“San Junipero” Is A Beautiful, Haunting Queer Love Story With Mixed Messages About Disability

This post was co-written by Valerie Anne and Carrie Wade

VALERIE:

Black Mirror is a scary show. It’s not scary in the way American Horror Story is gory and peppered with jump-scares, or scary in the way some reality shows make you worried for the state of humanity. It’s scary in the way you feel after you’ve binged too many episodes in a row and your computer has to pause to ask you if you’re okay and you see your reflection in the screen and think, “What have I become?” (That reflection is exactly what ‘black mirror’ refers to, by the way. The cold, judgemental glare of a blank device screen.) The show preys on our societal addiction to technology, and takes what seems like a reasonable prediction of a not-too-far-away future and shows how very wrong we could go if we’re not careful.

Each episode of Black Mirror is self-contained, and while sometimes there are references to past episodes (in last year’s Christmas episode, for example, you can see the reality show from the second episode on a TV, among other references), implying all these episodes exist in the same TERRIFYING reality, but the characters generally don’t reappear in any significant way from one story to the next, so really never know what you’re going to get. So one minute you’re trying to erase the memories of an episode that was like if Pretty Little Liars was on HBO (and about men) and the next you have two girls flirting with each other.

“San Junipero” is the story of two young women who first meet in a bar in 1987. Their names are Yorkie and Kelly; Kelly is bold and all smiles; Yorkie is meek and hides behind the glasses she admits she doesn’t need. They dance, until Yorkie panics and runs outside, worried that everyone was staring. Kelly couldn’t care less. But eventually Yorkie admits she is engaged to a man and runs away.

One week later, Yorkie is back in San Junipero in 1987, but Kelly is dancing with a boy. Finally they meet in the bathroom and Yorkie admits she just needs some guidance. So Kelly guides her all the way back to her beach house and into bed.

After, they talk and bond and Kelly says she’s always known she was bi and had a husband for a long time, and they lie together until they can’t anymore.

A week later, Yorkie is looking for Kelly in San Junipero again, but can’t find her anywhere. That’s when someone suggests she try another time. Not place. So the next week she pops into San Junipero again, but in 1980. Then 1996. Etc.

Eventually she finds her in 2002 and they fight a little. They talk about pain sliders and full-timers and we learn that San Junipero is a place you can live when you die. Kelly admits that she ran because she was scared. “I wasn’t prepared for you.”

There are more beach house shenanigans, and Yorkie talks about her fiance again, saying he pities her. And Kelly finally talks about her own life outside San Junipero, and she admits she only has three months to live. And that she doesn’t plan on living here after. Her husband died and didn’t go to San Junipero, and she wants to go wherever he went. Kelly wants to visit Yorkie in real life, and Yorkie is scared, says Kelly won’t like her, but eventually gives in.

And in real life, they are elderly. Yorkie is unresponsive in a bed, hooked up to all kinds of machines, and Kelly kisses her on the forehead and says, “Hello, stupid.” (But like…it’s romantic.)

Kelly meets Greg, who is Yorkie’s caretaker and fiancé. Yorkie came out to her parents when she was 21; they didn’t react well, so she drove off and got in a car accident that paralyzed her. She’s been quadriplegic her whole life. He’s marrying her because she wants to be euthanized so she can live in San Junipero forever and her parents won’t consent to it. So what does Kelly do? Bold and daring Kelly? She pops into San Junipero for a minute and asks Yorkie if she’d rather marry her instead. It’d still be the same deal, just for legal reasons so she can be euthanized. But at least it would be a marriage that meant a little something.

So the ladies don white dresses and frolick around San Junipero and everything is hunky dory until Yorkie asks Kelly to stay. Forever. But Kelly explains that she was with her husband for 49 years, that they had a daughter that died at 39, before San Junipero existed, so her husband didn’t go either. They’re just…gone. They fight and eventually Kelly leaves.

When it comes time for Kelly to die in real life, the music churns out “Heaven is a Place on Earth” and Yorkie is driving a little red corvette and pulls up to the beach — where Kelly is waiting. The cheerful song is still playing while a machine slots Kelly’s thumb drive into a server next to millions of others, and in San Junipero, Yorkie and Kelly drive off into eternity together, where they can dance their hearts out.

Together! Smiling! Laughing! Can you imagine?

CARRIE:

I came to this episode with absolutely no background on Black Mirror other than what Heather told me, which is that it’s essentially Dementor TV and ends horribly for everyone in every episode EXCEPT this one. Cool! Sounds like a blast.

I thought the buildup and establishment of the relationship between Kelly and Yorkie was very cute, and even if they’re both kind of cookie cutter (“I’m the nerd!” “I’m the party girl!”) the vibe between them felt real to me. I’d be reacting to Kelly the same way if I was in Yorkie’s position, to be honest. I thought there were some really nice lines, especially the ones that cut right to the heart of what it feels like to be queer and falling for someone and not really knowing what to do about it (“There were crushes. God, were there crushes,” “So you’ve been just… totally fucking inconvenient,” etc.). I also appreciated that it being an interracial relationship wasn’t made into this Big Deal, although as a white person my opinion on that clearly isn’t the one that matters.

VALERIE:

I am a relentless optimist. But this year, more often than not, my open, hopeful arms have been greeted with a knife right in my exposed heart. So I don’t think I fully relaxed until the music stopped and I was sure it was over. And that’s when I realized my cheeks hurt from smiling, despite the fact that my tears from earlier in the episode had hardly dried. My heart was racing, my eyes were wide and wild. These two women were together. No subtext, no wondering. It seemed way too hopeful to be an episode of Black Mirror.

