“Bandersnatch” combines interactive gaming with television

Dana Perelberg ’20

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“Do you understand? Click yes or no.” The question pops up on my screen after a guided tutorial on how to watch “Bandersnatch”, the newest addition to the “Black Mirror” series on Netflix. At first the show seems like more of a game than an episode. But as an avid watcher of the series, I’ve come to expect innovation and plot twists from each different story, so I go along with the viewing style.
The episode takes place in 1984, which confuses me at first as “Black Mirror” usually centers around technological inventions in the future. I except a type of “San Junipero” twist where the timeline eventually speeds up into the far future. However, this never takes place, as “Bandersnatch” remains in the 20th century. The storyline focuses on Stefan Butler, a computer programmer with a game idea inspired by the fantasy book “Bandersnatch.” Within the first few minutes, Butler explains that the book allows you to reach multiple endings, an aspect that would be incorporated into his game. The player would make choices for their avatar which would determine their fate. After I make Butler’s first decision by clicking one of the choices that appears on my screen and immediately get booted back to square one I realize I am doing the exact same thing for the main character.
The episode has some clear right and wrong decisions. If the watcher makes decisions that gives Butler’s game,“Bandersnatch” a bad rating they are forced to go back and re-evaluate their choices. Only each time the viewer goes back, the show is slightly different. One character will say something the other had previous said, or have knowledge they didn’t have the first time around. This adds to the intensity of the episode and made every decision seem more important. It also gives the show an aura of creepiness that scared me at times.
But I think one of the most interesting and overlooked aspects of “Bandersnatch” is its connection to other “Black Mirror” episodes. The show features references to other storylines, with games with titles such as “Metalhead” alongside the “Bandersnatch” game. Metalhead is also the name of a season four episode. This combined with the white choice symbol which appears in the season two episode, White Bear and season three episode, Playtest suggests that maybe all or some of the “Black Mirror” episodes are just simulations.
The episode brings up the idea of multiple timelines, allowing the watcher to reach five main endings in addition to the abrupt endings they experience if they make the wrong choice.
The only critique I have of the episode is that it is almost impossible to reach all of the five endings. After reaching three, I gave up on watching and googled the other two. However, the difficulty added to the gameplay part of the episode, and made it more interesting to watch. I was constantly dying and coming back, replaying each portion in an attempt to make Butler’s game get a five star rating and end with the most entertaining event possible.
“Bandersnatch” is definitely one of the most powerful “Black Mirror” episodes yet. It is a must watch for any “Black Mirror” fans and anyone willing to have an existential crisis while binge-watching Netflix.

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