Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker reveals in his new book that the show originally planned for the episode "San Junipero" to be more like Westworld. The hit HBO series obviously made Brooker go in a different direction, and perhaps he's thankful for that. "San Junipero" turned out to be one of the most well-received episodes of the series, and the show's first Emmy-winning entry.
"San Junipero" received near-universal acclaim from both fans and critics for its uncommonly uplifting tone, which was a refreshing departure for a series known for its many bleak scenarios regarding the future and the impact of technology. But it's an emotionally resonant episode in its own right, anchored by an affecting love story between lead characters Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) and Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). It features one of the series' most effective technological twists, revealing that the world of San Junipero was really a simulated afterlife for deceased or dying hospital patients. It added up to what's widely regarded as the very best Black Mirror episode. But like a lot of classic creations, "San Junipero" could have turned out very differently.
As revealed in an excerpt from the new book Inside Black Mirror (via Vulture), Brooker said that Westworld forced him to change his plans regarding "San Junipero". The original idea for the fictional city was to be a Westworld-like theme park where visitors could meet dead relatives in their own version of heaven. Initially, Brooker saw "San Junipero" as a sort of expansion from what he'd established in "Be Right Back", in which people could communicate and interact with dead relatives thanks to highly advanced AI technology.
"We couldn’t do this now because of Westworld, but we had the idea of a theme park you went to that was essentially Heaven. All your dead relatives and friends would be there, and you’d pay to go and visit them. So that thought stayed around for a while — this notion of Heaven that you go to as a holiday."
Brooker also said that "San Junipero" started as more of a horror movie-like premise, which will surprise no one who's seen the show. Executive producer Annabel Jones added that they always wanted to expand upon the idea of "digital consciousness" that they'd established in the episode "White Christmas". The excerpt also includes a chat with Davis and Mbatha-Raw about their first experiences working on the episode, and details the work that went into creating the sprawling world of "San Junipero" and making it believable.
But the real eye-opener in this story is easily the development of "San Junipero" in its beginnings, and the influence that Westworld had on its creation. There's no telling how good or bad the episode would have been had it stayed on its original path of a Heaven-like theme park with android versions of dead relatives. But there's no question that it would've had little resemblance to what it ultimately became. Brooker and Jones sound like they're still interested in the concepts they had pre-Westworld, but they certainly have to be happy with what they eventually made. "San Junipero" is one of the most acclaimed hours of television of its time, and proof that sometimes the best creations come out of necessity.