“Your fate has been dictated, it’s out of your hands.”
Dubbed by some as the new Twilight Zone, over the last few years Black Mirror has become an iconic anthology whose unique and often subversive framing of our world, one where technology rules hearts and minds, an altar to which humanity prays, has garnered high praise from critics and fans alike. Now, after more than a year since Season Four’s triumphant premiere, Black Mirror is back.
Well, sort of.
Similar to White Christmas from a few years back, Bandersnatch is placed in that No Man’s Land between seasons. The initial premise is simple enough: taking place in 1984, it follows Stefan Butler, an aspiring game designer whose demo of Bandersnatch, a Choose Your Adventure game based on a book of the same name, is picked up by Tuckersoft, a company renowned for its amazing games and programmer rock star Colin Ritman. Stefan’s journey to create his dream is a bumpy one, as the pressures of creating such a massive game opens his eyes to his own psychological issues and the possibility that the world he lives in isn’t quite as linear and set as he thought.
But as fans of the series know, the guts of most Black Mirror episodes go far beyond the mundane plots, with the commentary the show brings regarding our society and people’s ability to relate to these commentaries has been the fuel for this once quiet show’s meteoric rise with fans. Bandersnatch takes everything the series has been known for and ups the ante. Unlike any show you’ve ever watched, nothing equals the necessity of the viewer to pay close attention to how Bandersnatch unfolds because you dictate what happens.
Yes folks, Netflix and the people behind Black Mirror create a Choose Your Adventure narrative for the small screen. While reality shows have done this type of fan interaction before—call a number to vote on the best performer, who should survive this round, what are the match stipulations, etc—never before has this interactive approach been taken to enrich a dramatic narrative. Sure, some of the more popular gaming series like Fallout and The Witcher have offered such things, a decision wheel that, once decided, could affect the way your particular narrative plays out hours down the road. To do so with a television series is unheard of and quite a fantastic leap; and with that, it’s should come as no surprise that the Black Mirror folks would be the first to try.
Like previous episodes, Bandersnatch is both a social commentary on technology but, more than most, it also delves in the philosophical arguments of the structure of reality and the tenants of our free will. In that, much of what occurs during portions of Bandersnatch are quite close to the mysteries Morpheus exposed Neo to in The Matrix. What is this life that we live and do we truly have autonomy in our decision-making or are we in a program where a puppeteer holds our strings, making us dance to their ministrations while we are only along for the ride? It’s a question that, even after multiple viewings, is never fully answered…in as much as it could be answered in the first place.
But technological and philosophical ideals aside, the major question for Bandersnatch is whether or not the concept works. The answer is yes but with a distinctive caveat. Like a movie filled with Easter Eggs or a video game with multiple endings, Bandersnatch can only be truly appreciated when seen through the lens of multiple viewings. It’s imperative, as a viewer, to select various narrative choices, to watch as the differences unfold. Sometimes it’s a minor blip, offering a few changes but ultimately with the same end result. Other times the changes are vast and truly offer a new experience. It’s finding those new paths that make Bandersnatch such a treat and, with the inclusion of several Easter Eggs referencing previous episodes,the latest chapter in the Black Mirror universe not only holds the banner high for the series as a whole but acts as a welcome treat as we wait for Season Five.
Black Mirror – “Bandersnatch”
8.5 out of 10