Clint Mansell Avoids the Perils of Nostalgia Abuse on ‘San Junipero’

Since the third season of famed British science fiction series Black Mirror debuted in October, everyone has been in awe of the “San Junipero” episode — or what they affectionately call “the ’80s episode.” The period-piece scenes and related hits more often than not give the impression of yet another ode to that decade, but Clint Mansell’s score — now available from Lakeshore Records and soon on vinyl from Invada — offers up something more.

Mansell’s nuanced, enlightening synth-driven score is complex and offers something savory to complement the delectable sugar of the licensed songs. Just as “San Junipero” is only 1980s enough to further its message, Mansell’s score is largely contemporary with evocative shades of period pastiche. He deftly allows Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven Is a Place on Earth,” Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” and, in the 1990s scenes, Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic,” and other cuts, to do their duty while he gets down to the business of helping to more fully support the story.

Photo Credit: Lakeshore Records.
Photo Credit: Lakeshore Records.

The “Junipero” episode is a heartwarming and challenging look at the narcotic effect of all nostalgia, in addition to Western society’s views on death and dying, and humanity’s continual integration with technology on all sides at a particularly rapid clip. Mansell does a brilliant job of relaying all of that. He taps into the unbridled joy of reliving moments of the past, the frustration of the complications — and ultimate impossibility — of nostalgia for anything, the devastation of mourning, and that transcendent feeling when we make real human connections.

Let’s be frank here: There’s no room to be surprised that Mansell can musically pull off the story of Kelly and Yorkie, who meet in 1987 in what appears to be a California seaside town called San Junipero. For starters, Mansell has been bringing us compelling scores since the ’90s, when he scored Darren Aronofsky’s Pi, starting a long relationship with the director that recently saw them paired up for 2014’s underrated Noah. He also scored Duncan Jones’ exquisite 2009 film Moon, and last year’s adaptation of the J.G. Ballard novel High Rise. There are several others. He’s also an actual ’80s/’90s rock star, earning 11 Top 40 cuts with England-based Pop Will Eat Itself.

Although Mansell’s scores run the gamut of approaches, he’s not often in the electronic sphere he occupies here in Black Mirror. In this show, his work has the understated power of Brian Eno, the charm of early Sébastien Tellier, and the arpeggiated ambiance and controlled synthesizer gymnastics of folks like Cliff Martinez, whose work on Drive danced along the surface of ’80s nostalgia without ever having to testify to it.

Along that vein, Mansell gives nods to the eras that show up in “Junipero,” but he’s too focused on telling the story comprehensively to suffer the fate of the episode’s characters and get hooked on any sort of nostalgia — whatever form that nostalgia takes. It’s a very notable achievement, and not the easiest one. Had Mansell offered up ham and cheese in any which way, he’d have derailed this beautiful story. Thankfully, Mansell is a treasure who’d never entertain something like that.

Highlight Cues: “Life Eternal,” “Waves Crashing on Distant Shores of Time,” both “San Junipero” themes, and, yes, “Night Drive.” But really, just watch the episode and listen to the whole score. You’ll be a better person for it.

All three seasons of Black Mirror are currently viewable on Netflix in the United States. Lakeshore released the “San Junipero” score digitally on Dec. 2, not long after it released the score for another Season 3 highlight, “Men Against Fire,” composed by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow. Invada will release the “San Junipero” vinyl and CD in the early part of 2017, according to the label’s December newsletter.

(Feature Photo: A screen shot of Kelly, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Yorkie, played by Mackenzie Davis. This is one of the episode’s ’80’s scenes. Obviously.)

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