a “live” review by the Crow and the Azure-Winged Magpie.
NOTE: We will return to this post soon.
— ᴘʟᴀʏ-ʙʏ-ᴘʟᴀʏ — | — ʀᴇᴠɪᴇᴡ/ᴀɴᴀʟʏsɪs —
WARNING: This post will contain MAJOR spoilers.
— ɪɴᴛʀᴏ: Bʟᴀᴄᴋ Mɪʀʀᴏʀ | BANDERSNATCH —
The Crow: It has been a long, long time since we last touched on Black Mirror; and despite many attempts to return to the series, we never have. That first attempt needs a thorough do-over, but for the moment, we’re happy to leave it be. For now, let’s talk the upcoming “Episode 20”: Bandersnatch — in the moments leading up to its release.
Bandersnatch was only announced a little over 24-hours ago. Not only is it considered a “feature-length film” (the first to officially be considered so under the Black Mirror banner). Set in 1984, it follows a fresh-faced game developer as he enters a nightmare (or something similar) whilst attempting to adapt a novel into a video game (I’m in mind of Hideo Kojima at Konami back in the old days). The “episode” is structured in the style of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” experience, and features over five hours of video in total.
This sounds right up my “previous incarnation‘s” (as someone stresses) alley — and therefore; by extension, mine. Little else has been revealed about the project apart from the fact that Fionn Whitehead (from Dunkirk), Asim Chaudhry (of British Airways Safetey Video fame), Alice Lowe (of Hot Fuzz), Craig Parkinson, and Will Poulter feature in the production.
Of course, the title Bandersnatch is a reference to Mr Dodgson’s creation for his 1872 novel Through the Looking Glass, and is described in the book as “The Frumious” (please ignore the abomination that appeared in Tim Burton’s 2010 movie Alice in Wonderland, which is due a mauling at my hands). The name was referenced in passing during the second episode of Black Mirror series three: Playtest, and that’s all the information we have available for now.
As for the moment, I’m off to put the kettle on. When the Azure-Winged Magpie’s finished writing her latest review, she’ll be popping in to say hello and explain how things are going to work on this post. And just because I trust the said Azure-Winged Magpie as far as I can throw her with her “character”, I’m going to pre-emptively include a
for her to see upon opening this post.
— Crow out.
— ᴘʟᴀʏ-ʙʏ-ᴘʟᴀʏ | BANDERSNATCH —
The Azure-Winged Magpie: Oh #$*£&! I’m late!
HI-HI YOU LOT! Love and kisses! We’re loading up as I’m typing. The way this is going to work is: the Crow types and updates the post. Then I have my go. If we come to a SELECTION SCREEN, we both choose what we want. If we disagree… I can’t beat him up since I’m not really sitting with him this time. So… we’re going to FLIP A COIN (or something. Don’t worry. I’ll beat him up later).
Aaand… the Netflix (laptop) app doesn’t work for the interaction thingie. Great. Hang on. Re-syncing with the Crow from the ole browser. Back in a few ticks.
— A-W Magpie out.
The Crow: So far, Fionn Whitehead’s character has been revealed to be the mind behind Bandersnatch. He’s off to meet a Mr Thakur (Asim Chaudhry, no doubt).
Choice One is a no-brainer for the both of us. The winner is:
— ᴄʜᴏɪᴄᴇ ᴏɴᴇ: FROSTIES —
Choice Two is a quicker selection:
— ᴄʜᴏɪᴄᴇ ᴛᴡᴏ: NOW 2 —
Mr Thakur (Asim Chaudhry) is a B&H and Lion bar man. Poor taste. Whitehead’s character is revealed as Stefan (unless it was mentioned earlier and we missed it).
And there’s the Metalhead reference from the promotional photo above. We’re introduced to Colin Ritman (Poulter); a legend apparently. He’s just made a game named Nosedive, and we’re very heavy with the references early on.
Choices such as those presented to us are features in Stefan (Butler)’s Bandersnatch game. Still pretty tame so far.