And I hate that even amidst my hope throughout the episode, there was that fear. Do you think straight people watch TV constantly terrified their favorites are going to die or be torn apart or just suffer general doom and gloom and never get together just because they fell in love? I imagine not. Unless all they watch is murder shows. A few weeks ago I went to a film festival and saw a movie about two women who were best friends who realized they were in love with each other. Long story short: they decided (for no good reason) not to be together and the movie ended with them being mostly miserable.

After, a bunch of men stood up and were like, “What a great, authentic ending,” and and the director was like, “We almost had a happy ending but the investors preferred the sad ending,” and another guy was like, “Yes, this is much better surely.” My friend and I were fuming. There was plenty of angst and drama throughout the movie, and there was a clear path to happiness for all, but no, instead all the women had to be miserable. Why. WHY.

The first time I watched, I worried that people would see this as falling under “Bury Your Gays,” and I would disagree. I think there’s a big difference between killing off your only queer woman/having your most powerful witch or strongest warrior struck down by a bullet that wasn’t meant for them right after they were reunited with their girlfriends, and having one of your many self-contained storylines being about two women who find out that the end of their physical lives can be the beginning of their happily ever after. And even though technically Kelly and Yorkie “ascended” like Root or Lexa, at least it was a choice they made, and they were still with the woman they loved in a tangible way at the end. They had agency over their own death and chose it to be happy.

Though I would argue that “queer women can only be happy together in a post-death utopia” isn’t exactly a solution to Bury Your Gays, either, or even the antithesis to it — and there’s something else going on here too. The disability equivalent of Bury Your Gays is called Better Dead Than Disabled. Carrie, how did you feel like Black Mirror handled that trope?

CARRIE:

So in real life, Yorkie is quadriplegic and lives in a hospital bed on a ventilator, but in San Junipero she is young and able-bodied. It becomes clear that she wants to end her real-world life so she can cross over and “live” in San Junipero forever. So if you just look at it that way, it seems like they’re once again playing into this idea that you are, in fact, better dead than disabled and of course she wants to be able-bodied forever because why wouldn’t you want to be. But two questions complicate that, I think:

1) When you go to San Junipero, do you get to choose how old you are? If that’s the case, it’s interesting that there don’t seem to be many old people there; it looks like everyone decides to be young. And that also means that Yorkie isn’t necessarily choosing to be able-bodied, she’s just choosing to be a younger version of herself. Which is decidedly less shitty than if she had always been disabled in real life, and then magically got to be able-bodied in this afterlife simulation. So it’s not (necessarily) as downright awful as the vast majority of similar plot lines, which assume that everyone would be able-bodied if given the choice. And on a related note,

2) Are there any disabled people in San Junipero? I don’t remember seeing any, and if there aren’t, that’s a problem. Because then it’s at least strongly implied that no one would choose to be disabled in their afterlife, even if they were in their earthly life. Not good. It’s a huge theological question and struggle for a lot of religious disabled folks, and a misguided attempt at connection that a lot of religions make toward disabled people: this idea that one day you’ll “throw off your shackles and be free,” i.e. not disabled anymore, yay for you.

Then there’s the entire issue of whether and how Yorkie consented to try San Junipero, or if it was just given to her by doctors who assumed she would want it. They never show her communicating in the present day beyond, of course, the single damn tear rolling down her cheek as she “crosses over.” (Ughhhh.) Consent to medical procedures is a hot button topic in the disability community, as is euthanasia, which apparently she also wants. Supporting right-to-die laws or similar programs means that you feel like you can trust the decision makers on all sides, which isn’t a privilege lots of disabled folks get to enjoy. Many disabled people have horrifying trauma around doctors suggesting (in one way or another) that we are better off dead. The episode clearly portrays the end of Yorkie’s earthly life as a pathway to happiness, which is troubling if you’re anything other than able-bodied. At the same time, EVERY character, including Kelly, is struggling with what it means to die and what your options are afterward, so at least she’s not alone in this.

Yorkie says some things along the way that are refreshing to hear—like how she’s pissed off when people pity her. At the same time, she also tells Kelly that if they met in real life, “you wouldn’t like me, you wouldn’t want to spend time with me.” So she’s clearly not settled on that issue either, and struggling with what her body means, even if she can only verbally communicate that in San Junipero.

So while this episode is not perfect, disability-wise, at least no one says outright that “of course she wants to cross over.” I’m still worried that that’s how viewers will interpret it, even though there’s more nuance going on (because it’s easier that way—especially in media, disability-as-tragedy is the go-to trope and no one bothers to think any harder. Thanks, ableism!). But it’s at least a little more complex than I thought it was going to be.

VALERIE:

Yes, absolutely. Queer people have so few options when it comes to representation on TV, and it affects our real lives so profoundly that it’s hard not to just shake it down to Good or Bad. You’re right, of course, that San Junipero is complicated. And our critique of queer TV is worthless if it’s not intersectional. It’s discouraging that we have to focus so hard on the very easily avoided Bury Your Gays trope that everything else gets swept under the rug. (Especially since, let me repeat, it’s very. easily. avoided.) Like: Well, as long as the queer women are alive.

And I am definitely not saying DON’T set that bar — I think it’s a very important bar. Gold-plate that shit, engrave it with the names of the queer characters unceremoniously ripped from this world. But I just think it can’t be the only bar in situations like these.

Black Mirror always has a twist that makes you question reality and what being human even means and what you would do in the characters’ situation, and it found a loophole of sorts (though I don’t think it was looking for one) through the Bury Your Gays conundrum, eased by the fact that even though it’s not a purely happy story, being dark as fuck and a little haunting, it’s treated with the same twisted storytelling respect as any other characters on any other episodes of this fucked up little show. It’s still an an interracial couple made up of a bisexual and a lesbian. It made me feel things in big way. And it was so nice to see the girl get the girl in the end. But, like you’re saying, Carrie, that can’t be the only way we measure it.

