Did you watch the new interactive Black Mirror episode, Bandersnatch?

Black Mirror is an artfully crafted, well written show that usually makes me feel hopeless. The only exception I’ve found (although I have not watched them all) was the Emmy award-winning episode from 2016, San Junipero. I watched the new interactive Black Mirror episode, Bandersnatch, for about 40 minutes. It was just as depressing as Black Mirror typically is, and I wasn’t motivated to find more of the alternate endings. I don’t even know if we reached an ending, although my boyfriend said that we would have to go back and make another choice as the show was a maze with dead ends, like a typical chose your own adventure book. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Bandersnatch is Netflix’s first ever interactive program. It allows you to make choices for a 19 year-old programmer in 1984, Stefan, who is designing a video game based on a choose your own adventure book. The filmmakers spoke to THR and explained their process, which was very meta in that they faced similar setbacks to Stefan. (Of course this contains spoilers, at least the spoiler for the main ending which I did not reach, but it may not be relevant to the story you choose.)

Officially, Netflix says there are five “main” endings. But there is a caveat: There are variants on all of them. Given that there are millions of unique story permutations created by [Black Mirror creator Charlie] Brooker’s game-changing script, not every viewer can unlock all of the endings. Also, the way any one person will arrive at those endings will vary, since the interactive experience evolves as viewers make choices.

There is one ending, however, that Netflix determined would be the most commonly reached: the Pearl Ritman ending. That is why the final scene is intercut with a credits sequence — even though the official end to everyone’s Bandersnatch experience will be signified by rolling closing credits. Pearl, as it turns out, is the daughter of Colin Ritman (played by Will Poulter), the famed game developer who mentors the protagonist, Stefan (Fionn Whitehead), throughout the film. “It’s not the ‘real’ ending,” Carla Engelbrecht, Netflix’s director of product innovation, confirms to THR of the Pearl flash-forward coexisting among the others. Engelbrecht, who led the tech development of Bandersnatch, says the Pearl ending treatment (which also contains Black Mirror Easter eggs for discerning viewers) was a creative choice made by Brooker. “The original version didn’t have that intercutting, and then it emerged as they started getting into the episode and refining it. We really liked the feel of it.”

When Bandersnatch flashes forward to introduce Pearl, the ending that viewers get reflects several of the different story branches they will have already reached, or will reach, when Stefan becomes overwhelmed by the creation of the game. Despite her best intentions, Pearl also begins to lose control when she tries to pick up where her father left off and finish his “Bandersnatch” for Netflix. In real life, “Bandersnatch” is also the name of a highly anticipated 1984 game that never materialized. But for Brooker, the ending is even more personal.

“The Pearl ending is quite meta, where it sort of pulls out to reveal someone who has been writing all of this to appear on Netflix,” says Brooker of the wink. “To be honest, the whole thing was extremely meta. Throughout the whole process, we’ve often commented on how life has been imitating art, or the other way around.”

Brooker was experiencing many of the tech problems that Stefan faces when he was outlining the complex “branching narrative” story of Bandersnatch. “There were lots of times where we found ourselves pretty much staring at complicated flowcharts and bits of code, much like Pearl does, and as you see, Stefan does,” Brooker says of the writing process. “We had lots of conversations where we would have to simplify it. All of that stuff that you see in Bandersnatch, we ended up saying in real life. It’s a very odd, meta, fourth-wall-, fifth-wall-, sixth-wall-breaking film. I don’t know really how to classify it: as a film or as an experience? Our ambitions were to make it as cinematic as we possibly can.”

[From The Hollywood Reporter]

Here’s a link to a Slate article which outlines all the alternate endings and scenes, the most meta being the Pearl (Colin’s daughter) ending mentioned above. My favorite scene in the version I watched, which involved having Stefan work at home, was a visit he made to Colin’s apartment where they both did drugs. Colin delivered a speech about Pac-Man which was just incredible. After that it took a turn. I was blown away by the meta references in the show, but I had the same problem I always have with Black Mirror, which is that I didn’t care about the characters. Even when you’re making choices for Stefan you know that it’s going to end badly so you try not to get too invested. The styling and the settings are amazing though. They got the early 80s European feel dead on without going overboard (see: Atomic Blonde). The stylists and set designers on Black Mirror need more recognition.

