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Black Mirror Season 3, Episode 4 Recap: "San Junipero"

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Photo: Laurie Sparham/Netflix.
Pictured: Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis.
Welcome to 1987, the year that gave us Belinda Carlisle's "Heaven is a Place on Earth," The Lost Boys, and men in cropped blazers. What a time to be, erm, alive.

Halt and Catch Fire's Mackenzie Davis plays Yorkie, a less assertive version of Barb from Stranger Things. (Note to self: Redheads with big glasses are having a moment.) She wanders into Tucker's, the raddest '80s bar of all time, which is located in the fictional tourist town of San Junipero. She's plays an arcade game, gives a nerd the Heisman, and makes a new friend in Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a bitchin' babe who takes her style cues from Madonna and Whitney Houston. Kelly tells her annoying date, Wes, that Yorkie is an old friend who has just months to live — and the lie works. He leaves them alone and the girls are soon bonding over Jack and Cokes.

Before long, they're on the dance floor. Yorkie doesn't enjoy the attention she's getting by dancing with another girl and she flees. Kelly finds her outside in the rain. She invites Yorkie to her bedroom, but gets rejected. A clearly tempted Yorkie explains that she has a fiancé named Greg and a very overprotective family. She's also never been on a dance floor before. We're starting to think she might be a cyborg.

A week passes and we get an epic makeover montage set to '80s tunes. In the end, Yorkie throws on her usual nerd gear before heading back to Tucker's. Having ditched a very persistent Wes by claiming that she just wants to have some no-strings-attached fun while she's in San Junipero, Kelly moves on to a slick new guy, mostly to make Yorkie jealous. It works. Before long, Kelly is taking Yorkie's virginity back at her beach house. Despite being engaged ("It's complicated," she offers.), Yorkie has never had sex or a real relationship. Yep. Cyborg.

Kelly reveals that she was married for years, but her husband left. A glance at the clock tells her the time is 11:59.

"Time's nearly up," she tells Yorkie as they cuddle in bed. At midnight, the lights go out.

Another week passes and Yorkie can't find Kelly anywhere. On a tip from the Tucker's bartender, she checks out the mysterious Quagmire club that everyone's been talking about. It's a sin den that's straight out of The Hunger and Mad Max. Think vamps, snakes, punk rockers, leather daddies, and people in cages. Yorkie is horrified, but her trip is not in vain. Wes is there and suggests she tries to find Kelly in a different time. As in, a different year. Hello, McFly!

Yorkie travels to 1980. She finds the original Pac-Man, but no Kelly. There's no luck in the Alanis Morissette-soundtracked 1996, either. The following week, she tries 2002. Who should be playing Dance Dance Revolution in a sequin halter top from Forever 21 than Miss "I Can't Commit"? She gives Yorkie the brush-off, once again trotting out the "I just want to have fun" line. Yorkie says she should feel bad for her behaviour. It's by far the most emotional conversation anyone has ever had while Kylie Minogue's "Can't Get You Out Of My Head" is playing.

Yorkie takes off. Kelly punches the mirror (Just like the Black Mirror credits!) and, somehow, doesn't injure herself. Hmm. Maybe she's the cyborg.

Kelly finds Yorkie moping on the roof. Yorkie wants to know how many "full-timers" (as in, full-time San Junipero residents) are dead. Kelly says 80, 85. Wait. What? These people are dead?

Before we can get to the bottom of this, Kelly has to apologise for doing Yorkie wrong. She's just afraid to have feelings, she says, echoing every bad boyfriend we've ever had. The women hook up again at the beach house. Afterwards, Yorkie announces that her wedding is the following week. He's a nice guy, she says, but her strict family still doesn't approve.

Meanwhile, Kelly talks about her husband Richard's death and we learn that she, too, is dying. She was given a few months to live and is doing a trial run in San Junipero. Apparently, this little vacation destination is some sort of heaven alternative. You can either die and "pass through" or spend all eternity as a bodacious twentysomething in San Junipero.

Now, it's the present day (i.e., the future) and Kelly is an old woman. As promised, she visits Yorkie. Yorkie, it turns out, is also elderly and in a coma. Greg, her "fiancé," turns out to be a nurse. Over coffee, he explains that Yorkie has been a quadriplegic since she was 21, having been seriously injured in a car accident after coming out to her parents and being rejected. That explains the lack of dancing and sex. The marriage is just a ruse to bypass her conservative family and allow Yorkie to be euthanised. She'll "pass" and be a full-timer in San Junipero, instead of just visiting for five hours a week through an "immersive nostalgia" program.

Kelly has a better idea. Through the power of technology, she's able to go back in time and ask Yorkie to marry her, instead. The wedding goes through and Yorkie dies.

A week later, Kelly arrives for the honeymoon (in an amazing '80s wedding dress) during her own weekly five-hour stint in San Junipero. She's not feeling Yorkie's plan to follow her lead and pass over so that they can be together in San Junipero circa 1987 forever. She's speaking as a woman who was married to the same man for 49 years. She watched their daughter die before her time and her husband soon after. San Junipero is not the only option, she argues. Her late loved ones simply died — and she's tempted to do the same.

And then, she changes her mind. Elderly Kelly returns to her assisted-living home, where she decides to pass over, after all. Her grave shows that she died at age 73. In San Junipero, however, she and Yorkie are forever in their 20s, forever in love, and forever (we assume) in 1987. They must really like Belinda Carlisle.
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