By Michael Smith
*Warning: Major Spoilers For Black Mirror: Bandersnatch*
Black Mirror. Charlie Brooker’s sci-fi thriller series has taken Netflix and the world by storm and the latest installment is no different. Black Mirror: Bandersnatch released December 28th last year and has sent many people down the rabbit hole. Bandersnatch focuses on a young programmer, Stefan, pitching and then creating a video game based off the fictional choose your own adventure style book Bandersnatch, but throughout the process of creating this game, he slowly begins to question his own reality. This episode draws inspiration from video games, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and even quantum physics.
The key selling point for this full-length Black Mirror movie is that it is interactive. The viewer is able to dictate the choices Stefan makes throughout his day, which is also one of the driving factors as to why he begins to question reality, as he feels an unnatural force pushing him to do certain things. The interactivity leads to people dictating their own “unique” path through the movie that has multiple endings, around ten that have been discovered so far. Thanks to Netflix’s recent postings on Twitter, we actually know which ending was the least traveled. It turns out to be the one in which Stefan goes on the train with his mom. If you didn’t see that ending well I guess you have some more work to do.
Now, if you want to see each of the endings explained and how to get those endings, I’m sorry but I won’t be covering that here. Most people have already either looked for the ending themselves, made a video or guide to all the endings, or already googled that; so instead I want to talk about two main things: Will we be seeing more interactive TV or movie content and how the “intended path” is just a normal Black Mirror story.
First, will we be seeing more interactive content. It is a possibility though that unlike the way current streaming platforms are running, Netflix was pushed to its limits to make Bandersnatch. They created their own screenwriting tool specifically for branched narratives and some older versions of the Netflix app were unable to stream Bandersnatch due to technical reasons. This leads me to believe that there will be very few interactive TV shows or movies aimed at adults due to the complexity those users want in their decisions compared to those of interactive children’s shows. Personally, I feel like the interactive movie is at this point a pure novelty that isn’t able to come to the level of or surpass its rival in gaming. This is why I not only don’t think more interactive stories are coming in the near future, but also why I very likely will not consume these new interactive shows because that isn’t what I come to television for.
Lastly, I want to talk about “intended” ending. I refer to it as such because of the way the credits roll from the path and the fact that it contains post-credits style clips. The ending I’m talking about for those who don’t know is, *SPOILERS AHEAD*, the ending in which Stefan kills his father and then “decides” to chop up the body. His game receives a 5 out of 5 rating although its life is short lived as it is pulled when the murder is discovered. Then we see scenes in Black Mirror’s normal time period setting where Colin Ritman, a well-known programmer who works at Tuckersoft, has a daughter who is working to remake Bandersnatch as well. She starts reaching the same crashes and errors as Stefan and then destroys her work. When you take the linear path to this end with Stefan going to counseling and not going off with Colin you follow the path of a fairly standard Black Mirror episode.
My opinion of this is supported through a statement made by Stefan where he explains to his therapist after finishing Bandersnatch that he only had to give the user the illusion of choice even though the story was being dictated by him all along. Basically, the story of Bandersnatch is just a story that has one “intended” ending that we are guided to by the creators. They have a specific ending in mind and they are going to trick us into trying to get there by, what we believe is, our own choice.
All in all, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is, if nothing else, an interesting look into a potential future of interactive programming. Although a lot of the initial novelty of the interactivity has worn off, there is still a solid Black Mirror story behind it about how a game developer will do whatever it takes to make the perfect five-star game. It also provides an often-unseen intelligent criticism of games in television. For me, the novelty of this being interactive is unfortunately not going to have much bearing on what is really a fairly standard Black Mirror episode where the lines of reality are blurred.