I have been a fan of Charlie Brooker’s science fiction anthology Black Mirror ever since its dark humor infused pilot placed the British Prime Minister in a position to have sexual intercourse with a pig. This particular episode sparked an ingenious Twilight Zone-esque series that explores the relationship between society and technology often resulting in horrifying consequences. Of course, as with many series, there were hits and misses, but still cleverly crafted and enthralling as a whole.
As the 2019 New Year approached, Netflix subscribers were surprised by a whole new version of this thought provoking hit series entitled Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. What made this installment unique?
It is interactive.
Yes, you read that right. This Black Mirror feature gives you, as the viewer, choices to select via remote control. These decisions, like a Choose Your Own Adventure book or role playing video game, impact the outcome of the feature. Is this the cinematic future for shows and features of streaming services? Or is this simply a fad that will eventually flop out of existence? Personally, I believe this to have no simple answer. So, lets take a closer look. Shall we?
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch takes place in the ’80s following the story of a young video game developer named Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead: The Children Act). Patterning his latest project after a book entitled Bandersnatch by Jerome F. Davies, Stefan plans to revolutionize the world of gaming by introducing choice to perspective gamers. Both Bandersnatch and Jerome F. Davies are fictional part of this Black Mirror story. Believe me, I checked.
Initially, I believed the latest addition to the Black Mirror franchise would merely appeal to fans of role playing games. How could periodic delays offering a choice between two options not take you out of the viewing experience? Surprisingly enough, this choose-your-own-adventure for the small screen works. However, I suspect that it is largely due to the mind bending rabbit hole the story plot takes you through suggesting that free will is only an illusion.
Under pressure to construct complex programming for his game to meet a deadline, Stefan begins to crack. And struggling with guilt and shame from a haunting tragedy doesn’t exactly help. Beginning with simple decisions like breakfast choice and the type of music for a commute to work, you take part in Stefan’s journey. Of course, it isn’t long before you are offered more important choices that result in plot directions ranging from a government conspiracy to murder and even time travel.
With several story plot outcomes that end with prison or death and an option to go back and make a different decision, there is plenty to explore in Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. However, there are five main endings that trigger the end credits based on the combination of decisions you make throughout the feature. Furthermore, there is one ending that is much harder to unlock. If a very specific combination of choices are made, a secret post-credit scene is revealed with an Easter egg buried deep inside. According to The Wrap (read article here), some tech-savvy fans discovered translatable data hidden within the audio playback of this scene ultimately giving access to one of the arcade type games shown in the feature. It seems like an awful lot of trouble to go to for a simple retro game, if you ask me. Then again, I’m not much of a gamer. It is clever, nonetheless.
Though I’m not particularly a fan of video games, I was surprised to find that this interactive feature still had a strong appeal. And the delays when faced with a decision don’t take you out of the experience as much as expected. As entertaining as Black Mirror: Bandersnatch might be, I believe that it works mostly because of the overall concept of free will as an illusion … as you’re making decisions for the story’s lead character. This gives more purpose behind the interactive aspect of Bandersnatch, which adds to the plot bringing you, as the viewer, into the story on a level we’ve never seen.
We may begin to see a trend with other features experimenting with the choose-your-own-adventure approach, but I don’t foresee this revolutionizing the world of cinema. Regardless, this is a welcomed installment to the Black Mirror franchise. Riddled with small Easter eggs from previous episodes, a futuristic feel against an ’80s backdrop and a level of thought provoking depth Black Mirror fans have come to expect, Bandersnatch breaks new ground.
Editor’s Note: Netflix has been hit with a lawsuit from ChooseCo, the publishing company responsible for the Choose Your Own Adventure series of children’s books. The suit is for $25 million, and claims that Netflix violated their trademark. Netflix has made open statements about how Bandersnatch was directly inspired by the books, and ChooseCo claims that quoting the inspiration for Bandersnatch without having acquired rights to the trademark for marketing purposes is a violation of its trademark.