Black Mirror Creator on What Really Happened at the End of “San Junipero”

Photo: David Dettmann / Netflix

Last Friday, the third season of Black Mirror, the source behind all of our worst fears about the future of technology, premiered on Netflix. Created by Charlie Brooker, the new season of the British series delivered six terrifying episodes, which explored a variety of thought-provoking themes such as consciousness preservation, social media trolling, and the dark side of VR gaming. Those who dared go down the bleak Black Mirror rabbit hole over the weekend were probably left with more than a few questions. We caught up with Brooker over the phone to talk about the new season and to settle once and for all the controversial end of this season’s episode “San Junipero.”

You have a talent for writing about subjects that are part of our everyday lives and pushing them into the extreme hypothetical. Has there ever been a topic, like Pokémon Go, which came out after the third season had wrapped, that you wished you would’ve explored?
There are a couple of topics that we haven’t covered yet that we’re going to do in the next season. We’re halfway through the fourth; Jodie Foster is shooting one of those episodes, which is exciting. And the story she’s doing is a topic we haven’t done before and it’s one that we’ve been wanting to do for a while. Sometimes the ideas sort of sit there and rattle around for quite a while and they come out when they’re ready. I’m not yet in a position where I can say, “Oh, I wish we’d done that,” because the chances are that we will do it.

How do you come upwith these ideas? Is it mostly out of your personal experience of relating to technology?
They mostly bubble up in conversations. My background is in comedy writing, so quite often the kernel of it is a comic idea. I’ll think something is funny and then it kind of expands from there. What I don’t tend to do is look at the news and think, “What’s the Black Mirror version of Brexit?” It tends to come from a “what if” idea and I’m often really laughing. I’m actually quite pro technology. I love all the tech stuff on the show and I get involved very much in the product design aspect of it. Quite often I’ll think up a story idea that’s very far-fetched and then I’ll work out how technologically it could happen. Because in our show, technology serves the same purpose that the supernatural served in the The Twilight Zone; it allows the bizarre thing to happen in place of magic. Other times, I’ll be discussing an idea I find funny and I’ll be talking to Annabel [Jones], my co-showrunner, and if I can describe the idea in a way that makes me laugh and makes her cry, then I’ve done my job.

Do you find your audience splits that way, too? Do half of viewers find Black Mirror funny and the others just want to cry when an episode is over?
I think there’s definitely a way in which you could psychologically profile people based on what their favorite Black Mirror episode is. I’ve heard episodes described as the best and worst or brilliant or completely dumb, and it’s different people talking about the same episode. You’ll get something like “The National Anthem,” our first episode ever, which is a very divisive episode. Some people just bail on it as soon as they find out what’s going on. They think it’s gross and disgusting and they’re angry about it. It really depends on your personality. I see a shared tone between all of them, no matter what the outcome of the story. There’s a playful undercurrent of humor in all of them that maybe I’m seeing and nobody else is seeing.