CARRIE:

Right—ideally, the girl would get the girl and skip the ableist undertones, and we’d see a happy interracial couple grappling with the big issues (Including disability! Because yes, it does change a relationship!) without having to be like “well, it wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t as bad as usual!” There are so many more interesting ways to frame disability than wondering whether we all wish we were dead, or as some “shocking reveal” partway through the episode. Maybe someday, TV. Maybe someday.


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Profile gravatar of Valerie Anne

Just a nerdy, TV-loving, Twitter-addicted Hufflepuff who loves reading, watching, and writing about stories. One part Kara Danvers, two parts Waverly Earp, a dash of Cosima and an extra helping of my own brand of weirdo.

Valerie has written 34 articles for us.

58 Comments

  1. 0

    Two things!

    1.) Carrie, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the way disability was treated in the Netflix series “3%”. I’m not sure if you’ve seen it, but the premise is really interesting. Basically, when you’re 20 you can go through something called the process and only 3% of the population ever make it through to live in some sort of Utopian society. There is a really interesting disabled POC character that has issue with the fact that everyone wants him to make it through the process so that he will be able to walk, but his disability is such a part of him that he doesn’t want that.

    2.) I loved this episode, but after thinking about it and reading up on some reviews there was something that rubbed me the wrong way. Kelly has known Yorkie for a few days and then decides to live eternity(?) with her. If the role was reversed and Kelly had been married to a woman for 50 years and then met a man and fell in love after 1-2 encounters and decided to marry him, I feel like I would feel so cheated!The love just felt so shallow… real, but shallow… you know? Like did their entire relationship consist of driving off in to the sunset in a convertible? Is that how their going to spend eternity?? Not that it sounds terrible, but what about the struggles that make love deeper or the ordinary quality of love that makes it so special?? It is a little bit infuriating that the bar for LGBTQ entertaiment is set so low that things like this are overlooked. Though I am with you, I was grinning from ear to ear when the two girls ran off in to the sunset toghether… ignoring ageism, ableism, internalized homophobia and all the other issues in the episode.

    • 0

      Yeah, I agree that it’s hard to understand what they’re life would even be like, but I’d like to chalk that up to it being constrained to being a TV show, not even a full movie. And it DID make me feel better that you can opt out of San Junipero at any time. (That’s right, right?) So it’s only eternity as long as you want it to be.

      • 0

        True! I just can’t help but shake the feeling that I was happy with the ending, but also disturbed by it. It’s just something about the idea of love in San Junipero… maybe it’s too sterilized? Maybe it is just the fact that the happiness at the end caught me off guard and then felt too manufactured. Going back to the 1st episode of season 1, there was somewhat of a happy ending according to the media, but it wasn’t real… it was only for the camera. So what is love when there are no stakes? Not saying you should be miserable in love, but there is something not quite there with this ending. Does this make sense?

        Long story short, this show disturbs me… but I can’t stop watching it!

      • 0

        Please let me know what you think! I always respect your opinion. I thought 3% handled certain issues (disability, poverty, elitism) pretty artfully and have been craving a conversation.

        Just a warning… It is really heavy. Think “Black Mirror”, but instead of new stories each episode, it’s an entire series revolving around a pretty messed up future. Also,it is not in English, which initially caught me off guard, but ended up being one of my favorite things about it.

  2. 0

    The nuance I appreciated about Yorkie’s excitement to live in San Junipero came when she described her family – that *they* don’t think she can have fun, *they* don’t think she can do anything. I got the sense not so much that to Yorkie being able-bodied is the goal, but that having freedom from her family’s control over her and getting to do anything at all (it’s kind of implied that she’s spent her entire life post-car crash barely acknowledged by her family and in a hospital bed?) is what she wants most of all from being there. And for her, the way to do that is to go back to being 21 and do it all over on her terms.

    So I found the story kind of uplifting and beautiful in the way Yorkie gets some of that time and agency back. But as you said so well, Carrie, as an able-bodied person my opinion on that clearly isn’t the one that matters!

    • 0

      Ah your comment said so beautifully all that I was thinking about Yorkie’s family but was having trouble articulating

      Thank you, Carrie, Valerie, and Autostraddle. I loved this analysis of the episode.

  3. 0

    1. I loved how this episode allowed me to challenge my own ageism. I feel like I was able to access the characters in a way I wouldn’t have been able to if we knew from the start that they were older adults, think of them in different ways, and that’s really interesting to me and something I want to look at and challenge.

    2. On one level I kind of loved that Black Mirror managed to bury their gays and still give us a happy ending. It felt like a big fuck-you to all of the shows that fuck us over every time.

    3. Kelly is shown going back to her hospice care at one point and CLIMBING A RICKETY WOODEN STAIRCASE to get to it. I’m sorry, does the future not have ADA guidelines? What hospice would be accessible only by staircase? (Yes, I work with older adults in health care).

    Thanks, Carrie and Valerie, for bringing your analysis to this episode! (Now everyone can stop saying “where is the Black Mirror recap” on every single TV post, yay!) I appreciated your insights!

  4. 0

    I don’t get your problems with nobody being handicapped in San Junipero. Surely it make’s sense that everyone want’s to be healthy? Wouldn’t it be great if she could spend her 30’s or 40’s actually among people instead of being confined to a bed? ‘handicapped people should be respected and not be underestimated but that doesn’t mean that the handicap doesn’t suck.

