Netflix’s 90-minute Black Mirror episode with a new feature in which you are the interactive ‘director’ in which you can choose the direction of the plot. Not only is this a new feature to Black Mirror but a new feature to television.
The protagonist is Stefan Butler, a young, struggling programmer, who is intrigued with a book called Bandersnatch that he finds in his late mother’s belongings. To kick off his career in gaming, he decides to start programming a video game based off of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series of books. The book that is within the TV show is foreshadowing the way your decision making affects the plot. Along the way, Stefan gets offered a job after his pitch to Mohan Thakur, the CEO of a gaming company. Another character suggests that he should not take the job at the programming company. It’s up to you to make the choice. Will you heed the vague warning or follow through with your plans? (Netflix released data about viewer decision-making that revealed 73% of viewers chose for Stefan to accept the job. I guess we like to take risks!)
Some of the decisions you make can take you down a very short journey of around 30 minutes. Or you might continue through the maximum run time of 90 minutes.
The character talks about his sense that he lacks control in his life—and you the viewer know it to be true since you are making many of his decisions for him. In some possible timelines, you become a character yourself and decide what you want to be known as, whether it be Netflix, or PAC (programming and control), or “Bandersnatch” or “Netflix.” Sometimes, though, Stefan is able to retake some of his agency and reject your decision, asking who is trying to control him and why. It can be a clever and, at times, dizzying experience.
Netflix’s smart thinking will make people keep watching to achieve a different outcome each time. “Bandersnatch” has created a greater number of overall streams as not only do fans watch the episode once, they will continue watching over and over to view a different ending and understand the story better, seeing the whole from a wider angle. With more than 10 endings, it truly makes you want to watch it 10 times. Whether the decision is what type of cereal Stefan will choose for breakfast or killing off a main character, it’ll take you on a different journey to the end.
It is uncertain whether Netflix has started a new form of scripted TV, or if this will be chalked up as just a gimmick or experiment. But the interactive feature teaches us a lesson that small changes can affect someone’s life drastically. Black Mirror: Bandersnatch makes us wonder, are there people out there making our decisions for us?