When I first heard Black Mirror released an interactive episode called “Bandersnatch”, I involuntarily shook my head. I immediately thought of Infamous, the video-game where you decide your character’s path through a series of choices in the gameplay.
I don’t see interactive storytelling as something revolutionary, or the “next big thing,” How is it different than a point-and-click choose-your-own-adventure-style video-game of the ’80s / ’90s? I personally like television shows and movies as a narrative where you’re taken along for the ride, and you trust in the storytelling of the writer. Complaints come after the credits.
Years ago I watched Spongebob’s “Shanghaied” episode, which had several alternate endings on the DVD. It was a fun change, but I was grateful this choice system wasn’t a recurring theme in the show and that it came at the end, with the vast majority of the episode remaining the same.
That being said, I was extremely impressed with this episode.
The theme of the episode itself actually calls attention to my concerns in somewhat of a “breaking the 4th wall” kind of way. Netflix even plays a role at a point in the episode. Bandersnatch appropriates video-games’ story-tree methodologies, where many choices seem largely pointless and lead back to the main story path, or the player’s death causes you to restart. The nature of reality and the idea of free will is explored constantly. Some choices (but no spoilers here) are crucial.
The meta-storyline of the episode takes place in 1984, where a computer programmer named Stefan is trying to adapt a fantasy novel into a video-game. The game he’s designing is a choose-your-own-adventure game, and you decide the choices he makes as he designs it.
The episode, like all Black Mirror episodes, contain a ton of easter eggs, such as Black Mirror’s “nosedive” title or the robot dog in Metalhead. The most prominent easter egg is the “white bear” symbol, which actually plays a notable role in this episode.
The play on choices is hilarious at times – at at least one point your choice is “yes” or “fuck yeah”. A funny scene with Stefan’s psychiatrist also plays heavily into the 4th wall idea.
Finally you don’t have to choose. If you’re like me and hate continuing to interact with a TV show on Netflix, you can just let the whole episode run itself, with Netflix making the choices for you, even though you still see the choices appear at the bottom.
I give this episode 5 out of 5. It should make Black Mirror watch parties and reaction videos interesting. It’s not my favorite style of storytelling, but it’s done pretty well.
Disclaimer: I spent about 2 hours clicking through this episode. This could be a working review as I still haven’t tried every possible combination of choices.
UPDATE December 31, 2018: One ending (according to posts on social media) contains a link to Tuckersoft’s (fictional company in Bandersnatch) website. I don’t know how much it spoils so tread carefully: https://tuckersoft.net/ealing20541/