorkie and Kelly immediately hit it off, and eventually find themselves on the dance floor, and then out in the alley beside the club. The two are really digging each other—even though Yorkie is a super shy, idiosyncratic introvert, and Kelly is a firecracker—and Kelly makes her move. Unfortunately, Yorkie shuts her down and says she’s engaged to a guy named “Greg.” (Yes, we need to put his name in quotations.)
Then we cut to one week later. After a quick montage of trying on different looks, Yorkie heads back to the club and she is a big-sexy-glasses-wearing Kelly-seeking missile. Kelly shirks Yorkie for a little bit, pretending to be occupied with a guy, but Yorkie corners Kelly and asks her to “make this easy for me.” Annnnnnd then the two ladies are back at Kelly’s beach house and going at it like they’re being touched for the very first time (thanks, Madonna). During pillow talk, Yorkie reveals that she was a virgin (Kelly “deflowered” her) and Kelly reveals that she was in love with a guy who “decided to leave her.” Then Yorkie looks at the clock and says “time’s almost up.”
We jump ahead a week again, but this time when Yorkie goes looking for Kelly, she’s nowhere to be found. The bartender at the trendy club tells her to go check out the Quagmire, which is a punk-infused grunge orgy (honestly, the place seemed smelly). Yorkie doesn’t find Kelly there, but she does find Wes, who tells Yorkie to look in 1980, the mid ’90s, or even 2002. And after some time traveling through the decades, it’s there in 2002—Bourne Identity poster and all—that Yorkie reconnects with Kelly and confronts her.
Now, if the time traveling wasn’t already a pretty big sign that something’s up, the next conversation between Kelly and Yorkie—which takes place on a rooftop; don’t judge—is. Yorkie looks out at everybody in San Junipero, and asks how many of them are dead. Kelly responds, 80-85%. So now we have time traveling, a lot of dead people walking around like they’re not dead, and we know something called “a pain slider” exists.
Kelly and Yorkie return to Yorkie’s beach house and while they’re snuggled up looking at the beach, the picture of what’s happening in the episode becomes clearer. Kelly reveals that she’s dying, and that she only has three months to live. Yorkie says that if they met, if they “really met,” that Kelly wouldn’t like her. The two ask each other where they really live; Kelly says she’s in Nevada, Yorkie says she’s in California. It’s not far at all, Kelly says, and insists on visiting Yorkie even though she’s seemingly right next to her.
Then we cut to reality. A reality that seems like it’s probably several decades in the future from our own present—full of sleek technology and metal chairs. An elderly Kelly, who’s staying at Sienna Trust Assisted Living, is helped into a van and taken to another large and futuristic assisted living facility. It’s there that Kelly finally meets Yorkie in reality. Yorkie, who’s also much older than her avatar in San Junipero, is a quadriplegic, and is laid out in bed, unable to speak or move. After saying a sweet hello to Yorkie, Kelly meets “Greg,” who turns out to be a caretaker. And the marriage between Greg and Yorkie turns out to be a ploy to allow Yorkie to stay in San Junipero indefinitely; in other words, to allow Yorkie’s brain to be stored “in the cloud” after she dies.
Kelly asks for a just a few more moments in the world of San Junipero with Yorkie before she’s taken back to her assisted living facility, and Greg grants her her wish. It’s back inside San Junipero, with both Yorkie and Kelly back in their fully able and young bodies, that Kelly asks Yorkie to marry her. Yorkie says yes.
Once Kelly and Yorkie are married, Yorkie “passes over” to live permanently in San Junipero (her brain is uploaded onto a hard drive). Kelly, who still has some time left in reality, visits Yorkie in San Junipero, but refuses to stay with her permanently. She reveals that her husband decided not to come to San Junipero because she and he had a daughter who died at 39. And if her daughter didn’t get to enjoy life—or a crazy virtual afterlife full of lots of great haircuts—then she shouldn’t either.
Back in the real world, it seems like Kelly is really going to let herself die, but then, during a beautiful bench moment with her nurse (probably the point in the episode where you started crying), she says that she’s “ready for the rest of it.”
We find out, in true ’80s movie fashion, what exactly “ready for the rest of it” means. In cut scenes between the credits (underneath Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven Is a Place on Earth”), we watch as Yorkie takes a spin in her tiny Mazda, goes to Kelly’s beach house and finds… Kelly! She did decide to pass over. Back in the real world, we see what “passing over” actually looks like: It looks like Yorkie and Kelly, now essentially electronic copies of their brains in a couple of tubes, loaded into an endless wall of identical brain-computer-tubes. It’s a giant Indiana Jones warehouse full of people’s uploaded brains.
Speaking of uploaded brains, let us know what you thought about this episode by uploading your thoughts into the comments below! (We promise not to save them to the brain cloud.)