Jerome F. Davies. So that’s what we’re called.
Mr Thakur’s very generous. His offer of a few desks and a team gets a unanimous
— ᴄʜᴏɪᴄᴇ ᴛʜʀᴇᴇ: ACCEPT —
from the both of us, no matter what “Col” says.
And then, we skip to:
FIVE MONTHS LATER
— Crow out.
The Azure-Winged Magpie: …we bombed, you lot. Our game went and failed.
Oh… we’re back to the beginning…
OH I SEE WHERE THIS IS GOING! But only Colin and Stefan know ‘part from us! And THE BOOK’S a CYOA too! But since we’re warriors…
— ᴄʜᴏɪᴄᴇ ᴛʜʀᴇᴇ ᴘᴛ2: ACCEPT —
We have to refuse… (◕︿◕✿)
Oookay, then… REFUSE IT IS.
(I know we’re being slow, but this is tougher than I thought… juggling these two things).
Aaand… YAY! They like it! But it looks like that damn Col’s taking most of the credit! 4/5 tho… that’s good. No? So Stefan’s seeing what I guess is his shrink (it’s Tina!) and he’s telling her ALL about it being “too good to be true”. The Crow says he thinks he knows where this thing’s going already, but he’s a showoff. So that’s that.
And oooh! Our boy’s got daddy issues! He tells Ms. Shrink-Police Officer-Person-Woman that he feels “monitored” (and oh yes… I’m watching him LIKE A MAGPIE!). There’s an “anniversary looming”. His mum ded? His mum ded. Yep.
And I messed up. I missed a choice. The Crow was off making his tea so we were all out of sync. (◕︿◕✿)
We got the next one, tho! NOT WITHOUT RABBIT WE’RE NOT GOING!
— ᴄʜᴏɪᴄᴇ ꜰᴏᴜʀ: NO —
And it’s because of our boy looking for rabbit that his mum ded (◕︿◕✿) and it ain’t like his pop gets away either.
Imma hand things back to the Crow cause I think he’ll be faster with this until I’ve got some Captain’s orders in me. Back in a few. But before I go!
— ᴄʜᴏɪᴄᴇ ꜰɪᴠᴇ: PHAEDRA —
The Crow: Stefan eyes a novel akin to what I’d assume is the Exegesis, and we carry on through this “media shop”. Another “Metal HEDD” poster appears, and we’re back on a bus. It seems my initial suspicions were correct, and we are talking about someone similar to my “former self”, what with the appearance of a chapter titled “Mind Control Conspiracies” in the novel “The Lives of Jerome F. Davies” .
Stefan starts drafting his game, and going about his day. The days pass by as he works. He gets pushed into a slight altercation with his dad and the Magpie screams at me we should…
— ᴄʜᴏɪᴄᴇ sɪx: THROW TEA OVER COMPUTER —
And wouldn’t you guess it? It’s the wrong option. I’m taking over the decisions from this point onwards.
— ᴄʜᴏɪᴄᴇ sɪx ᴘᴛ2: SHOUT AT DAD —
So, of course Stefan gets up and starts swearing at his dad, as kids his age are wont to do. At least he says sorry, quick.
His dad carts him off to “Saint Juniper’s” Medical Practice, where of course wonderful things happen. His psychiatrist Dr Haynes operates here
— ᴄʜᴏɪᴄᴇ sᴇᴠᴇɴ: SEE DR HAYNES —
Stefan has achieved a sort of knowledge of us, poking around in his world — “guiding” him, as we are. Very PKD-styled in its paranoid fiction, Bandersnatch is.
— ᴄʜᴏɪᴄᴇ ᴇɪɢʜᴛ: BITE NAILS —
Our latest choice leads to rebellion on Stefan’s part. I find it interesting that it comes so early. I have a feeling that Dr Haynes (Alice Howe)’s insistence on having us “call her” is going to factor in, soon. What’s the number, is the question.
Let’s assist Stefan in his rebellion, shall we?
