TV review: Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (no spoilers)

I watched this show yesterday and have to agree with Kevin Fallon that it was a gimmicky disappointment, not up to the level of earlier episodes of Black Mirror that I found thought-provoking even if somewhat dark. Set in 1984, the main conceit of this latest offering is that it has a ‘choose your own story’ interactive structure where at various points you, the viewer, are asked to make a choice between two options that the chief protagonist Stefan is confronted with as he designs a ‘choose your own adventure’ computer game based on a ‘choose your own adventure’ book. You can already see the interweaving of multiple layers of reality.

Bandersnatch is a fun experience and a major achievement, but it may be the least engrossing and involving of any of Black Mirror’s stories.

There is something ostensibly deeper here that Bandersnatch is getting at. It prods at the unshakable feeling that we are not in control of our own lives anymore, whether that’s an allusion to various puppet strings we’ve willingly tied ourselves to in giving up privacy and security to technology and government, or merely the idea that the world’s chaos around us has seized even our own autonomy.

The interactive nature of it is also a clever evolution in Black Mirror’s menacing cautionary tale. In this case, society and our collective choices aren’t just metaphorically responsible for what befalls the characters, but you yourself are implicated directly with each decision you make in the Choose Your Own Adventure. The question is whether making things that literal is effective. To that end, Bandersnatch offers diminishing returns.

This a bold storytelling experiment, carrying both the thrill of novelty and newness, but also the messiness in its lack of refinement and basic superficiality. When you reach the end of the Bandersnatch path you’ve dictated, you’re certain of the adventure you’d choose next: a regular episode of Black Mirror.

I personally found it distracting to be periodically asked to make a choice on Stefan’s behalf. It took me out of the moment. There are apparently five different major endings altogether (and some more minor ones) and how many you encounter and how long the viewing takes depends on many times you loop through the choices. I did not go through all the possible permutations of choice I was offered to arrive at all endings but if you want to know them, this article tells you. (Beware ye spoilers!) My choices did not get to two of the endings. Apparently if you want to make sure that you see all, you should just not make any choices at all but just go with the flow.

Here’s the trailer.

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