Black Mirror: “San Junipero” (2016)

Directed by Charlie Brooker
Running time 1h 1m
Core concepts this week

queer utopia

queer futurity

queer time

straight time

reproductive temporality

alternative temporality

View on Netflix


“San Junipero” is episode three of season four of the sci-fi drama anthology series, Black Mirror. (An anthology series presents stories of different characters in each episode, so it is not necessary to be familiar with previous episodes of Black Mirror to understand this episode.) “San Junipero” was written by Charlie Brooker (who is the showrunner of Black Mirror) and directed by Owen Harris. In general, Black Mirror typically focuses on the potential negative consequences of emerging technologies. “San Junipero” is a bit unique in the series due to the happy (or at least potentially happy) ending for the two protagonists.

Plot summary

As the episode opens, Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) enters a nightclub in a California beachside town in 1987. She meets Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who asks her to dance. As they talk, Kelly invites Yorkie to spend the night with her, but Yorkie leaves anxiously. The episode cuts to one week later, and Yorkie arrives at the nightclub again, eager to see Kelly. Kelly takes Yorkie home to her beachside house, and the two sleep together and share a bit of their lives. Yorkie reveals that she has never slept with anyone, and Kelly reveals that she has always known she was bisexual, but that she was married to a man for many years, although he “chose not to stick around,” so Kelly is now eager to “have a good time” “before [she] leaves.” The episode cuts to one week later. Yorkie cannot find Kelly; she hops to different time periods over the course of several weeks, before finding Kelly in San Junipero in the 2000s. Kelly reveals that she is afraid of getting too close to Yorkie. That night, Yorkie reveals that she is getting married to a man named Greg the next day. Kelly reveals that she is dying of cancer and has only a few months to live, and that she is not planning to spend eternity in San Junipero, as many do. Because her husband Richard died without staying in San Junipero, Kelly plans to do the same. Kelly asks to come see Yorkie in the present, and Yorkie reluctantly agrees. An elderly Kelly visits an elderly Yorkie in a nursing home, and meets Greg, a nurse, who explains Yorkie’s history. At 21, she came out to her parents as gay. The family got into a fight, and Yorkie left, getting into a car accident that left her quadriplegic and unable to communicate (except via a new technological comms system). Greg plans to marry Yorkie in order to enable her to enact her wish to be euthanized and pass over into San Junipero. Kelly asks her to marry her instead. Yorkie agrees, and is euthanized and sent to San Junipero permanently. They meet the following week in San Junipero to celebrate. However, Yorkie tries to persuade Kelly to stay permanently when she dies, and Yorkie resists, explaining that she cannot because of her ties to her husband and daughter Allison, who has died as well. In the present day, an elderly Kelly debates this question, and ultimately decides to be euthanized and pass over to San Junipero. The final scene shows the pair enjoying a drive in San Junipero while their data is uploaded to a massive server farm.

Content warnings

“San Junipero” contains non-explicit references to sexuality.


  • Because this week is the beginning of the “Queer Utopia” unit, I am including two queer theory texts that we will continue to engage with throughout the unit, rather than one film criticism piece and one queer theory piece – excerpts from Jack Halberstam’s In a Queer Time and Place, and from Jose Esteban Muñoz’s Cruising Utopia. Before the “day 1” class period, students will read the first page of Cruising Utopia to introduce this unit, along with their regular screening. Before “day 2,” students will read an excerpt from the introduction of In A Queer Time and Place, and before “day 3,” students will read Chapter 1 of Cruising Utopia. As always, feel free to re-arrange or cut this material in ways that would suit your class structure better.
  • Chapter 1 of Cruising Utopia will also be used in Day 1 of next week’s sequence on Pose; remind students to hold onto this reading.

Materials for this week

  • Lesson plans [Word doc]
  • Screening quiz [Word doc]
  • Film screening notes handout (same as unit 1 and 2) [Word doc]
  • Film studies vocabulary handout (same as units 1 and 2)[Word doc]
  • Secondary texts:
    • Day 1: Esteban Muñoz, Jose. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. NYU UP, 2009. [pdf] (Excerpt: “Introduction: Feeling Utopia,” pp. 1)
    • Day 2: Halberstam, Jack. In A Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies: Subcultural Lives. NYU UP, 2005. (Excerpt: Introduction: Queer Temporality and Postmodern Geographies,” pp. 1-11) [pdf]
    • Day 3: Esteban Muñoz, Jose. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. NYU UP, 2009. [pdf] (Excerpt: Chapter 1, “Queerness as Horizon,” pp. 19-32)

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