This was the first of what will likely be many interactive projects at Netflix. They developed their own in-house tool to manage all the alternate endings, which were way too complicated for a typical flowchart.


Black Mirror Bandersnatch


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25 Responses to “Did you watch the new interactive Black Mirror episode, Bandersnatch?”

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  1. Laur says:

    I didn’t really enjoy it I have to say. The most exciting part for me was recognising some of the locations as I didn’t realise its filmed in my home town (which I shouldn’t really shout about given how run down it looks!). **spoiler alert** I hoped there would be lots of different endings and had read loads of hype about it online before watching, and I certainly appreciate the ingenuity of trying an interactive show like this, but the endings were just too similar to me, just variations of a broad theme. That’s where it let itself down I think.

    • Reese. says:

      I felt the same. I was really looking forward to watching it and was let down by the endings.
      I didn’t recognise too much about the town but the headquarters area was C. I believe? I have only been a few times and it’s a lovely place!

  2. ds says:

    I’m not really into black mirror but wanted to see this. Turns out you need an interactive tv or smthn. Do you need anything special to watch it and interact?

    • Ai says:

      Netflix did say that not all smart TV or older Apps will work. I played the episode on my Netflix App on my PS4 and it worked. Update: it works if you download the Netflix App on iPhone too.

    • Miles says:

      An interactive TV?? I don’t think so. I started watching it on my TV with a PS4 and then finished watching it on my iphone lol I think you can even watch it on your laptop too but I might be mistaken about that

    • ds says:

      iphone it is! Thank you 😊

    • Meganbot2000 says:

      I watched it on my laptop.

    • Caliss says:

      I used FireFox and watched it directly on the Neflix web site. Enjoy!

  3. Ai says:

    It took up an entire afternoon. I just wanted to explore it for the experience and see how they developed the paths, choices and ‘endings’. I think they had to keep it limited since it would cost a gazillion more to really develop broader range of paths, choices and endings. Since BM is always grim and often violent, I was prepared to not get too attached although I tried so hard to make choices against the darker paths lol. I was still caught off guard with some of the results. It was an interesting afternoon and I reflected how this differs or is similar to me playing the PS4 games. I got all the different endings and yes, the last one with the game getting a 5 stars rating and with Pearl’s post credit scene was wayyy out there freaky a la BM style.

  4. Miles says:

    The premise of this movie ie letting the audience “decide” what happens was very very cool. I just wish it was utilized on a better story but I give the creators a bunch of credit for coming up with something that hasn’t been done before (or that I haven’t seen been done before)

  5. Veronica S. says:

    This isn’t entirely new – a few kids’ shows exist that have these interactive aspects on Netflix already. Interesting to see it done with adult programming, though. I’m not a fan of BM (first two episodes were grim enough for me, thanks), but I appreciate their aim to explore technology on all levels.

  6. Meganbot2000 says:

    I didn’t really like it, it just felt like a big depressive mess. It was very well-written as a portrayal of severe mental illness, but I don’t need to spend two and a half hours to know what being inside the head of a clinically depressed person feels like, and I didn’t think the interactivity added anything — everything kept going round in circles regardless of what options you chose, and there were so many false endings and “he woke up and it was all a dream” it felt like the choices didn’t matter. I’d prefer to see the concept utilized on something a bit more, you know, real? Like a romance, or a sci-fi thriller. Rather than “it doesn’t matter what you choose because everything is just happening inside the head of a crazy person.”

    • onerous says:

      Totally agree. My 13 year old son – it blew his mind. But it was really just meh for me.

    • Marieke1963 says:

      Well, my first try I reached him dying with his mom as a child. It was interesting to explore other endings, especially trying to predict what choices made what happen. Also different choices led to different levels of awareness of the main character. Some of the endings might have been similar but not the way he came to that point. It was nifty, but it kind of defeats the point of Netflix to me (aka staring at my screen like a zombie).

  7. Chris says:

    As a long time fan of The Twilight Zone, I’m the best audience for black mirror but I just cant watch most of it. Other than some beautiful episodes like San Junipero or Be Right Back most episodes are like “Technology is dangerous everyone!!” That’s pretty much it. Or the point is “Twist! Humans ARE awful!” Makes me miss the subtlety of Rod Serlings writing. I do look forward to Jordan Peele rebooting the twilight zone. I trust he’ll do the show proud.

