Choices, choices, choices. Life is filled with choices. Do you choose to wear one outfit over another? Do you choose the chicken or pork? Do you study more or decide to go to sleep? With so many choices, we rarely know the direct outcome of our decision until it has occurred.
Within the a newer episode of the show Black Mirror titled Bandersnatch, a boy named Stephan has a dream – to make a specific choose your own adventure book (conveniently also titled Bandersnatch) into a hit video game. The viewer is able to control the actions of the protagonist, with some choices being as superficial as a choice of cereal, to choosing how you will murder his father. (Yeah… minor spoilers up ahead, choose whether to read more or not… if you have that choice)
The concept of the episode intrigued me: a whole realm of possibilities, each action forging a new ending and path for the plot to follow. While exciting, I found myself anxious to know all the endings. I was kept at the end of my seat for each decision, unaware of how my choice will effect the outcome. I felt that even though I was unable to physically click the mouse to choose an option, the choices made were not far off of what I would have done, had I watched this by myself and not with a class. Eerie music, tense scenes and life changing paths allowed me to stay full engaged throughout the watch.
The writers of the show intended to not only entertain, but to spark conversation. In the age of technology, how much choice does one really have? The show uses the post modern element of irony, for in order for Stephan to make a successful choose your own adventure game, he is at the mercy of the audience. We decide what Stephan does: if he breaks his computer, yells at his dad, takes LSD, jumps off a ledge and more. If we are influencing Stephan’s actions, what is influencing our selection of these said actions? What force is the viewer following to choose one option over another? Do we have true free will? I would argue that the writers have an answer: no. Whether influenced by an outside God-like form, or influenced by society and the technological social medias we envelope ourselves in, our ideas and preconceived notions arise from other sources, rather than our inner selves. We can never fully have control over our own actions, since someone else has invoked these ideas or biases into each and everyone of us. Through this lens, another post modern element, late capitalism, shines through the gaps. In the beginning of the episode, the viewer is faced with either accepting or declining an offer for Stephan to work with a large video gaming company. If one chooses to accept the offer, Stephan loses control over the production of the game, and it eventually receives a low star rating. By going the corporate route, Stephan’s creativity is stomped on, and his idea is pushed forward for monetary gain. Late capitalism describes the injustices that occur when the world becomes focuses on money and business, which was evident in the episode.
After personal reflection of the piece, I decided to look to other critics. I wanted a wide range of opinions, so I read a blog post from a librarian, an article from The New Yorker, and a piece from Vulture. I agreed with most of their points regarding the show. While I loved all the different pathways the story of Bandersnatch could go, journalist Jen Chaney from Vulture brings up a good point: “when there’s already too much TV and many traditional, scripted series (especially on Netflix) drag on for longer than they should, the last thing I want to be told is, “Oh, from now on, every episode you watch can go on forever.” The episode is supposed to be around 90 minutes, but any curious viewer would go back to all the save points to explore all possible endings. If future shows start to adopt this model, I will have less time to enjoy other shows and movies. Everyone has limited free time, so does one spend it on one episode, or consume other forms of media? In the end, as long as the person is enjoying themselves, I don’t think it matters what they’re watching. Choose what you want to watch and spend your time, and but I highly recommend (or maybe demand of you… your call) you choose to watch Bandernatch.
Enjoy my notes that I took during the episode: