With Netflix touting more than a trillion possible permutations for its first grown-up stab at an interactive movie, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, there's a lot to unravel.
Netflix has been making interactive choose-your-own-adventure videos for more than a year, but Bandersnatch is the first that isn't a cartoon for kids. The interactivity is simple: A or B choices that branch the plot. But Bandersnatch gives the model a self-referential spin by building the story around a choose-your-own-adventure novel.
Netflix press materials note the movie has "five main endings, with multiple variants of each." Discussions on Black Mirror subreddit, Discord and social media have tried untangling the knot. The pathways can be so convoluted that Netflix has nudged viewers to find scenes that few have uncovered weeks after the movie's premiere.
In fact, Netflix said that of the five main endings, one in which Stefan follows his mother onto the train remains the most hidden, with the fewest number of viewers taking that path. The company has shared that 73 percent of viewers chose for Stefan to accept Tuckersoft's job offer, and that British viewers were slightly less inclined to spill tea than viewers in the rest of the world.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings even broke into the company's earnings discussion in January to disclose that 73 percent of Bandersnatch viewers chose Frosties over Sugar Puffs.
After two relatively inconsequential interactions about cereal and music, the story starts to offer crucial choices that take you to different plot points or assign attributes to your account that determine what choices you may see in the future. These determine the possible passwords you can enter into the locked cabinet in Stefan's dad's office, and they influence the options for how to respond when Stefan calls out "Give me a sign!" when he's grappling with the idea that somebody is controlling him.
Whatever Netflix defines as an "ending" to add up to "five main endings" isn't really clear, but here are some of the permutations and endings that viewers have mapped out:
- You choose for Stefan to work with Tuckersoft. Backed by a team, the game is a messy failure with a zero-out-of-five rating. After watching the game review on TV, Stefan yells out that he wants to try again and you loop back with the opportunity to reject Tuckersoft's offer instead.
- Stefan jumps from Colin's balcony, and the game is published after the "tragic accident" without getting a rating. You're eventually forced to have Stefan discuss his mother's death with Dr. Haynes.
- You take the pills that Dr. Haynes prescribes. The game is published but with Stefan's madness under control, it's a failure with a zero-out-of-five rating. But hey, nobody dies this time!
- When Stefan calls out for whoever is controlling him to give him a "sign," if you choose Netflix, the story takes a meta turn where you either end up with Stefan laughing maniacally as he's dragged out of the building or Stefan facing a reality where he's actually on a movie shoot, much to his confusion.
- When Stefan explores his father's locked study, if he enters the passcode TOY on the file cabinet and then chooses to leave with his mother to board the train that derails and kills her, Stefan dies in the present day in his therapist's office because of a timeline paradox.
- When Stefan calls out for whoever is controlling him to give him a "sign," if you choose PAC, Stefan learns about a government conspiracy, kills his father and ends up in prison after calling Dr. Haynes' office; the Bandersnatch game is released with a 2.5 star-rating.
- When Stefan calls out for whoever is controlling him to give him a "sign," if you chose the little glyph that Bandersnatch novel author Jerome F. Davies painted all over his walls, then Stefan ends up in prison without Bandersnatch ever being released. Various choices determine whether Stefan ends up in prison after seeing (or sometimes killing) Colin, Tucker, or Colin's girlfriend Kitty.
- If you choose to make Stefan chop up his dad's body, Bandersnatch is released to acclaim with a five-out-of-five rating, but a present-day news report explains the game was pulled after Stefan was imprisoned for murder. A report describes how Colin's daughter, the baby Pearl that viewers meet briefly during the trip to Colin's apartment, is a game programmer who wants to revive Bandersnatch. She encounters a bug similar to the one Stefan does, and your choice about whether she destroys her computer or pours tea on it seems to loop you back to earlier points in the story.
The interactive story seems to eventually force some choices. No matter how much I tried to avoid talking about Stefan's mother with the therapist Dr. Haynes, eventually I had no choice but to hear Stefan hash out his mommy issues. And no matter how many times I just wanted to bury Stefan's dad instead of (gag) chopping up his body, the story eventually just went to repeat loops until I agreed to dismemberment. (Of course, the grisliest choice led to the Bandersnatch game getting the highest possible critical rating...)
But the way that movie's interactivity is set up, it also seems that after you've followed the course of a few of the endings, it'll keep prompting you to return to certain choice points that are crucial to unlocking parts of the story you haven't seen yet. It also seems that you get different endings presented as the "official" end -- with video vignettes interspersed into the end credits like other linear episodes often do -- depending on where you arrive around the 90-minute mark.
And there are sideways trips that the story can take depending on various factors.
Sometimes when you choose to pick up the book before Stefan goes to sleep, he dreams that he breaks his bathroom mirror when he touches it. Other times, if you choose to pick up the book, he dreams that he can reach through the mirror to travel back in time.
Netflix's UK and Ireland Twitter account teased viewers on Jan. 8 by suggesting they have Stefan "try picking up the family photo, ~twice~." That might not be a hard science as our particular playthrough required selecting the photo three times. This will trigger a scene where Stefan is working in his room and suddenly Jerome F. Davies appears before stabbing Stefan in the chest. Stefan will then wake up, the attack being an apparent dream, and the story will continue.
You can also unlock different nightmares (or realities?) depending on the password you enter into the father's locked file cabinet. TOY seems to be the only way to get to the ending where Stefan dies in his present-day therapist's office because you choose for him to join his mother on the train in the past. PAC explains a government conspiracy that's experimenting on and surveilling Stefan, while JFD and PAX give you some creepy jump scares.
There's also a post-credits scene where Stefan listens to his Walkman but instead of hearing music he hears digital noise. Discussion on Reddit says that decoding the sound results in a QR code that leads to a separate online Easter egg.
Some viewers have speculated that some elements of the story are chosen at random, a little chaos purposely inserted to drive everyone crazy who attempts to flowchart all the different narrative branches.
And there are additional Easter eggs sprinkled outside the video as well. A website for Tuckersoft, the gaming company in the movie, has a landing page that looks like something you'd load with an AOL dial-up connection. Its job recruitment page is styled like a 1980s magazine ad, with actor Asim Chaudhry's Mohan Tucker pictured.
And the Tuckersoft game that Colin is developing when he first meets Stefan -- Nohzdyve, an early allusion to the trip off the balcony that Colin and/or Stefan can take later in some Bandersnatch plot branches -- is available to play through an emulator.
Mike Sorrentino contributed to this story.
Editors' note: This story was first published Dec. 28, 2018 and is updated as more Bandersnatch pathways are discovered.
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