When I was a teenager, there used to be a series of books called “Choose Your Own Adventure.” It was like Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys but readers get to choose what path to take, giving them control over what happens to the story. If you choose for your hero to fall off a cliff, proceed to page 49, if you want him saved, go to page 20, so on and so forth until you reach an ending. If you don’t like it, you can be free to choose another path and end up with a different outcome. Netflix’s Bandersnatch gives viewers the same power to control the movie. For a first foray into an interactive Black Mirror episode, it was quite promising.
Synopsis: The year is 1984 and game developer Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead) wants to come out with a game based on Bandersnatch, a choose your own adventure novel by controversial writer Jerome F. Davies. It was a revolutionary idea which empowers gamers to pick a path in order to proceed with the game. However, the game runs into some troubles as Stefan battles with his personal issues. With the help of renowned programmer Colin Ritman (Will Poulter), he navigates the complexities and the possibilities of parallel realities as well as the idea that his actions are being controlled by someone else.
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch had a great idea and a great concept. The story, written and directed by series creator Charlie Brooker and 30 Days of Night director David Slade was carefully thought out to rope the viewers into the the episode in more ways than one. While the idea of a parallel reality is not new to the Black Mirror universe, the story implied from the beginning that Stefan was not in full control of his actions, thereby positing that the viewers, an unseen entity to the hapless programmer, was, in fact, calling the shots.
It was quite tricky to navigate through the choices. I never quite realized this before but as audiences, we often whine about the direction some films take and wonder about the possibility if it went another way. This Black Mirror episode effectively answers that whimsical question.
However, when given the task of choosing and doing it within a limited time, it dawned on me that it was quite difficult to make a logical choice of where the story should go. There were times that I choose based on gut feel while there were moments where I couldn’t decide quickly enough thereby leading me to opt for the default choice. I liked that the episode helped viewers along in making the right choice and prompted them to go back to make another choice when they pick a dead end. This allows them to explore alternative routes and alternate endings. It was quite fun to get to the end of the maze in this sense.
While I was a fan of the experience, I wasn’t quite sure how to feel about the episode overall. I felt that because I was quite preoccupied by making the next choice or second guessing myself if I was selecting the right option, it took away from my concentration on the episode in its entirety and it becomes difficult to judge whether it was a good episode or not.
I felt that in going back and forth about what actually happened in the episode and going further along to explore more scenes, it gets quite confusing to process. There are times when it feels like the episode is lacking while, if one proceeds further, there are options that make it seem like an overkill because of the excessive scenes, although it was obviously Netflix’s attempt to present itself as the link that connects with both the Bandersnatch episode as well as its viewers.
All in all, I was a bigger fan of the idea than the actual Black Mirror special. Judging by Black Mirror standards, it was quite consistent with the thought provoking theme of the series but it didn’t have as much impact as its predecessors. Still, as the first of its kind interactive streaming episode, it was solid enough to spawn a follow up. However, I can’t count myself as a fan of this type of set up just yet because it definitely takes time to get used to. I would have to wait until it grows on me.