'Black Mirror: Bandersnatch' from Netflix Is A Trip Into Darkness
So we've unpacked the Black Mirror: Bandersnatch trailer and the various implications of this standalone episode (Film? Game? We'll get to that). Turns out, all that speculation was bang on: Bandersnatch is an interactive installment of the Charlie Brooker anthology, one that allows the viewer to make decisions in real-time that will affect the outcome of the story.
The synopsis goes thusly: Stefan (Fionn Whitehead) is a programmer working on adapting Bandersnatch, a choose-your-own-adventure book. Under the tutelage of fellow game developer Colin (Will Poulter), he embraces increasingly extreme ways to tap into his creative side, and begins to question his own sanity.
Par for the course with Black Mirror, then. The first thing that comes to the fore in Bandersnatch is the seamlessness of the decision system. You're given 10 seconds to make certain binary choices in certain scenes, and there's no buffering or loading in between. As the film/show/narrative progresses, and the choices become more dramatic, we're sometimes treated to fake-outs, options to go back and change our minds, and, at one point, even a very cheeky meta-narrative in which Stefan learns about something called "Netflix."
As an episode of Black Mirror, Bandersnatch is up there with the show's better stories. Having run through it a second time, there are only really a few ways to get to the various destinations (Brooker says there are five proper endings, but there are all kinds of other little asides). Making opposite choices to those I made the first time, the narrative was pretty much the same until near the end. At one point, as Stefan's mind unravels, you can choose between "bite fingernails" or "pull earlobe"; the result of either has both fun and chilling implications.
The mechanics and the structure will dominate the conversation around Bandersnatch, but it's also just a pretty good time. Whitehead is brilliant as the unraveling Stefan, and Alice Lowe as Stefan's therapist puts in a great shift (especially, during one timeline, as an action star). David Slade, director of Hard Candy and last season's Metalhead, builds a vibrant, fully-realized 1984 around Brooker's writing (the implications of the year, we can assume, is not an accident).
Bandersnatch doesn't just torment its players like an ordinary Black Mirror tale, but it makes us culpable, too. As things become more dramatic, more violent, Brooker and Slade start turning the screw on our own desire to see drama, to see excitement, at the cost of the safety and sanity of Stefan. In its best moments, Bandersnatch juggles a cool sci-fi story about the multiverse while making us question the very meaning of "entertainment."
The very nature of Bandersnatch means both your enjoyment and experience will vary, but this is still an episode of Black Mirror and, for better or for worse, you'll get out exactly what you put into it. So what are you waiting for? Start clicking.