      • 0

        “how we think about disability” WE? as in “everyone on this site needs to share the same viewpoint?”
        why is it not ok for someone, new or old, to question someone else and share their differing opinion. isnt that the point of discourse?

        i didnt realize this was just a community of like minded individuals constantly validating each other’s synonymous views.
        super disappointing to see you treat someone that way (i.e. condescendingly, and as if they somehow violated the comment policy, which they actually didnt)

        • 0

          We’re all about differences of opinion and discussing those differences of opinion. What we’re not about is using language that many people in the disabled community consider a slur, or suggesting that people with disabilities are not healthy. We’re also not about stigmatizing disability (i.e. suggesting having a disability “sucks.”) Pointing readers to our archives to learn about the topics they’re commenting on to avoid using slurs or making harmful statements is not the same thing as creating an echo chamber of people with like-minded views. (Unless that view is respect for people with disabilities, in which case, yes: that is how WE think about it.)

          • 0

            which word was a slur? handicapped? disabled? they are all accurate medical terms. and having a disability does indeed suck. it has nothing to do with respect at all.

            my mom is paraplegic, legally blind, has memory loss, and a slew of other issues and i have been involved in her care my whole life. i also went through a period of temporary disability myself. i can assure you that both scenarios suck hard.

            stating the reality of the situation does not belittle the person, or exhibit a lack of respect for the person.

            people like you who confuse the two issues, and want to pretend that having a condition that limits some aspect of a persons ability (literally the definition of the word) is a blessing are the problem with our current overly-sensitive society.

            you do NOT have the right to speak for all people even if you are a member of a marginalized group. you can certainly state your view, but you should recognize that it is NOT reflective of that community, or even a majority within it.

            The fact that someone who has had to work hard their entire life to overcome some sort of setback, physical, mental, or otherwise, would prefer to live their life without those limitations is not a mark of a bad person, nor a symbol for a lack of self-respect.

        • 0

          Having a temporary handicap is ~2% like having a permanent disability, thanks for playing.

          “stating the reality of the situation does not belittle the person, or exhibit a lack of respect for the person.”

          Coming in and telling us our lives suck actually does exhibit a lack of respect for us as disabled people. We are the ultimate authority on whether or not our lives suck, not you, nor any other abled-body person. And honestly? Yeah, my main disability is a chronic pain condition which sucks pretty hard, but still ~80% of the reason it sucks is due to how other people who are able-bodied like yourself treat me. You and every other able-bodied person are not the Arbiters of Reality, and acting like you are is probably the most disrespectful while simultaneously detached from actual reality of our lives thing I can think of doing.

          You seem to recognize that Autostraddle doesn’t speak for everyone, but you think you can speak for marginalized groups that you are not a part of. This is not the case. You cannot and do not speak for disabled people as a whole, and pretending that you do is damn disrespectful.

          • 0

            Thanks for twisting my words around. I didnt say your lives suck. I said THE disability sucks. which you just admitted yourself so why are you still attacking me?

            you dont know my history and what i choose to reveal here doesnt make my opinion more or less valid. what if i now told you i have a neuro muscular disorder that causes pain worse than fibromyalgia AND limits my mobility – would my previous sentiment now hold more value to you? would i now “be allowed to play?” i shouldnt have to reveal personal details in order to be treated with the same amount of respect and validity as anyone else.

            your kind of judgmental exclusionary reasoning is beyond problematic because you seem to think that able bodied people have no right to have an opinion or voice on disability, but you dont want to realize that people within that group may also not share your opinion.

            you also clearly have biases yourself against other people with disabilities whom you have deemed to be “not as disabled” as you. what the actual eff is that nonsense?

            i’ll turn your words right back at you: you DO NOT speak for disabled people as a whole and pretending that you do is damn disrespectful.

          • 0

            Can we really even begin to talk about ‘disabled people as a whole’? We are not a unified whole any more than all GLBTQ people are all identical, or all POC. I don’t disagree with points being made but that the notion of a collective disabled experience really irks me. We are not all the same.
            I do not even feel comfortable making ‘we’ statements about people with a disability similar to mine, let alone those whose life experiences are vastly different. I often see generalizations made about all PWDs that do not speak to my experience, and I find it pretty alienating when the result is the erasure of my more than valid perception of my own life.

          • 0

            Did you even listen to what I said? Having a disability is not a removable feature for most of disabled folks’ lives. You can’t take away the disability or give it a value judgement without passing judgement on the rest of the life of the person in question. Like shit, people understand this when people say “oh man being gay sucks!” or “oh man being trans sucks!”–when it’s coming from someone not in those groups, it’s perceived as an attack on those groups for their inherent characteristics. Saying “having a disability sucks!” is doing pretty much the same thing. Especially when, as I said for me personally, the vast majority of the sucking comes from how society treats disabled folks. This is like the transphobic bigots using trans suicide stats to say “oh wow look how shitty it is to be trans” when…well, actually, most of the reason it’s shitty to be trans is because how other people treat trans folks. If people weren’t bigoted, there would be considerably less of an issue (though this wouldn’t mean there wouldn’t be anyone in distress).

            No, I don’t know your story, but considering you opened up with a story about someone else’s disability and then said that you had experienced a temporary disability, odds are you are able-bodied. Otherwise you wouldn’t be using someone else’s disability to get an in or prove that you deserve authority or a voice in this conversation. It’s the same as somebody using their “gay friend” to speak as an authority on gay issues. Even if that person does happen to be gay, it’s still using a person as a pawn which is a pretty shitty thing to do.

