Published on December 31st, 2018 | by Craig Silliphant


Black Mirror: Bandersnatch

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is an interesting gimmick from an amazing series, but the execution doesn’t work (nor is it really what it’s advertised to be).

I don’t get people who hate on Black Mirror.  I can understand if it’s too dark for some, but not liking something because it’s more cynical than you isn’t the same as saying it is of poor quality. I don’t love every single episode, especially a couple of the early ones, but Black Mirror is easily one of the best shows on television in recent years.  Their latest offering is a one-off called, Bandersnatch; it’s an interactive episode, similar to the Choose Your Own Adventure books that children of the 80s remember well.

It’s 1984, during the rise of video games, and a young software designer is working on a game that is of a Choose Your Own Adventure style, which he calls, Bandersnatch (it’s based on a book in the show, but it’s a reference to a Lewis Carroll creature from Through the Looking- Glass, one of a few meta jokes and ideas that are handled cleverly). It’s a good premise, and the way they capture the 80s allows them to have some cake and eat it too.  The nostalgia of the 80s is being overmined these days, but they choose to focus less on those aspects and make it more in line with their own show, by treating the 80s technology and time period as being cutting edge, instead of wallowing in empty nostalgia.

The choose your own adventure gimmick also fits with the idea of the show — using streaming technology to tell a story in a different way.  I’ve seen some complaining from people that rail against this being the future of film, but I’d tell them to calm down.  Interactivity isn’t the future of film.  Film is immersive, not interactive.  People may choose to tell stories like this, but film will always be that experience that takes you on a journey, not one that asks you to choose. It’s just a one-off gimmick here.  I would hope future Black Mirror episodes don’t use it.

After all that defending of Black Mirror and Bandersnatch, I unfortunately have to say that it actually didn’t work for me.  It isn’t the gimmick’s fault, but how the gimmick is handled.  The story is muddled and often confusing (so many scenes end in the ‘waking from a nightmare’ cliché that it’s hard to keep track of what’s going on).

The other problem is that almost none of the decisions feel important to the story. Wildly different options should take you to wildly different stories. Here, you have the illusion of choice, but you’re being funneled in one direction, even the choices you were trying to avoid. There is a meta joke about this as well but hanging a lampshade on it doesn’t suddenly make it all better.

As a side note, the interactive experience didn’t work on my TV (a newer, smart TV), which was annoying. I had to hook my computer up to the TV, which meant getting up every five minutes to make my choice selections. I’m way too lazy for that.

One interesting thing I noticed was that I started playing as the protagonist, but it really became more fun to torture him. There weren’t really happy outcomes no matter what, so to get the most of the experience you had to mess with him. It reminded me of Haneke’s Funny Games, where the audience is complicit in the horrifying experience of the characters. I’d like to say that Bandersnatch says things about us as viewers, the way Funny Games does, but it really says more about Black Mirror itself.

Overall, I love Black Mirror, but I have to chalk this up to being a mostly failed experiment. Perhaps it would have worked better if the story made more sense or took us to better places. I’m not sure if they were constrained by certain limitations of time vs. budget vs. footage/story, but it just didn’t work for me.  It left me cold in a way that’s rare for a Black Mirror episode, though I still look forward to whatever Charlie Brooker and company want to throw at us next time.

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is a D-level celebrity with delusions of grandeur. A writer, critic, creative director, editor, broadcaster, and occasional filmmaker, his thoughts have appeared on radio, television, in print, and on the web. He is a juror on the Polaris Music Prize and the Juno Awards. He loves Saskatoon. He has horrible night terrors and apocalyptic dreams.

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