    So no I’m not going to bother watching Bandersnatch. The world is awful enough, I dont need to see every hopeless alternative ending the writers came up with. If other people really enjoy the whole interactive choose your own adventure movie (which is a really cool idea) then more power to them.

    • Case says:

      Completely agree with you. I LOVE The Twilight Zone and most of the time, Black Mirror doesn’t do it for me. It is so dark and depressing most of the time, and not nearly as observant as Rod Serling’s work. But I too am THRILLED that Jordan Peele is rebooting the series. Get Out was very much so an extended Twilight Zone movie in my opinion, so it should be great.

      • Chris says:

        I agree, I thought the same thing about Get Out. It was very horror/science fiction in the way that it used weird technology to analyze racism. Analyzing specific aspects of humanity is exactly what The Twilight Zone was about. It was subtlty and not brute force that got the point across. Jordan Peele has the right mindset to reboot the twilight zone for modern times. I’m so relieved they didn’t let the creators of black mirror do it. Every episode would end with someone dead or murdered. I dont mean to hate on it too much, I like some episodes I just personally think there are too few hits and far too many misses to watch the show regularly when other shows exist.

    • Veronica S. says:

      Yeah, I’m just like…we should be aware of how technology has destructive potential, but at the same time, this grim dark ideology that all human beings are awful just feeds into the idea that there’s no point in acting ethically or striving for a better world. Like, calm down Thomas Hobbes. Humanity has been around for over 10,000 years, and if you don’t think we made it here by helping each other out occasionally, you’re kidding yourself.

      It’s the same thing I argued about with the ending of Bird Box. The whole point of that movie is that survival has to mean something. Human beings are not automatons. We need each other to survive. We always have. Just look at what happens when you put a human being in prolonged isolation. Grim dark endings are meaningless because they strive to be, and if that’s the point, why would you bother caring about any of the characters to start with?

    • Ai says:

      Very true. I do think BM could use a more balance (negative vs positive aspects of humanity) because I totally agree that San Junipero is like one of the bright + best episodes in the whole series. I understand people being turned-off the negativity + grim nature especially when the current reality is just as bleak. I give plenty of time in between BM episodes but I always come back to the show. Reasons why could be that it is a realistic portrayal of humans + technology instead of a more fantasy and full on sci-fi. The irony that many people can see and note the warning signs but in the end, many make choices against their best interest in the long run due to the common pitfalls of being human. Which brings us to this episode of Bandersnatch: how much of it can you really control when it’s designed to lead you down a grim path anyways. There was one ending where you realize it’s a TV show and I think it was the happiest ending.

  8. Case says:

    I understand a lot of the endings involve death. Happy to say I reached a totally different ending (SPOILER) where the main character keeps wondering who is making him make these decisions, and I reveal to him that he is being controlled by someone on Netflix, an entertainment platform from the future. He goes to the therapist to discuss, where things get REALLY crazy and we learn that this has been just a movie the whole time, and the lead actor is just taking it a bit too seriously.

    Great stuff.

  9. Harryg says:

    Loved it! I don’t really like to decide where my movies are going, but this once at least I loved it!
    Black Mirror in general has stunningly good production design.

  10. Doodle says:

    Black mirror is hit or miss for me. The episodes I like I really like, but it’s very sporadic. San Junipero is a stand out because it’s so different from the others. I’m not terribly excited about the storyline of Bandersnatch so I don’t think I’ll try it.

  11. coffeeisgood says:

    Black mirror is pretty good but I really wasn’t into the interactive idea. maybe I am just lazy but I’d rather just be entertained by a movie than choose where it goes haha

  12. Themummy says:

    I hated it. Like three times (at least) we were given two options to choose from…and we chose…but it basically just said, “Nope, sorry, you can’t actually pick that…you don’t actually have options.” Every time that happened it would bump us back to the start of the last scene before we made the choice that apparently was not actually a choice. And the ending??—what ending? It gave no real indication that we reached an end point. The story certainly hadn’t reached an end point and it never led us to credits or anything. All in all it was just a huge waste of time. That said, I do respect that they tried something innovative and I do look forward to the next iteration of it. For now, though, it just doesn’t work.

  13. MoGrianach says:

    I liked the idea but in the end I don’t think they quite pulled off the execution