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Black Mirror Episode 'San Junipero' Gives the Middle Finger to the Dead Lesbian Trope

Black Mirror Episode 'San Junipero' Gives the Middle Finger to the Dead Lesbian Trope

Black Mirror Episode 'San Junipero' Gives the Middle Finger to the Dead Lesbian Trope

The grim science fiction series gave us an unusually happy ending.

(This article contains spoilers for Season 3, Episode 4 of Black Mirror: “San Junipero.”)

Black Mirror, the anthology series created by Charlie Brooker about the dark side of technology, returned to Netflix on October 21st. The fourth episode of the third season, "San Junipero," departs from the show’s usual grim tone. The episode revolves around Yorkie (Halt and Catch Fire’s Mackenzie Davis), a reserved woman who finds herself in an 80’s bar in the fictional party town of San Junipero, where she runs into outgoing Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw).

Black Mirror is not known for happily-ever-after endings, so when Kelly comes on to Yorkie those familiar with both the show and the Dead Lesbian/Bury Your Gays trope will probably brace themselves while watching, worried there are about to be two new dead queer women characters to add to the list. But "San Junipero" turns the trope on its head.

The slowly paced episode takes its time with character building. We learn Yorkie has never been on a dance floor before. She has a protective family, and a fiancé named Greg. She’s never been with a woman (or anyone) before Kelly, but she’s always known she was a lesbian. We learn Kelly was married for years and faithful to her husband despite crushes on women. We learn that her husband left. Now she says she just wants to have fun. We learn that when the clock strikes midnight, the screen goes black.

A week passes and Yorkie searches for Kelly but can’t find her. Wes, one of Kelly’s past hookups, suggests she try another time. As in, another decade. Just as viewers are lulled by 80s tunes and neon lights into a sense of security with the world the episode has built, Yorkie starts spending her Saturday nights traveling through the decades looking for Kelly, who she finds playing Dance Dance Revolution in 2002.

Kelly tells Yorkie that she was only interested in having fun and that she’s not willing to commit, which sends Yorkie off to mope on a roof. Kelly feels guilty and tracks her down, and Yorkie asks how many San Junipero residents are dead. Kelly tells her maybe 80 or 85 percent.

San Junipero is one of the most hopeful uses of technology in the Black Mirror universe. The town is a digital cloud-based heaven where people can live on after they die, or try out once a week before deciding they want to spend eternity there. This is the case with Kelly, who is elderly and dying of cancer, and Yorkie, who has been quadriplegic since an accident in her 20s.

Outside the cloud, the elderly Kelly travels to meet Yorkie, who is in a hospital and can’t communicate through speech. Kelly finds out the fiancé, Greg, is a kind young nurse who is marrying Yorkie so he can sign off on euthanasia and she can move to San Junipero full time. Instead, Kelly proposes in San Junipero and marries Yorkie. Yorkie passes on, and they spend their Honeymoon together on Kelly’s Saturday night in town.

Kelly isn’t sure if she wants to pass on to San Junipero forever. She was married to her husband for 49 years, and he chose to "pass through" when he died. Her daughter died before San Junipero existed. Fortunately for the viewers (who might have died of a broken heart otherwise), she changes her mind, saying she’s ready for "what’s next."

What’s next turns out to be riding around in a convertible with Yorkie and hanging out on the beach, forever in their 20s and forever in love. And while yes, the lesbian and bisexual characters in this episode do technically end up dead, they also end up happy and "alive" forever in a man-made heaven.

Everyone has to die eventually, but not everyone gets to marry Gugu Mbatha-Raw and live in an 80s beach town, so it seems fair to say this episode subverts the Dead Lesbian trope, and maybe even gives a self-aware middle finger to it. Now all we need are more happy living queer women on the rest of our favorite shows.

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Cassie Sheets