Is the Ending of Black Mirror’s ‘San Junipero’ Exactly As It Seems?
Spoilers ahead for those who haven’t watched this particular episode of Black Mirror yet.
It’s already ruined our lives, according to the rest of Black Mirror, but now, the internet would like to ruin “San Junipero.” By most accounts, that episode, which centers on a romance between Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Kelly and Mackenzie Davis’s Yorkie, interrupts the rest of the cynical gloom of the rest of season three of Black Mirror like sunshine breaking through the clouds (or rants about the Cloud). The two characters turn out to be avatars of two near-dead humans, and by the end of the episode, both cheat death and decide to live with each other in San Junipero’s Belinda Carlisle afterlife.
Happy, right? Or bittersweet, which is the most you can hope for in Black Mirror. Not according to a skeptic on Reddit, who argues that Kelly never “passed over” to San Junipero’s paradise, and instead decided to join her husband and daughter in the grave. This theory points to a few clues: We don’t see a widget on Kelly’s forehead that would connect her to the simulation as she is euthanized; there’s the ambiguity in her phrasing, “I’m ready for the rest of it,” which could refer either to death or to life in San Junipero; and the fact that we only see the serial numbers of the two nodes the robot arm inserts into the TCKR Systems server room, not Kelly and Yorkie’s names. Kelly does join Yorkie during the episode’s credits, but maybe, this theory argues, that’s not really her. “TCKR can make anything seem incredibly real,” the writer points out. “Can’t they simulate Kelly too?” Instead of getting a true reunion, Yorkie’s living with a computer-generated ghost of the person she knew.
Early in “San Junipero,” there’s another clue that might fuel yet another reading of the episode, which doesn’t depend on either interpretation holding true. When Yorkie tries out a few arcade games, a man comes over to tell her that one has “different endings, depending on if you’re in one or two player.” Black Mirror tends to be pretty efficient with its dialogue, and if we take the gamer’s line as a hint, maybe “San Junipero” has two endings as well. Before the credits roll, we get the “one player” ending: Yorkie drives her car to the beachside, alone in paradise. Once the credits hit, player two enters the game: Kelly reunites with Yorkie, and we see a different ending, or at least how Yorkie might imagine it. It’s fun to generate theories that might give art a single explanation, but in this case, it’s more valuable to let those interpretations overlap. Maybe Yorkie’s happy with her ghost-Kelly, but as an audience, we might not necessarily be. As with “Be Right Back,” another Black Mirror episode directed by Owen Harris, which hinges on Hayley Atwell’s relationship with a computer generated version of her ex, “San Junipero” gets at the question of the kind of intimacy we can have with a replica of something real. The question of the ending of “San Junipero” that might satisfy a viewer ends up being a question of what, if any, simulacra of reality they themselves might accept from technology. Are you happy playing the game alone? Do you need a player two? Do you want to play at all? Of course, for Kelly and Yorkie, reality was never very satisfying in the first place, so maybe we should stop harping on it anyway.