Black Mirrothon Part 20: ‘Bandersnatch’
I honestly didn’t know if this new episode would be featured in our marathon and subsequent ranking…I didn’t even know if I COULD review it in any conventional sense for reasons that will soon become clear.
(Spoilers and whatnot)
Director: David Slade
Writer: Charlie Brooker
Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Will Poulter, Asim Chaudhry, Craig Parkinson, Alice Lowe, Tallulah Haddon
Premise: In the year 1984 a young man named Stefan Butler is working on a video game adaptation of a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novel ‘Bandersnatch’. As he becomes more absorbed in his work he begins to suffer delusions of being controlled by an external force.
Review: Right. Right.
If you aren’t already aware, Stefan Butler (Whitehead) is absolutely being controlled by an external force. It’s you, the viewer. As the story unfolds the audience select from branching paths to explore different story outcomes. If you hit a bad ending you can jump back to follow a different path. Here’s the biggest problem with reviewing it: I don’t know if I saw enough of it to fully comment or if I got the ‘real’ ending. Maybe I got the best version of events and my opinion is going to be disproportional to what you experienced.
So let’s speak in general terms.
The viewer controls the actions of Stefan beginning with the simple choice of breakfast cereal and music. Following the logical, expected behaviour serves to show how things are going to work as it quickly railroads you into a poor ending and then letting you spin back to redo things. To recap the concept: you are playing a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure ‘Black Mirror’ episode about a man coding a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure video game based on a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novel. The writer of the book suffered delusions of conspiracies, branching timelines and suffered a psychotic break and decapitated his wife. Depending on what paths you follow you might see Stefan go done a similar path. Or not, I don’t know, but some paths gave us more layers to this lunacy.
The most important thing to take away is that this is NOT a gimmick. ‘Black Mirror’ season 4 was the weakest in the franchise (despite having the best episode) and that is in part because we were starting to recognise the patterns. Brooker and Slade could not have mixed things up in a better way by utilising the ability to put viewer’s in the drivers seat. There’s a rumoured 5 hours of footage total and I watched it for roughly 2 hours and found some very, very different endings.
Rather than an episode with a creative and experimental hook, ‘Bandersnatch’ explores the concept of interactive media framed around a story of a young man believing he’s being controlled. Setting the story during the first video game boom is a smart move, as it was a groundbreaking era in regards to interactive entertainment, where the tight controls and limitations of the hardware was counteracted with creativity and experimentation. The era is really fun to revisit and they’ve put a huge amount of detail into recreating it, and it ties nicely into the narrative.
Look, I can’t say any more without getting into the story. Just know that this is really, really impressive and plays some crazy games with those watching. Whenever we get comfortable with the system we’d be thrown a curve ball. Watch it now, it’s special.
That Moment When You Feel Your Stomach Drop: When you make the connection between Stefan feeling controlled and you being the controller.
Links to Other Episodes: Shout out if you’ve got one I missed, because I may not have seen or caught them all.
‘Metalhead’ and ‘Nosedive’ both get retro video game adaptations with the former being redubbed as ‘Metl Hedd’.
A ‘White Bear’ glyph appears in crime scenes, P.A.C.S. files, on Stefan’s plan board and as one choice for the viewers.
The Sun newspaper features articles referencing ‘Hang the DJ’, ‘U.S.S. Callister’ and ’15 Million Merits’, while UKTV’s news ticker includes a brief nod to ‘The National Anthem’ (as usual).
Ranking Black Mirror: This is a bold move consider I just watched it for the first time a few minutes ago, but the really did pull this off.
- ‘U.S.S. Callister’
- ‘Fifteen Million Merits’
- ‘San Junipero’
- ‘White Christmas’
- ‘Shut Up and Dance’
- ‘Be Right Back’
- ‘White Bear’
- ‘Hang the DJ’
- ‘The National Anthem’
- ‘Hated in the Nation’
- ‘Black Museum’
- ‘The Waldo Moment’
- ‘Men Against Fire’
- ‘The Entire History of You’