(Major spoiler alert: Do not read on if you haven’t watched “Black Mirror” Season 3’s “San Junipero” and Season 4’s “Hang the DJ.”)
If you ask anyone what their favorite episode of “Black Mirror” is, you have about a 90 percent chance that the answer will be “San Junipero.” OK, that statistic isn’t real, but it might as well be with how much critical-acclaim and fan-love the Season 3 installment received. And Season 4’s “Hang the DJ” might be the next episode to tug at your heartstrings, thanks to another “happy ending.”
But don’t for a second think co-showrunners Annabel Jones and Charlie Brooker were trying to pull a “San Junipero” this season — partially because the “San Junipero” you know and love hadn’t become the cultural obsession it is now (or received the 2017 Emmy for Outstanding Television Movie) until after the pair were already deep in the throes of Season 4.
“It’s so interesting that you say that because we are always behind everyone else’s perception of the shows,” Jones told TheWrap, when asked if she and Brooker felt obligated to write another episode that ended on a high-note. “So you know, we didn’t know that ‘San Junipero’ was going to touch a nerve. We didn’t know it was going to have such a strong reaction and people were going to fall in love with it. We didn’t know we were going to win the Emmy. You never know any of these things. So when we were writing ‘Hang the DJ,’ we were in a little bit of a bubble — so we didn’t quite know. So whilst I’m so pleased with how ‘San Junipero’ has been received by everyone, we’re always a little bit behind.”
“San Junipero” tells the tale of Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) and Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who meet and fall for each other in the episode’s titular town, which is actually a simulation for the elderly and deceased that they “upload” themselves to permanently in the end so they can spend eternity together. The romantic story struck a chord with many fans.
While Jones says she and Brooker didn’t specifically plan to have another episode that wrapped up in a cheery way, they still don’t want to be “downbeat” constantly. “Because it becomes predictable and it becomes boring,” Jones says. “So it’s nice for us to have endings that are slightly more positive. But also I think it has to feel right for the story.”
In Season 4’s “Hang the DJ,” our protagonists (Georgina Campbell and Joe Cole) are nothing more than one of thousands of simulated versions of themselves, tested in endless scenarios to calculate the endurance of their bond. The simulation we follow in the episode lets the pair fall in love, then separates them by years to see if the connection sticks, before it ultimately refuses them a permanent match to see if they’ll rebel — the ultimate test. What’s more mind-blowing? All this happens in the app. The episode ends with both real users getting a ping that they’ve found a 99 percent match in each other in the real world.
And Jones believes a “happy ending” was absolutely the right fit for this installment because of what it deserves, not necessarily what the audience needed after “San Junipero.”
“So in ‘Hang the DJ,’ you know, where we go through, we inadvertently are talking about what it’s like to be in a world where there are a constant and unending supply of partners and what that paralysis of options does to you and the disposable relationship,” Jones says. “We are living in a time where you could have a date every other night or could have quite a few dates in one night, because technology has enabled everyone to meet up. So in a world in which relationships can be so immediate and so disposable, what does that do to your psyche and how do you cope with that? So we were examining all those things within the story.”
There are “moments of playfulness” and “funny observations about what it’s like to be in relationships” in “Hang the DJ,” Jones says, but it still has a bit of that bummer fans expect from a “Black Mirror” episode. But she and Brooker didn’t want it to close that way.
“At the end of it, you know, there is sort of quite a sadness as well,” Jones noted. “There’s a loneliness running through a lot of the show. So it felt right that these two people come together at the end and that there is some sort of sense of hope and that they do belong together and there is a sort of love will prevail attitude. So it absolutely felt right for the story.”
“Black Mirror” Season 4 is available for streaming on Netflix as of Dec. 29.
Matt Donnelly contributed to this story.