— ᴄʜᴏɪᴄᴇ ɴɪɴᴇ: FLUSH THEM —
THREE WEEKS LATER
Stefan continues working, and he’s making visible progress.
NOTE: For those wondering, we are taking screenshots along the way. We’ll drop them into the post when we take our break at 0920 GMT.
Stefan is running through the game with Mr Thakur on delivery day. He elects to select an option to [KILL AGENT] who’s regarding him [WITH SUSPICION], and the game crashes. It turns out he’s pulled a me (and I do mean me), and been adding things to his product at the last minute. He’s been trying to keep the content of the game as close to its creator’s vision as he can, as it happens. And he’s insistent that the feature remain in the game. He manages to push Mr Thakur into giving him an extended deadline because of his fanatical obsession with his hero’s quirks.
Col gives Stefan a VHS tape of a documentary regarding “JFD” for “inspiration”.
- The tiger from Frosties returns, tongue-in-cheek, possibly as a callback to our first choice. And here’s where I have to pause to list out what’s going on:
- JFD was self-administering hallucinogens
- He had become obsessed with finishing the “multiple story paths” of Bandersnatch — something Col’s dialogue has suggested he achieved (Garden of Forking Paths, anyone?)
- He was sketching glyphs (one inparticular) that represented realities “splitting into two”
- He “was convinced he had no control over his fate because his wife was spiking him with psychoactive drugs at the behest of a demon called PAX, a sort of Lion figure”
And so he killed her, and drew the glyph on the walls in her blood. And he was sure that he existed in a slip-stream of realities. Pretty normal as far as the paranoid mind goes.
I gave the A-W Magpie the next choice, and this is what the result was:
— ᴄʜᴏɪᴄᴇ ᴛᴇɴ: DESTROY COMPUTER —
And at this point, we’re offered a very interesting choice. One which we have no choice but to take. When we return, the A-W Magpie shall be your shepherd. Our choice was:
— ᴄʜᴏɪᴄᴇ ᴇʟᴇᴠᴇɴ: FOLLOW COLIN —
The Azure-Winged Magpie: Aaand we’re back! We’re following Colin.
Stefan walks away from Saint Junipero Medical Centre and starts making booties after Colin who he saw there back when we were there. And they meet up and go off on an adventure! And where are they going? Only Col’s council flat-looking house (nice view, actually)! Stefan gets to meet Col’s family Kitty and Pearl. Col keeps talking bout how Stefan’s gone got himself stuck “IN THE HOLE”.
So Col takes him into this other room where there’s this MAHOOSIVE couch and… waitamo… this isn’t THERAPY all over again right? Right?
Col lights up a big fat one and starts Stefan off on the green stuff…
And while we’re doing new things… why don’t we jus go and say
— ᴄʜᴏɪᴄᴇ ᴛᴡᴇʟᴠᴇ: YES —
I mean… this is some Matrix $#!7 up in here right now… just with lotsa Lucy (and someone who needs to brush their dang tongue)! Aaand… yeah. These two trippin 84115 RN…
AND WHOA! WHOA! HOLD UP!
CROW GET BACK HERE!
The Crow: And there it is. I don’t usually like saying “I told you so”, but
I told you so.
And it’s Ubik, no less. We’re going into honeycomb territory, it appears. Some truths are aired, and Colin — as are some nice metaphors, some of which I’m likely to have spouted the like of in pubs now and again (as we all do when discussing “the World” after lock-in).
Colin decides it’s a good idea to take a “leap of faith” in his “other timelines” by taking a plunge off his balcony.
I’d say our following choice is easy:
— ᴄʜᴏɪᴄᴇ ᴛʜɪʀᴛᴇᴇɴ: COLIN —
And it goes well, I suppose. Even PAX (I guess) comes to join in on the celebrations after Colin’s little proof-of-concept.
