I’ve been a fan of the Black Mirror series ever since it was released from the BBC back in 2011. It’s good to see Charlie Brooker’s mature sci-fi anthology series remains just as strong and creepy as ever on Netflix. Just in time for the holidays, the streaming service has decided to up the weirdness with an interactive episode titled Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. Yes, an interactive episode of a TV show. Or whatever we’re calling Netflix shows these days. The idea alone would’ve made a great episode of Black Mirror itself, but the future is here if you’re willing to accept the possibilities – and limitations.
Loosely based off the downfall of a company in 1982 called Imagine Software and their video game of the same name, the plot takes place in 1984 England and follows the life of a young programmer named Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead). He longs to have his “choose your own adventure” video game titled Bandersnatch being released after basing it off a book his mom loved reading before she died. Things seem to be looking up for Stefan as a new game company named Tuckersoft is looking to work with him and publish his title.
After meeting the boss Mohan Thakur (Asim Chaudhry) and a famous game creator that works there named Colin Ritman (Will Poulter), it falls on you the viewer to decide what Stefan does next. Does he take the deal or make the game his own way? Does he seek help from Colin or not? How the story unfolds is completely up to you (or is it?) as two choices will appear at random moments for you to select from, each with their own bizarre consequences that only the world of Black Mirror could give us.
To say anymore would ruin the fun and the experience you simply must try for yourself. Bandersnatch can be played on most devices that support Netflix; I settled on my 4K Samsung Smart TV, but sadly I wasn’t able to view this on my fairly high-end gaming PC using the Windows 10 app (here’s hoping they’ll work this out soon). To say I had a fun time would be an understatement as I’m a big fan of choice-making titles, ala the sadly defunct Telltale Games and their library. Speaking of which, this isn’t Netflix’s first rodeo with making an interactive episode of something, as they had released Puss in Book for kids last year, and teamed with Telltale Games to place Minecraft: Story Mode on the Netflix website for viewers to play.
Going back to the technology, it was genuinely delightful and creepy to watch and make choices as it goes on, only to find out some of the characters know they’re being controlled by an outside force. Even more freaky is that sometimes you’ll come to an “ending” only to find out it really wasn’t one and the episode will allow you to go back to a critical point to make another choice, sometimes not even giving you one at all (one you’d like to make but isn’t listed). The cast does a great job with their roles, as Fionn Whitehead does a perfect job of playing someone with mental issues being pushed to the edge, and Will Poulter does an amazing job starting off as a bit quiet and stoic to becoming something deeper and darker should you choose that path.
I also enjoyed how they snuck in a lot of Easter eggs throughout the episode, such as the symbol from “White Bear”, and how one of Tuckersoft’s games is called Metl Hedd, a clear reference from “Metalhead” complete with a picture of the titular character. Colin works on a game called Nohzdyve that’s a reference to the “Nosedive” episode (one of my personal favorites), and there’s so much more for fans to catch if you look closely enough. There’s even a fun bit if you choose, where you can try to explain Netflix to one of the characters which leads to zany results, including a fun martial art action scene that’s thrown in for no reason other than you choosing it to happen.
While I could go on forever about how disturbing, dark and wacky this episode is, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch really is something you have to experience for yourself. I was able to play through it for nearly two hours before coming to a solid conclusion, but there aren’t any “wrong choices” and your mileage will vary depending on what you choose. So stop reading this and get lost in the world of the Bandersnatch if you haven’t already. You’ll want to let yourself get snatched up what’s possibility the future of television; here’s hoping you get out with your sanity intact.