            Like cool, you can think that your disability sucks. But saying “disabilities suck” yeah no, do not pass go do not collect 200 dollars. You are not the authority on anyone else’s life or their experiences. That is the gist of this message. I REALLY don’t know why this is so controversial. I also don’t know why “disabled people should be the people with the voice in conversations about disability” is controversial??? Would you say that “oh yeah, that straight cis dude TOTALLY deserves a say about queer women’s spaces” (even if he might be expressing a sentiment that some queer women hold)???? I’m guessing you wouldn’t. But hey, maybe you would because this is obviously controversial that people in marginalized spaces should be leading the discussion about them.

            I really don’t know where you’re getting the “you’re biased against people who aren’t as disabled as you”??? Because I said temporary disability is very different than permanent disability? Things that are not the same are different? Again, not sure why this is controversial, except for the fact I see a lot of able-bodied people butting in on conversations disabled folks are having thinking that because they had ankle surgery once and needed to stay off it for 3 months they understand what it is to be disabled. Yes, they probably walked away with a new appreciation for how few places have ramps and how elevator issues can really mess with your ability, and how few handicapped parking spaces exist while having a disability, but at the end of the day, it was 3 months. People wouldn’t go walking around proclaiming their expertise on a country (especially over locals) because they spent 3 months living in a country while studying abroad–same thing goes with disability! Temporarily living with something doesn’t make you an expert, and acting like it does means you’re acting like a jerk. If someone wants to use this experience to be an ally and help argue for more accessible parking lots or buildings or whatever–awesome! That’s great! You’re going to derail conversations disabled folks are having? No, bad, don’t do that.

        • 0

          How do you get “everyone needs to share the same viewpoint” out of guidelines that request respect of others?

          Please I need my fragile hive mind views validated before I starting thinking for myself and calling people rude or something individualistic.

        • 0

          Okay so I wanted to reply to the below comment, but I can’t. I agree with everything you said, being “technically” disabled, and according to my ENT… I have very unhealthy ears, so maybe I’m allowed to give my opinion… That paragraph about confusing the two… it just made me think of that SNL skit, was it last week? When they had High School Theater, and they were all pro getting AIDS, hilarious… oh the bias SNL.

          Seriously though, I see both sides… but from my own life, once having almost full hearing in one ear, to barely any, and eventually will have no hearing at all. I’m gonna say it sucks, so bad. The only time it doesn’t, is when I can use it to my advantage and ignore people. At this point I often feel as if I rather go blind. If I came to old age, deaf, and could go to a place where I could live and hear, I’m damn sure gonna do it. But then there’s people who are against cochlear implants, and I just can’t bring my brain around that.

          I didn’t read most of the comment guidelines… I don’t have an extra couple hours. =) Hope I’m good. Seriously though, I do see both sides, I mean no real offense… even though the comments made in opposition I found slightly offensive, and definitely condescending.

  5. 0

    Such interesting insights! I think it’s an important point you make about Yorkie choosing to be a younger version of herself rather than an able-bodied version of herself BUT (and this is maybe totally minor), it’s interesting that she wears her glasses (that she needed when she was younger) but that she no longer NEEDS them. It sort of implies that her eyes have been ‘fixed’ in the utopia of San Junipero, doesn’t it? And that even though they have been ‘fixed’, she feels some sort of attachment to her glasses, maybe as a fashion statement but maybe also as part of her identity? Certainly I would wear my glasses in utopia even if my eyes ‘worked’.

  6. 0

    Have you considered asking Charlie Brooker (twitter @charltonbrooker) directly, about the disability thing? He has been very open in saying that he started writing the episode with a straight couple, before realising there was nothing but his own ingrained prejudice keeping them that way. It might be worth raising the disability tropes for him to think on!

  7. 0

    I enjoyed reading your take on the episode and I was also surprised with how good the episode was. My only complaint of the episode was that there was never a clear resolution for the fight between Yorkie and Kelly. Kelly slaps Yorkie out of anger/frustration for bashing Kelly’s husband when Kelly hasn’t given her the real facts and it’s all very trope-y and dramatic. I get why they did it. But my problem stems from the fact that Kelly never apologizes for it and may never have apologized for it in parts that weren’t shown. Yorkie didn’t deserve that kind of treatment but it seemed like Yorkie would’ve just swept that under the rug and focused on having Kelly back. And for me to feel satisfied I kind of wanted Kelly to take responsibility and say at least a quick apology.

    • 0

      Honestly, I kinda did an internal fist pump when Kelly slapped Yorkie because Yorkie was saying things that were waaaaaaay out of line. She was disrespecting the 40-some year relationship that Kelly had with Richard, and let’s be honest, how furious would many queer women feel if a male love interest had disparaged a 40-some year relationship between two women?

  8. 0

    I know that with the apocalypse happening and all, that recapping this episode probably got pushed down the priorities list, but I’m really glad you guys found the time to do this. It’s really appreciated. And Carrie, I was especially glad to have your take on it. There were definitely some problematic aspects of the way the episode portrayed disability, and it’s really important for us to talk about that.

    That being said, my initial gut reaction when the episode ended was to burst into tears. At the beauty of it, at the wonder of it, at the fact that in this shitty, shitty year, two queer women died, but still got to be together forever. But I was also crying for what could have been – what Clarke and Lexa and Root and Shaw COULD HAVE HAD. And then my mind immediately began to construct a San Junipero was that was populated with all the 166+ queer women who’ve ever died on television. Just, all of them, happy, forever, dancing to Belinda Carlisle and having sex on the beach.

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    Maybe I’m just pessimistic but I found the end so jarring that I wondered if there was supposed to be an alternate, darker interpretation — that is, Kelly was so dead-set on not staying in San Junipero and we didn’t see anything that would have implied that she would change her mind about that. When she showed up there at the end, I immediately assumed something else was up; maybe the San Junipero company made sure that everyone winds up in SJ, maybe it was just a replica of Kelly to make “paradise” more perfect for Yorkie.