And we’re back at Saint Juniper’s. But a question that comes to mind is: did Colin’s leap of faith really happen? We’re led to believe it based on the immediate lines of dialogue. But let me propose a slight notion, here (not to do with the narrative):
I think this is an alright work of paranoid fiction so far, but it’s best described as a “gateway” drug to the real stuff. I’m not sensing any greatness, yet.
He visits Dr Haynes. More units of NOHZDYVE are boxed on delivery day, and no one’s heard from Colin, who’s probably — and excuse the language — “fucked off to Amsterdam”. The game crashes where we know it will. The VHS is delivered, and we’re coming up to the furthest point in the timeline again.
So, of course, this time, we:
— ᴄʜᴏɪᴄᴇ ᴛᴇɴ ᴘᴛ2: HIT DESK —
And we come to a pretty basic moment concerning the Problem of Free Will in many models of thought: the Glyph. The glyph simply shows us a YES/NO problem. And that’s what all of this has been about — binary decisions.
Our next choice is:
— ᴄʜᴏɪᴄᴇ ꜰᴏᴜʀᴛᴇᴇɴ: PICK UP BOOK —
…and Stefan reads himself to sleep. Stefan wakes up later in the night, steals his sleeping father’s keys, and enters his father’s study. There, he comes upon a safe, where he is to enter a password. Unfortunately, before I could make my choice, the A-W Magpie had already clicked on one option, so that’ll have to be our choice, lest we lose sync.
— ᴄʜᴏɪᴄᴇ ꜰɪꜰᴛᴇᴇɴ: PAC —
It works, and Stefan comes across his medical records (what?). And, of course, he finds a folder titled the: Programs and Control Study (P.A.C.S). And it turns out that… yes: Stefan has been controlled — all his life — by his “father”. This is a bit of a strange turn of events, I have to say. I wasn’t expecting anything so abrupt.
Oh. My apologies. It was “all a dream”.
This time, instead of the tea, we elect to
— ᴄʜᴏɪᴄᴇ sɪxᴛᴇᴇɴ: DESTROY COMPUTER —
But Stefan rebels against us, with a gasped “No!” He tries to ask us who we are, and where we are. Instead of being too cruel to the boy, we elect to give him the better of the two signs:
— ᴄʜᴏɪᴄᴇ sᴇᴠᴇɴᴛᴇᴇɴ: [GLYPH] —
and I hope the irony that we are pigeonholed into two choices — just like Stefan — is not lost on anyone. Stefan — despite his clear ability to rebel — loses his marbles (as I suppose one would, when confronted with proof), and we’re faced with a choice that divided us. Thankfully, I clicked first. Our next choice is:
— ᴄʜᴏɪᴄᴇ ᴇɪɢʜᴛᴇᴇɴ: BACK OFF —
And where does it send us, but back to either the save-point at the climax of the VHS tape, or the moment we just avoided. We elect to:
— ᴄʜᴏɪᴄᴇ ɴɪɴᴛᴇᴇɴ: PICK UP PHOTO —
…this is getting quite tedious. I’m going to call a break so that we can update our images. We’ll be back in around fifteen minutes.
— [BREAK] —
And we’re back. Only to find Stefan falling asleep with the photo, just as he did with the book. I respect Bandersnatch for what it’s done so far, but it’s beginning to grind at my gears a little around this point.
Someone knocks into the camera, and Stefan wakes up. He decides to follow Colin’s disembodied voice and enters the mirror — in an attempt to “move through time”. And he does: to when he was a child. He goes and stashes Rabbit beneath his childhood bed. His father comes and takes Rabbit, and Stefan wakes up in the present.
He continues to try and talk to us.
This time, we decide to give him the following sign:
— ᴄʜᴏɪᴄᴇ ᴛᴡᴇɴᴛʏ: P.A.C.S —
Stefan’s reaction is understandably different. However, this time, he accuses his father of “controlling” him in a more controlled manner. And this time, it can’t like the other time. This is the least likely scenario to end up being a dream. And unprompted, he violently assaults his father — minus any input from us, since we’ve obviously stopped him before. And it’s a one-shot, one-kill scenario, it seems.
