Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, Netflix’s Horrifyingly Fun Interactive Episode

“Bandersnatch” is a stand-alone interactive, episode from Netflix’s original series Black Mirror, where you get to choose the fate of the protagonist Stefan. Do not read this article if you are avoiding spoilers.


Gianna Jirak and Chloe Koulefianou

Netflix has “snatched” the attention of millions of viewers with Bandersnatch, a stand-alone episode of the hit show Black Mirror that adds interactive game-play to make the sinister implications of the show even more chilling.

Bandersnatch is set in 1984 and is centered around a young game programmer named Stefan Butler. Within the first five minutes appears your first choice; Netflix prompts you to choose between what cereal Stefan eats for breakfast: Frosties or Sugar Puffs. If a choice is not made in the allotted amount of time, Netflix chooses one for you. Once a certain path is completed, the player is given the option to go back and make a different choice. The player subsequently plays until they reach a final timeline.

As we follow Stefan throughout his day, we find out he is in the midst of creating a video game based off Jerome F. Davies’ book Bandersnatch, a choose-your-own-adventure story where the reader gets to decide his path. The title and the choose-your-own-adventure aspect parallel the movie, creating a sort of inception. The player is controlling the main character of Bandersnatch, as the protagonist is controlling, creating, and reading Bandersnatch.

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The appeal of Bandersnatch rests almost exclusively upon the novelty of the game interface paired with a fatalistic message that usually accompanies Black Mirror episodes. It asks the question “who is really in control?” As we get further into the episode; Stefan slowly realizes that something or someone is controlling him. His realization both amuses and unsettles the player because while it’s slightly funny that he’s just now realizing this, it leaves the player wondering if they themselves are really even in control. If it’s Netflix prompting us to make these choices, oftentimes not choices we want to make, are they really our decisions? Or does the media, some higher entity, or fate control us all?

Bandersnatch brings up many interesting and conspiratorial points about the idea of time, destiny, and reality in Colin’s Pac Man speech. During the speech, he goes on and on about how there are multiple realities and what you do in on of them contributes to what happens in another, paralleling the story line and choices of Bandersnatch. He also discusses the concept that we don’t control the choices we make, and that “When you make a decision, you think it’s you doing it, but it’s not. It’s the spirit out there, that’s connected to our world that decides what we do and we just have to go along for the ride.” The most notable point in the speech has to be when Colin starts talking about Pac Man, and how “PAC” stands for Program and Control. “He’s Program and Control Man the whole thing’s a metaphor, he thinks he’s got free will but really he’s trapped in a maze, in a system, all he can do is consume, he’s pursued by demons that are probably just in his own head, and even if he does manage to escape by slipping out one side of the maze, what happens? He comes right back in the other side. People think it’s a happy game, it’s not a happy game, it’s a nightmare world and the worst thing is it’s real and we live in it,” was his claim, and it’s a rather interesting metaphor in the sense that it leads to the question “do we represent Pac Man?”

When you make a decision, you think it’s you doing it, but it’s not. It’s the spirit out there, that’s connected to our world that decides what we do and we just have to go along for the ride.”

— Colin Ritman

Colin Ritman, the prodigious video game programmer that played the role of informing Stefan and the viewer of the themes of the film, while vital, could have been portrayed in a much more effective way. In one of the timelines, Colin convinces Stefan to take LSD and jump off a roof, contributing to the normalization of drug use for the sake of “enlightenment.” He had the sole purpose of adding yet another twist in the convoluted mess of a plot line, that of the existence of a parallel universe. His story and the theme that accompanies it would have been striking had it been given more attention or maybe even a stand-alone episode, but instead, it was rushed and sprinkled into an already complex narrative as if someone had decided to add cumin to a dish that simply did not need cumin.

Despite the popularity of this film, the plot and cinematography leave something to be desired. It seems as if Charlie Brooker, the creator of the show, had just discovered this interactive interface (which first debuted in mid-2017 with the children’s show Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale) and decided to simply play around with it, not much unlike when people receive a new eye shadow palette and go to school the next day with an entire rainbow on their eyelids. This is not to say that the film was not stellar in production, original, and certainly revolutionary to the future of Netflix shows, but the plot could have been a lot more streamlined and cohesive. The transitions from each parallel possibility were somewhat jarring and the point of the whole film was lost somewhere between the action movie reminiscent fighting scene with Stefan’s therapist and Stefan’s father’s perpetual beige (or sometimes tan, to spice it up) turtleneck.

As with every moderately entertaining Netflix show, the media has blown up with memes, raving fans, and conspiracy theories. Many of the memes have started to mix with Netflix’s other popular movie, Birdbox, the punchline usually being that making choices for Stefan is like wearing a blindfold (as they do in Birdbox.) Notable conspiracy theories are that the first seemingly insignificant choice you make (Sugar Puffs or Frosties) will ultimately determine an ill fate.

