Black Mirror’s San Junipero and Its Spoilery Score
Dubbed the “modern day Twilight Zone” due to its nihilistic anthology approach, Black Mirror quickly carved a niche among audiences who have an increasingly insatiable appetite for dark and edgy television. It was particularly lionized for its satire of how humans misuse technology making it a more era-appropriate (and relatable, and thus more unsettling) than the dated aliens, grotesque creatures, and commie metaphors that typically pervade the anthology shows of yore.
Which is why on paper (or if you describe it to a seasoned Black Mirror viewer), the fourth episode of Season Three, San Junipero, seemed like it was doomed to fail and disappoint. The characters are extremely likeable, the featured tech doesn’t have an evil purpose (they even have failsafe’s in place to prevent abuse), it’s a powerful love story that transcends gender and race, and it ends in a positive note – everything that runs counter to the very thing that makes Black Mirror appealing. Yet somehow, it premiered to widespread critical acclaim with most people going so far as to proclaim it as the best episode of the relatively young series.
Part of San Junipero’s charm can be traced to its fantastic use of music that not only helped set the mood brilliantly but also served as covert spoilers. If you’re very observant, you could have predicted where the story was headed or the true reality of the protagonists by paying close attention to the songs that played on each scene. If you didn’t, the episode rewards repeat viewings, inviting viewers to pore over the subtle clues they missed.
Here are some of the songs in San Junipero and how they were used effectively. Be warned that there are some massive spoilers below, so tread carefully.
Belinda Carlisle – Heaven Is a Place On Earth
Surprise, surprise! Too early on the list? The song is often attributed to the much talked about ending, but the song actually appears as early as the first few minutes – and given that it accurately sums up the world of “San Junipero” (a theoretical ‘heaven on earth’), it’s one of the more ingenious uses of music we’ve seen in a while.
The Smiths – Girlfriend in A Coma
This song continues to defy any clear meaning to this day. Is it a song about drugs? Is it an allegory for a relationship that’s effectively dead? But in the case of “San Junipero”, it’s literal. One of the songs that play as Yorkie chooses what to wear for her date, it describes her true state – comatose and on a vegetative state for over 40 years after an angsty car accident.
Simple Minds – Don’t You (Forget About Me)
Same scene, different outfit and song. This foreshadows Kelly’s casual treatment of “San Junipero” and the relationships and interactions she has on the virtual world, much to the dismay of Yorkie who wants to be much more.
Living In A Box – Living In A Box
Naming a song after your band is an annoying practice but for the British trio, it’s their biggest hit and screams 80s to the letter. And if you’re keeping tabs already on the episode’s use of song titles, it’s an apt description for not only Yorkie, but the tech as well.
INXS – Need You Tonight
Not a foreshadowing piece but it does encapsulate what Yorkie’s intentions are as she awkwardly “stalks” Kelly at Tuckers.
Kylie Minogue – Can’t Get You Out Of My Head
And we cap it all off with arguably the second best use of a song on the episode – we fast forward to 2002 as Yorkie goes on a frantic search for the AWOL Kelly, jumping eras and cluing us partially as to how the tech works. Her search ends on the 00s version of Tuckers, backed by Kylie’s hit single that describes her exact state of mind.
For other great songs that didn’t make the cut (and the rest of Black Mirror’s awesomely-curated score), be sure to check out the entire Black Mirror soundtrack!