* SOME SPOILERS AHEAD!
There have been rumors swirling around about an interactive Black Mirror episode since this time last year, when they released their fourth season on Netflix. The idea has been one that studios have been thinking about for a while, and honestly, it was inevitable. In the present day, we no longer watch TV on television. We watch from our laptops or stream from our phones, and these devices are inherently interactive. They are made to be used & manipulated. So why shouldn’t the media we consume with them be interactive too?
When I heard that Black Mirror would be the one to finally do what so many had tried, I felt there was nothing more fitting. Black Mirror truly was the perfect program to test this new interface out on. And make no mistake — this is a test run. Do not think this will be the only interactive program we will get out of Netflix. This is just the beginning.
So just how good did “Bandersnatch” do at being a Chose Your Own Adventure? I admit that I was at first a skeptic and a cynic. I thought that it would be unimpressive and offer very few actual options to choose from, so I was pleasantly surprised with how much viewers actually got to pick, and how they show seemed to write around them.
The episode also did a clever job of warming the viewer up to choices by having them pick small and seemingly irrelevant things, like which cereal main character Stefan was going eat for breakfast, or which album he was going to buy. As the story progresses, however, the viewer gets to make bigger and more impactful choices. I also that it was really cool how the program gave the viewer options that had only one real possible choice, but then that choice ended up being the wrong one, so that viewers could learn what happened when they hit an end or chose an option that verged from the main storyline.
Additionally (and not necessarily to its benefit or the detriment), the whole episode is very meta. The actual plot of the episode is about a boy — Stefan — in the 1980s who wants to build a Choose Your Own Adventure game based of a Choose Your Own Adventure book. At first I was annoyed at how many callbacks there were to the “loss of free will” and “absence of choice,” but then they did yet another very clever thing and made a point of how meta the whole situation was — at one point, Stefan feels like he is out of control of his choices, like someone is controlling him, and there is an option to explain to him via the computer that he is indeed being controlled by someone on a futuristic platform called Netflix. (This seems to be sort of a joke option because the episode ends just 15 minutes later with a ridiculous fight in the therapist’s office before bumping you back to choose the other, more story-driven option).
Moments like these become funnier the longer you watch, and it’s clear they threw things like that in for the sure inability of people to resist choosing the “Netflix” option. It’s clear they know their audience very well.
Overall, it was an ok story with some really thrilling moments, and a much better executed program than I anticipated. It seems they even kept the point away from it being a particularly GREAT piece of writing, because they wanted viewers to just enjoy the ride for what it was. And honestly, I really did. It was fun to make the choices yourself and see what trouble you could get into. It’s fun to know that you can go back and choose again and discover something else.
And of course, the episode was incredibly successful and well received, meaning that this is just the beginning of what is sure to be the next big trend in streaming television programs. Just like the Sugar Puffs vs. Frosties option, this was just a warm up.
Final Score: A-