OK, so, normally when I do these they aren’t much more than a glorified plot synopsis, but how do I do that for something where I choose the outcome to one degree or another? I’m not likely to rewatch this for every possible ending any time soon, so let’s look at what I did see and try to figure out what makes this all a Black Mirror story.
You know, besides the fact series creator Charlie Brooker wrote it.
As it is, knowing this is Black Mirror, I didn’t expect any of the endings to be happy ones. I looked around online after I finished, and apparently I got the ending that is closest to a happy one, and it still ends with the protagonist dead.
But this initially struck me as a weird Black Mirror. Set mostly in the thematically significant year of 1984, a young computer programer named Stefan is trying to finish coding a video game based on a massive “choose your own adventure” style book called Bandersnatch. At various points, the home viewer can make decisions for Stefan, and I gotta say, to the show’s credit, there were few if any pauses to download stuff with each choice, and if I didn’t hit the choose button fast enough, the show chose one for me. That happened once.
But one thing that became clear was this was a somewhat weird episode for Black Mirror beyond the obvious gimmick. One of my early decisions was apparently wrong, and Stefan says he’ll do it all again and…I got to do it all again a second time, this time making the “correct” decision insofar as any decision on Black Mirror can be considered “correct”. And then something happens….Stefan seems to get into a somewhat tricky position where he somehow knows he’s being controlled and he may or may not be able to reset reality to take different paths.
That didn’t seem like a very Black Mirror-ish type of episode where everything is grounded more in some kind of advanced technology. Where was the advanced technology screwing up Stefan’s life? Sure, the game was making him a little crazy and he had issues to start with involving his dead mother and the minor role his father played in that outcome, mostly involving a toy rabbit whose loss prevented Stefan from going with his mom on that fatal train trip.
So, where was the technology being abused?
Well, it occurred to me it was me using it.
Yes, it was me, making decisions for Stefan…and he knew it. He resisted once or twice and asked who was controlling him, and for some fun meta humor, I actually chose to try and explain Netflix to him. He didn’t get it.
But were these decisions set up to make things “fair” or “nice”? I tried really hard to pick the more benevolent options, but there weren’t always benevolent ones, and some didn’t even seem to make much difference. Heck, once or twice I had an option of one. So, knowing things would not end well for Stefan, I mostly worked to make it less awful. Was I successful? C’mon. This is Black Mirror. About all I can say is after all my choices, Stefan ended with Stefan more or less at peace with his life. That’s something.
So, let’s try something less depressing and go back to True Detective next week.