San Junipero: What Am I Missing?


I’m just going to come out and say it: I don’t understand San Junipero at all. I mean, I get the concept, I can follow the storyline, everything story-wise is perfectly clear to me. However, time and time again I have failed to understand why it seems to be so universally beloved.

Then, on Thursday, the episode got nominated for two Emmys. WHY? WHY? WHY?!?!?!?!?!?!??!?! Season 3 of Black Mirror had better episodes (e.g Shut Up And Dance, Nosedive, Hated in the Nation) but San Junipero seems to be the standout for everyone else. So today, I’ll be explaining why I think San Junipero falls short. Oh, and if you haven’t seen the episode yet, spoilers lie ahead!

Yorkie and Kelly

  1. The pacing. I spent half an hour out of an hour-long episode watching a “budding romance” even though I was expecting a sci-fi infused drama. Even when the sci-fi finally came into play, it was SO SLOW! (I think I would have forgiven the pacing if I thought the payoff was worth it, but I think it fell short. More on that later.) Towards the end of the episode, SO MANY GOOD IDEAS were presented. There was Kelly’s misgivings about San Junipero, and what it would mean to accept it as an alternative to a natural death. There were questions of loyalty for dead kin over present kin, as Kelly struggled to decide whether she would follow the steps of her husband and daughter or stay with Yorkie in San Junipero. Those were interesting, thought-provoking questions. Unfortunately, they unfolded in the last 15 minutes so they were given no in-depth exploration; instead, they just forgot all about them. Why raise questions you’re not going to address? Because they spent so much time developing a romance they left no time for the actual concept of San Junipero, which was a super interesting concept and could have been explored in greater depth.
  2. The romance.  I liked Yorkie’s character a LOT. She was dorky and awkward which made her very endearing, and her fashion was so out it was in! I didn’t like Kelly’s character personally, but I could understand the appeal to other people, I guess. But goodness gracious! The romance between Kelly and Yorkie was so cliched! It played out like a “good girl meets bad boy (or in this case, girl)” scenario that’s been done in every way on EVERY MEDIUM imaginable. Also, where are people getting the amazing, soul-mate level love from? Yorkie and Kelly had one cute interaction in the beginning when they warded off Kelly’s fling, and then what? Where else is this great chemistry, this star-crossed love? In the next scene, Yorkie politely refuses to have sex with Kelly, and the scene that follows that shows Yorkie staring profusely at Kelly when they meet again (#twilightworthy #teamedward). That is followed by sex. Afterwards, Yorkie spends a ton of time chasing after an aloof Kelly, who reveals that she’s been avoiding Yorkie because she was afraid of her feelings, which, once again, is such a cliche! It was a cute idea to have Kelly propose to Yorkie in order to help her end Yorkie’s life on her own terms, but because the relationship was never fully established, when Kelly proposes, it’s just so cheesy! Ultimately, it’s disappointing to see so much time was spent on a relationship that wasn’t really convincing.
  3. Telling, not showing. By now, you’re probably furious at me. But even if you personally thought the romance was well-developed, you have to admit there was some serious exposition violations in San Junipero. The number one rule of filmmaking is that you must show and not tell! A good filmmaker can reveal plot and move the story forward without having a character just spew out details. They can characterize without having the actual characters say anything. Unfortunately, this was not done in San Junipero. Having Yorkie be a paralyzed elderly gay woman who was in a terrible car accident in her teenage years was promising and could have provided a lot of depth to Yorkie’s behavior. It explained why she was hesitant to engage with Kelly and why she flinched at the car game the boy was playing at the beginning of the episode, but by having Glen the Nurse just tell Kelly everything, it seemed more of an afterthought. It would have been interesting to have seen that play out in some way, instead of having Glen relay it out. Once again, this seems to have been done out of pacing issues, which I guess belongs with that category, but these paragraphs are too long at this point.

Anyway, that’s my bit. It might seem like I really hated this episode, but I was actually pretty okay with it. There were things I definitely liked about it.

  1. The costumes. I thought they were really era-appropriate.
  2. The music. See above.
  3. Yorkie. She was cool.
  4. Kelly. She had the most interesting story, I thought.

Those are my thoughts. What are yours? Let me know down below/help me understand/don’t kill me pls. Thanks!

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