    But no one else has mentioned this so maybe it was just slightly sloppy writing? Maybe I’m just too used to tragic endings for lesbians??

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    Why is there no commentary from a woman of color on this episode? There are very few interracial couples on TV, let alone black wlw period, that get any type of a happy ending.

    And of course, when they do get a happy ending, the portrayal is criticized ten ways to Sunday. We support white wlw couples, despite problems with their relationships, but search for ways to tear down QWOC ones.

    We seriously need to address the racism that exists in the queer community. It may not be overt, but there’s a lot of subconscious bias.

    • 0

      Riese get the stats!

      Actually the majority of queer WOC on TV are in an interracial relationship with a white woman which it’s own problem. Thar AS has published and written about in real life. A black writer’s First Person talking about how white standards were supposedly needed to validate her queerness and when she realized/decided that was bullshit for example.

      And I once had a long convo in a comments section with site owner/creator/boss lady Riese about it where she dropped the stats like woah on the warped TV representation that has very little WOC-WOC couples and way too many YT-WOC.

    • 0

      I 3000% agree with you that there is racism within the queer community that definitely needs to be addressed more often/as often as possible.​

      But I promise I wasn’t SEARCHING for ways to tear apart this episode or relationship. Like I said in the post, overall I really enjoyed this episode. I hope I bring the same critical eye to all of the queer storylines I write about. This one was a bit of a tough one because it took place over one hour-long episode; I think stories feel more torn apart when they are contained within such a short parameter. I think single-episode stories and movies will feel like they’re more criticized than multi-episode arcs, just by nature of having less content to discuss. If that makes sense.

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      To be very honest with you, the reason there’s no commentary from a black bisexual woman on this episode is because the black bisexual writers I reached out to were unable to participate in the wake of the election, simply because they didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to revisit this TV episode while writing about the new Trump administration.

      The intention of this review is not to tear down interracial queer couples. Autostraddle has a VERY long history of writing glowing reviews and recaps of interracial queer couples. As Lex noted already, most of the QWOC on TV are in relationships with white women. This year alone you’ll find recaps and praise for these interracial TV couples: TMI and Pippy on Rosewood, Eve and Annalise on How to Get Away With Murder, Poussey and Soso on Orange Is the New Black, Stef and Lena on The Fosters, Rose and Susanna on Jane the Virgin, Callie and Arizona on Grey’s Anatomy, and Sara and Nyssa on Arrow/Legends of Tomorrow. The majority of our OITNB reviews were written by QWOC and every episode that centered Blackness was covered by a Black writer. We take this stuff really seriously.

      This review isn’t criticizing the couple. It’s pointing out what’s wonderful and unique about this episode while also highlighting some of the troubling elements of its portrayal of disability.

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    I have been wanting this “recap” for so long and maybe my expectations were too high but it left me disappointed. Maybe it was the back and forth format and not what I am used to reading from you Valerie (sorry Carrie, I don’t think I’ve read any of your recaps), I guess I was expecting more about the details of the episode (because there were many) rather than a commentary of what it meant at large.

    It’s been so long that I want to do a re-watch to refresh my memory of all the theories I wanted to work out when I first watched but now I’ll just comment of what was written here.

    The thing that stuck out most was about the disabled part of the show. It wasn’t just that in real life Yorkie was disabled, she was bed ridden on a ventilator for what we can assume was like 40 years. For 40 years all she saw was the 4 walls of her room. Someone pointed out on tumblr that when she ran out of the club after the dance she’s under the awning and sticks her foot out to get rained on because she hasn’t felt rain in 40 years (these are the little details I had hoped would be in the recap). And there is a difference from the age everyone else decided to be to the age Yorkie chose, my feeling is she chose the age she was when her accident happened because that was really when her life ended and she wanted to continue living her life from that point. Also they aren’t stuck in that time, as we saw they can jump to different times and I believe (given that the looks changed) you become the age you were then.

    As for Kelly, I can see why she was torn. She loved in life and she found love in death. It wasn’t betraying Richard for her to stay in San Junipero because they wouldn’t “see” each other again, but I thought it was smart that she let her body be buried with Richard and her mind live with Yorkie in San Junipero.

    Remember how they said the Quagmire was for “lost souls”, I believe it was for the “lifers” who didn’t find the happiness they thought they would in San Junipero and that was probably what Kelly was worried about but “…they say in heaven, love comes first…” and Kelly and Yorkie found that love, so they had their happy ending.

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    I wrote about the ableism in this episode too, with a grimmer take:

    “An inaccessible eternity where no one wants to be or is disabled is dystopia. It’s hell. I’d spend the rest of my existence mourning the loss of crip community, crip wisdom, crip magic. (Or more likely dedicate my afterlife to disability activism.)

    “San Junipero” suggests the possibility of representation for disabled elderly lesbian and bi women but ultimately buries them in permanent able-bodied youth. Kelly and Yorkie’s future stretches on potentially forever without futures for elderly and disabled queer women. Not even immortality can redeem the lifelessness of compulsory able-bodiedness.”

    https://kaylarosenzines.com/2016/12/06/black-mirrors-san-junipero-is-an-ableist-dystopia-in-disguise/

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    I really appreciate the conversation about disability representation here, and I’m glad that lesbian media spaces are more open to that conversation than they used to be. Because we need to be intersectional, and as pointed out here, there are a lot of the same issues! Disabled characters also get killed off at an alarming rate, and what’s more, fiction often acts like we’re better off that way. (See: Me Before You.) It was something that was niggling at me while I watched San Junipero, which I otherwise really liked! But it frustrated me that it suggested that Yorkie’s life had been “on hold” since her accident and of course she would rather just die and go to a paradise where she can be able-bodied and young again. It’s more complicated than that, of course, but as said here, that is what a lot of people will take away. We need to be having those conversations, and I’m glad there’s room for it among all the effusive praise for the episode (which I loved too!)