In Bandersnatch, there are multiple endings available for the player to reach if they make certain choices:

1. Stefan’s Video Game is a Failure

When the player first ventures to the video game company, Tuckersoft, where Stefan is going to demo Bandersnatch, they are given the option of accepting the offer of Mohan Thakur, the owner of the company. He offers Stefan a deal: he’ll provide everything he needs to make the game in the company headquarters, and even Colin Rickman (Stefan’s idol) will help him out. If the player says yes, they’ll be pushed forward to the games big release, where Stefan and his father are watching a review of it on television. The game gets an awful review, and Stefan says, “I’ll try again.” This takes you to a screen that allows the return to the moment when the agreement to the deal was chosen and allows a change in the decision and the subsequent progression in the story.

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2. Stefan Jumps Off the Roof

To get this ending, you’ll have to decline the game offer and decide to work on it at home. After many long months of working, Stefan’s father makes him get out of the house to go to “lunch”, they end up at Stefan’s therapist’s office. Stefan storms off when he sees Colin, his idol, walking down the street. They talk and Colin invites him home to help him get out of “the hole,” the thing that’s giving him trouble with finishing his game. When they get into the house, Stefan meets Colin’s partner and child, then Colin takes him to a back room. They sit together and end up doing LSD. During their hallucinations, Colin goes on a rant about time, parallel universes, and Pac Man. They end up going to the balcony, and Colin proposes that since there are many universes, you can never die, and he’ll prove it. He asks Stefan to choose who jumps off the roof, and if you choose Stefan, he dies.

3. Stefan Discovers That He’s On a Movie Set

To get this ending, you have to choose Netflix when given the option to reveal to Stefan who is controlling him. He’ll tell his father that someone from the future is controlling him, and he’ll go to the therapist. At the therapist, they’ll discuss the person from the future whose controlling him and she asks “If this was a game and someone was controlling you, wouldn’t there be a little more action?” Regardless of what choice you make here, it will lead to Stefan throwing tea at his therapist and them nearly fighting; you’ll be given the options to fight or jump out the window. You need to choose jump out the window, and when he tries to open the window, the camera will pan out to show the entire set. A director will come up to Stefan and ask what he’s doing, and Stefan looks around in utter confusion, leading to even more inception, as you’re watching a movie inside a movie.

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4. Stefan Discovers His Father Has Been Experimenting On Him

If the viewer picks the “PAC” password when trying to enter the safe, it will case Stefan to open it, revealing a plethora of files, including files on himself. He finds recordings of his therapy sessions and pictures of himself from throughout his life. Stefan even finds out that his mother’s “death” was falsified; using a method called “trauma inception,” his father (although who’s to say that the man he is living with is his real father) gave him purple treats he laced with a substance to make Stefan believe that his obsession with his stuffed rabbit is what subsequently killed his mother. In a rage, he kills his father and calls his therapist, warning her that she’s next. Stefan ends up to prison, watching the game reviewer on his television.

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5. Stefan Dies With His Mother

To reach this ending, choose the book when Netflix prompts you to choose between the book and the key. It leads Stefan to steal the key to his father’s locked room, where the player then chooses “TOY.” This leads to Stefan retrieving his precious rabbit toy, traveling to his past through his bathroom mirror to put the toy back under his bed for his past self to find it. Netflix then gives you the decision to go with Stefan’s mother or stay behind. If you choose to go, the train still crashes, killing both of you. The scene cuts back to 1984, where Stefan lies dead in his therapist’s office due to unknown reasons. It is implied that Stefan’s death as a child ends all the timelines and the credits roll, finally ending the episode.

6. Hidden Endings

Unbeknownst to many Bandersnatch fans, Netflix placed more hard-to-reach endings in the midst of the parallel universes. According to a January 8th tweet, if the player picks up the family photo a second time, Jerome F. Davies appears and stabs Stefan.

One ending, you are able to make Stefan kill his father as a child. In yet another ending, it takes the player back to the bus scene, where instead of the two tapes the player had to choose between originally, Stefan inserts a cassette titled Bandersnatch, which plays a series of beeps and whirs and the screen goes black. The audio leads to a QR code which then leads to a previously blank Tuckersoft website where one can view descriptions for games mentioned in the film and more.

In conclusion, Bandersnatch, while extremely popular and unique, isn’t all it’s cut out to be. Sure, it’s fun to be able to “choose your path” but there could’ve been a more interesting plot.  The highlight was being able to go back and change your choices, as well as the challenge to try and get every ending. In theory, Bandersnatch could’ve been revolutionary, but it ended up simply being a good beginning to hopefully a long line of Netflix interactive episodes and movies. This description of the film is simply too brisk to replace the fun, horrifying, and occasionally confusing experience of playing it yourself.

*Due to the sensitive nature of some of the endings, they were omitted from the article.