If any show on Netflix was going to tackle a choose your own adventure type of viewing experience, the logical choice would be Black Mirror. And when this turned out to be the case, the logical expectation would be for the episode to be absolutely amazing.
But Bandersnatch is really only interesting on a surface level and doesn’t get much deeper than a novelty – not quite the standard for Charlie Brooker’s mind-bending science fiction series.
The story follows a young man named Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead) as he attempts to create a videogame based on a choose your own adventure novel titled Bandersnatch. The viewer is able to make choices for Stefan as he works towards creating his game in 1984. The first acts a tutorial – you choose which cereal he will eat, and later on you’ll see a commercial on Stefan’s TV for the chosen cereal. It’s kind of neat and will serve as a hint of what you will be able to do.
It starts out pretty interesting, and retains that interest for the most part. If you fail early on at making the right choices for Stefan (there are a couple of choices that will break the narrative completely and force you to “go back” and correct it), Stefan will comment that he’s been there before. He’ll simply “know” certain things and predict what others will say, setting the episode up for some very meta situations.
At one point, you can even inform Stefan that you are from Netflix, influencing what he does in every situation. It is at the same time both funny and bizarre to watch his reaction as he tries to understand the concept of a streaming service as the episode takes place in 1984. From there, you can really branch out and make some crazy decisions – but the episode will end with a wacky predicament and have you go back to do another one, leaving you feel like there are actual “right” and “wrong” outcomes for Stefan.
The conclusions to this episode are really where Bandersnatch falls apart, simply for that fact that many of the endings don’t really feel like an ending. Many of the endings just left us with the option to “go back”, leaving us to wonder whether or not Stefan was to be stuck in a loop or the viewer just isn’t able to finish the episode.
But when the credits finally did roll and all of the endings had been exhausted, the whole experience just feels somewhat fatiguing. None of the endings gave the feeling of definitive dread or absolute conclusion – and though part of me thinks that it may just due to the fact that you can essentially cycle through all the endings by going back, a bigger part of me is decided on the endings simply not being satisfying enough.
In fact, the cohesive story as a whole seems to be a tad one-dimensional despite the choices and meta experience of Bandersnatch. It’s not awful; it’s just that if you take out the element of choice from this Netflix event, none of the story lines are strong enough or fleshed out enough to stand on its own.
On this one, I would choose “Go back.” I don’t doubt Black Mirror is more than capable of pulling this off in a better way; they just need to make some better choices next time.