    I remember when Skins was airing and being really disappointed by some of the conversations I saw online in queer women’s spaces about JJ. (Not Autostraddle, but some other places on the Internet.) I hated what they did with him and Emily, too, but I really appreciated his character for such a spot-on, well-researched portrayal of autism that rang so true to my own adolescent experiences. But people acted like you had to hate his character for that, and their criticisms were usually full of ableism that brought up some very ugly memories for me. It was not a fun time. 🙁 I’m glad that queer spaces are less like that these days, more open to disability as a part of the intersectionality conversations, instead of treating the able-bodied/neurotypical queer experience as the default.

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    I am torn on your takes on this episode. Let me say this upfront, pop culture does a horrible job including and portraying people with disabilities. That said, I am not sure I would say that Yorkie has a disability. Yorkie basically needs a respirator to live and the reason it has not been shut off is because her religious parents refuse. She can never leave her hospital bed and she has too talk via a machine. For 45 years (i think), she has never left her her hospital bed and experienced life via Greg talking to her. I have a friend who is in palliative care and we discussed this episode at length and I am a social worker. Most of the patients we have interacted with in similar situations have not wanted to live because they have no quality of life. They felt locked in and the world was happening around them. I don’t think this is a bury your disabilities situation. Yorkies memories before her accident was being young and walking around and experiencing life. What would they have down put her in a wheelchair? She does not know that experience. I more had a problem that everyone was portrayed as being young forever. It feeds that fear we have in society of aging. But this is just my 2 cents.

    • 0

      Yes I had the same thoughts. The show would be horrific if Yorkie’s disability was any less severe, but I think very few human beings would choose a life of complete immobility and almost complete social isolation over the opportunity to get another shot at life where they can be mobile and meet people and talk to them.

      It would be different if Yorkie had friends or family in real life that loved her and visited her, or if she could leave her hospital bed sometimes – it’s not the fact that she is physically disabled per se that she is leaving behind by going to San Junipero, but the very real ‘quality of life’ consequences of that.

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        For me – as a disabled person – I am curious as to why that seemed to be Yorkie’s only option. Like, I know quadriplegic people who use oxygen and they just you, know, wheel with their tanks with them. It is also interesting that a society that can create and afterlife, can’t make better accessible technology for disabled people – the ventilator looked very much like nowadays ventilators. It’s weird they haven’t made them any better. But then again, technological advances, despite the fact that they would make the most difference to access are not made with disabled people in mind. One of the reasons communication software has made massive jumps in the last few years is because able-bodied people were a market for ipads etc, and the fact that they enable communication for lots of disabled people is just an add on. Apologies, this is going into a bit of a ramble. Overall, I did love the episode, and in particular, the fight between Kelly and Yorkie. Because often you see able-bodied people going “your life is the worst” and instead Kelly goes “shit stuff happened to me too”. And I think that is SO important. Thank you so much for getting the recap up!! I am taking a mental health break from real world politics, but it is nice to come and interesting intersectional feminist discussions here 🙂

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    “Do you think straight people watch TV constantly terrified their favorites are going to die or be torn apart or just suffer general doom and gloom and never get together just because they fell in love?”

    This is so real, I always get tight chested and anxious watching queer films until the credits roll because I don’t trust anything anymore.

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    I found this criticism to be kind of reductive and wanting.

    Many of the issues the episode tried to raise went unaddressed, such as how technological advancement might create a conscious digital afterlife, the reasons why or why not to participate in it and what is the difference between life and death if you can have an afterlife like that anyway, or lose your soul in it even when you’re alive.

    Talking about the ‘bury your gays’ trope when the meaning of death is so altered in this future, seemed pretty secondary to me. And on the point of Yorkie’s disability, like others have mentioned, is there not a difference between being almost comatose for 40 years and other, less limiting, disabilities? Also, I’m not sure why there was a discussion about whether Yorkie chose or was forced to be euthanised and to ‘live’ in ‘San Junipero’ (unless her ‘real’ and her ‘digital’ self are not the same person)? I do agree disability and elderly representation were lacking in the town of San Junipero -in almost every show, ever, too- but a comment could have been made about what sort of a future this is, where they have the chance to create afterlife and this is how they choose to depict it.

    It felt more like a checklist with points about fair representation from the part of the creators of the episode rather than a thoughtful discussion of it.

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    As someone raised Catholic who has since moved on (as much as you can – oh! the guilt!), this episode was especially jarring in it’s portrayal of ,what I took to be, HEAVEN.

    You’re young forever! No suffering! No sadness! Belinda Carlisle will serenade you! You will never have to shuffle off that pesky mortal coil completely! This is what Catholicism tells you Heaven will be like (more or less) when you’re done with this Life of Sin.

    A friend of mine texted me after watching this episode, “I’ve never contemplated my faith more than I did in San Junipero.”

    While it didn’t make me question my faith (mine is all gone now), I felt so creeped out by the ending because it promised the same thing Catholic Heaven promised: death avoidance. Like, what is this going to be like… in a week? A bunch of Tuck Everlastings trapped on a pretty beach. How long can Utopia possibly last? How long are you going to be able to pretend that it is FINE your husband and daughter don’t live here as they are dead. And are you going to love this woman 4EVER? Because TO BE PERFECTLY FRANK you have not known each other very long and you’ve fought a lot and you’ve already resorted to domestic violence and disapparation as conflict resolution tactics.

    What Black Mirror does so well is make these alternate realities seem possible. And the fact that Technology not Jesus created this “heaven” made it more terrifying to me.

