It’s no secret that I love Black Mirror. Not every episode is a masterpiece like “San Junipero” of course, but most of them contain a certain dystopian cautionary tale that feels uncannily poignant upon first viewing. I’d heard this new episode/movie was in development over the summer and, being a fan of the choose-your-own-adventure books that were popular in the 80s, I was anxious to see how the series would adapt this interesting concept for TV.
This episode concerns a young programmer by the name of Stefan. He wakes up to his alarm in 1984 and prepares himself for an interview at a game company. There, he meets Colin who is apparently something of a genius when it comes to creating popular computer games. Stefan pitches his idea of developing his own game called Bandersnatch which is basically what we would call a visual novel in the gaming world today, an interactive adventure with branching storylines based on the decisions you make, based on a book of the same name. I’m not going to deny that this is an interesting premise.
Some of the endings that you can get break the fourth wall and get kind of meta, which is cool. There is even one ending where some completely random things happen and I laughed hysterically because of how preposterous it was. However, the pieces of the story don’t quite fit together to make a cohesive story or message. Colin is present in some scenes but absent in others with no explanation for why. It could be that one of the endings (I found about 5 before I got bored and gave up) goes into more detail, but the viewer shouldn’t have to dig through all the possibilities to make a story make sense.
There was a pivotal moment for me when I was given a choice between having Stefan or Colin die. I thought to myself, how cool would it be if when you commit suicide it unlocks other paths that were previously unavailable? I’ll save you a little time and tell you that wasn’t the case. It left me feeling like there are many video games which have used this premise and made an infinitely better story out of it like Virtue’s Last Reward for example which shows you all the branching paths and the ones you need to unlock. In contrast, Bandersnatch’s series of plot points ranging from psychosis to time travel to secret organizations just feels like the creators threw everything at the wall hoping something would stick.
I look forward to see what Netflix does with this premise in the future if they can manage to marry their accessibility with an amazing story. Despite what it lacks, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy Bandersnatch. If you have nothing better to do and you’re curious, you should give it a watch. But don’t go in expecting anything earth-shattering. Don’t expect it to change the way you see the world. Don’t dig for those elusive endings that apparently no one has found yet. There are worse ways to spend an hour. Then again, there are also better ways.