'Bandersnatch' Proves 'Black Mirror' Is Catching Up To Itself
The choose-your-own-adventure episode plays right into 'Black Mirror's ominous predictions about the future of technology.
Netflix has redefined the TV landscape and there is no going back. Thanks to its overly-saturated archive of TV shows and movies, and grand leaps of creative storytelling, Netflix is constantly besting its own outrageous accomplishments. The streaming giant's most innovative investment to date is Black Mirror's latest installment, "Bandersnatch." This time, the technological horror series has truly outdone itself by asking us to piece together a wonderfully messed-up puzzle.
Set in the '80s, "Bandersnatch" tells the tale of a troubled video game designer named Stefan. This is the story of the creation of an ominous video game told through the format of an ominous video game. How meta. Instead of offering us an hour-long narrative with a fixed trajectory, "Bandersnatch" adopts the name and follows the structure of Stefan's delirious magnum opus. In the episode, Bandersnatch is a game within a game, based off a choose-your-own adventure novel.
As viewer's, we're given the opportunity to control Stefan's story by making decisions in his place. Whether he will meet a fate similar to the one suffered by Jerome F. Davies, the author of Bandersnatch, is determined by us. The multitude of options presented to viewers, who simultaneously function as players, ranges from easy to extremely difficult. Whether you are choosing between breakfast cereals or deciding which character should jump to their death, the episode's promise never veers off course. We get to decide what happens next. We are in charge.
But do we want to be? What is the purpose of all this power? These are some of the questions that might surface as the gnarly episode unfolds. This time around, Black Mirror delivers its message through a different, more inventive type of technology, yet the show's themes remain the same. Black Mirror isn't just about technology. It's about us and the choices we make both consciously and subconsciously. This is precisely what makes "Bandersnatch" so darn terrifying.
Interestingly, "Bandersnatch" liberates us from an episode with a fixed run time. Instead, it supplies us with enough options to leave us feeling burdened, exhilarated, confused, and utterly frustrated all at once. It is a successful simulation, an experience that remains with you long after the episode ends. And that's the point. "Bandersnatch" burrows into the crevices of your brain so it can replay on loop. Black Mirror is always pushing the boundary and making eerily believable predictions about the future. In many ways, this sci-fi anthology series holds up a mirror and forces us to confront a very painful and terrifying reality. With "Bandersnatch" we begin to question what is real and what is a fantasy. Are we truly in control of our lives or is it all in the hands of someone else? If we have no power over our choices, is there any meaning to our lives?
Without a doubt, "Bandersnatch" is a trip and a prime example of stress watching TV. You will inevitably fall down a rabbit hole trying to figure out the multiple endings and the trillion unique permutations. If that's not enough to put you through the wringer, then its after effects certainly will. The episode also leaves you questioning everything and makes you scream at your TV on more than one occasion. Soon enough, you will discover that you are not watching "Bandersnatch" for a resolution, but rather for relief — to see if Stefan can succeed and if you can retain your sanity by the end.
As Netflix's most radical experiment so far, "Bandersnatch" is an ambitious effort unlike any other. It is giving us what traditional TV can't, thus fostering a craving for technological advancement that satiates our hunger for entertainment. "Bandersnatch" is up for consumption and thanks to its plethora of possible outcomes and twisted detours, we'll be occupied by it for quite some time. But once that veil lifts, we'll want more and Netflix will undoubtedly come through with something else. It always does.
In "Bandersnatch," Stefan obsesses over his own agency and his ability (or inability) to make decisions. The viewer is the unseen outside force who is controlling his choices. That means we have a direct hand in Stefan's downward spiral as Black Mirror rarely gives its characters a moment to breathe. In that sense, we know that Stefan will never really make it, whether that translates into a physical death or a fractured psyche. Not only are we contributing to his demise, but we are viewing it as a source of entertainment. To make it worse, we want more. By watching, rewatching, playing, and replaying, we as the viewers and the consumers are perpetuating a gruesome cycle. The episode tells us that it's not the destination that matters, but rather our personalized experience. We buy into this idea because it's so enticing.
Black Mirror has gone from being a profound series to one that has brought new meaning to the concept of viewer engagement. Apart from all the buzz and the onslaught of viewers the episode has racked up, "Bandersnatch" is also increasing the amount of hours we're spending on Netflix. Not only is this a golden way to bolster business, but it nosedives right into Black Mirror's daunting tales about the dark side of technology and our ever-growing addiction to it.
Whether you are ready or not, the digital age is creeping into all aspects of our lives. No matter how hard you try to resist it, in the end you will have no choice but to join it. Personally, I didn't feel much of a connection to Stefan, even when terrible things were happening to him. I took the options offered to me as a prompt to start the whole thing over and over again, just so I could test all the subplots and narrative possibilities cooked up by Charlie Brooker & Co.
Clearly, "Bandersnatch" is a novel experience. It sucks you in. At times, you might even wonder why you are still in it, why you won't just turn off the TV and move on with all the tasks you still have to do in real life. That's how you know that Black Mirror has transitioned from discussing the terrors of technology to fully capitalizing on what it has to offer. In the past, the series warned us about the bleak future but with "Bandersnatch," Black Mirror has become technology's latest harbinger.