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    The one thing missing from your summary of Black Mirror which really impacted my viewing of San Junipero, is the way in which troubling politics operate within the show’s obsessive focus on the inevitable perils of social media and technology. There are several episodes which play out like MRA fantasies, in which paranoid men are betrayed by duplicitous wives and girlfriends. I don’t think the writers are intentionally misogynist, but they really don’t think about the wider implications of many plot choices because they’re so obsessed with nailing sinister twists.

    Black Mirror is also a colourblind world, where people of colour exist, but we never see how racial ideology functions in these future societies. San Junipero, the first episode with queer protagonists, acknowledges the existence of homophobia in a way they’ve never acknowledged racism. I found that very curious and surprising and I still don’t know what to make of it.

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      I think this is a really insightful comment, particularly when you are aware of Charlie Brooker’s background. He started his career as a games journalist, so presumably will have spent a lot of time in that culture. I can’t remember the specific episodes other than this series as I watched them when they aired in the UK, but I assume you are talking about “The Entire History of You”, which is the one where people can film what happens in their lives? I think that one was one of my least favourites!
      I also wonder if the lack of acknowledgement of racism is because the way it manifests differently in the UK? Like, it is definitely a thing, but I think it is – I don’t know – more subtle? I don’t quite know how to phrase it. I wonder whether Brooker intentionally didn’t go there with inter-racial relationships, because his wife is a person of colour. HE is married to Konnie Huq, who is the longest running Blue Peter presenter, Blue Peter being a kids TV show so all about happy smiley people, when Brooker’s personality is misanthropic. They are my favourite celebrity couple! Also, I recommend checking out some of Brooker’s other work: namely Yearly Wipe, and Weekly Wipe, which are satirical news things, if you’d like to get a sense of his perspective. I think having watched those for years(longer than Black Mirror), it kind of filters into the understanding of his perspective on the world. Sorry, these are more musings than answers, but have been waiting for so long to discuss this show!!

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    “Then there’s the entire issue of whether and how Yorkie consented to try San Junipero… They never show her communicating in the present day” I haven’t watched the episode in a few weeks but I do remember them saying that she can communicate through a machine or something similar, so she does have a way to talk to the doctors/nurses/etc.

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    So yea as has been mentioned I think the article is lacking some perspective on the scope of the world of San Junipero as it isn’t a fully realized city or place the rules of the world are only hinted at and not totally spelled out or even followed exactly. LOTS of questions come up when you start to investigate the world these character inhabit, like how does Yorkie’s fiancee Greg talk to her, is San Junipero only for the elderly or those dying, do they have admin over their appearance via thought connection or is there a panel, why does Kelly have a house if she isn’t staying/ is only a tourist & does Yorkie have one too? Is San Junipero just a summer town like in the real world do the permanent residents actually “live” somewhere else but summer at the beach. Are the people working at the bar and elsewhere “REAL” people & who gets those jobs/has to have a job in paradise?

    I mean the questions keep coming so when we start talking about or saying things like “there are no people with disabilities” we maybe getting away with ourselves. Also in talking about Yorkie I think we are looking at a particular case of a person with a disability rather than painting a larger picture about all those. Yorkie seems like her time has stopped especially if she grew up in a time where being gay/bi what have you wasn’t acceptable and then now at the time of the episode in San Junipero Kelly seems to believe that no on cares. Could it be that Yorkie sees herself right where she left off a young woman just getting out there because who knows how much communication she has been able to have with the world outside of her own mind. Greg her fiance says they talk, but for how long & is he the only one she talks to or has talked to …. we don’t know. The world isn’t fully realize and that maybe the biggest factor to this perceived issue with disabilities.

    I would also point out that they are in a 80’s dance, like extreme dance club and then a video arcade, on the beach alone and at Kelly’s house it really isn’t a lot of scenery to go on to tell who is or isn’t in San Junipero. The Quagmire which your article didn’t mention at all is a good example of this as it is a glimpse into an anything goes kind-of place that Yorkie steps into for about 3 mins & then leaves. Perhaps all manor of people feel more comfortable there as it doesn’t have a nostalgic polish that the other places we see have, it seems to be gritty and real perhaps too real which is why Yorkie leaves. But there we see different types of people who are WAY different then those at Tuckers or just on the street in San Junipero. We have no idea the extent of The Quagmire, or if there are similar or extremely different spaces in the system that you can be uploaded to, or how exactly you move through those spaces. It is all just written into the script as a “1 week later” time transition device & Yorkie just shows up about 1/2 mile away from The Quagmire. No real explanation needed or given as to how that works because both are just plot devices meant to push the story forward.

    Because on balance this is actually a story about to elderly people who find love. One for the 1st time & 1 again after thinking it wouldn’t/shouldn’t happen to her again. The structure of a virtual reality or cloud mind upload is just window dressing for a very very basic love story. “Will they or Won’t they”. I think the thing is trying to call them out for things that we are only guessing on because the format of Black Mirrors episodes means that only so much information can be given seems lame to me. The episode runs on Netflix at 1:01 mins which for an intense world building isn’t enough time to get into the ins & outs of how the worlds is built. So assuming there are no disabled people, or that they are saying Yorkie is the rule for all disabled people is a really unfair assessment for a 1 hour 1 off episode in a series that featured the UK prime minister fucking a pig for a terrorist. Right like….let that one sink in for a second.

    Ok I’ve just been over thinking this because I am writing some fan fic and had to think about all the un-created content left to be filled in. I have heard rumors that they are making a spin off, and if they use “Tales from San Junipero” I want a cut of that action!

    Thanks for talking about this awesome episode though. God I want more nostalgic episodes on shows!

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