Maybe giving him a new choice wasn’t the best of ideas. I’ll shoulder the blame for this turn of events.
And here we are: we’re about to call Dr Haynes, like we were told to so long ago. And still, the question is: what’s the number? We’re given a few callbacks to help jog our memory. We’re run through the numbers one to five (with the exception of three).
We decide to go with what Bandersnatch is handing us on a platter and input:
— ɪɴᴘᴜᴛ ᴏɴᴇ: 2-0-5-4-1 —
(I’m curious as to whether or not there are multiple takes of Whitehead typing in various combinations at this point.)
He reaches Dr Haynes and leaves an adequately psychotic message with her secretary before proceeding to bury his father.
Sirens approach in the distance, and we return to the TV show that reviews Bandersnatch: the game within the game. Stefan Butler has become the new JFD, and the game scores a 2.5/5 (or a 5/10 on The Corvid Review, which is very, very good). He watches the reviewer state the score, and turns to drawing glyphs on the wall of his cell.
It’s at this point that we are presented with
— ᴡʜᴏ’s ᴛʜᴇʀᴇ? —
And we choose to tell him:
— ᴄʜᴏɪᴄᴇ ᴛᴡᴇɴᴛʏ-ᴏɴᴇ: NETFLIX —
I’ll let the following screenshots speak for themselves:
And now, over to the Azure-Winged Magpie. The next part is more her forte.
— Crow out.
The Azure-Winged Magpie:
(ಠ ◡ ಠ✿)
— ᴄʜᴏɪᴄᴇ ᴛᴡᴇɴᴛʏ-ᴛᴡᴏ: —
— THE AZURE-WINGED FUCKING MAGPIE —
— ɴᴏᴡ sᴛʀᴇᴀᴍɪɴɢ ᴏɴ NETFLIX —
THIS IS MORE LIKE IT!
— ᴄʜᴏɪᴄᴇ ᴛᴡᴇɴᴛʏ-ᴛʜʀᴇᴇ: GET RABBIT FROM DAD —
And now that we’re all done here. We do the loop-the-loop until we just go to credits.
We’re gonna go take a little break (like an hour or two). When we’re back, we gonna ‘SPLAIN some things and spread some knowledge. See you lot in a bit!
— ʀᴇᴠɪᴇᴡ/ᴀɴᴀʟʏsɪs | BANDERSNATCH —
— ᴛʜᴇ Cʀᴏᴡ — | — ᴛʜᴇ A-W Mᴀɢᴘɪᴇ —
The Crow: Ultimately, Bandersnatch isn’t that great. It’s a nice little experiment, and boasts high production values, but features little to write home about. The ideas are nice, and the paranoia is definitely there, but it’s far too tame. It’s almost a misfire at a “Greatest Hits” moment.
The ideas in Bandersnatch are nothing new and will hold very little value to the seasoned SF aficionado. I assume many who like Black Mirror are familiar with the works on PKD, and to them, Bandersnatch will ring quite hollow.
I’m in no way saying that the episode is bad, but it certainly isn’t good. Is it one of the weaker Black Mirror episodes? Perhaps. If not for the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style feature, the core of the story is quite underwhelming compared to the rest of the series’ work. It’s an interesting little concept and it’s executed rather well (I must point out that the ending — while funny — is just not my cup of tea; that’s wholly the A-W Magpie’s domain).
At no point did the chocies feel challenging (which I suppose they shouldn’t be), but it did feel at times like the “game” was forcing your hand down alleys whether you liked it or not. While this is an inherent problem with the medium, I do think there are ways the team behind Bandersnatch could’ve covered their intentions better. At times, the episode dragged a little (which I made clear in the play-by-play), but again: this is a difficult medium to work in, so I’ll allow more leeway than usual.
The performances in the episode are alright, with Fionn Whitehead doing a brilliant job with his character. The visuals and sound are quite well handled, and apart from that very obvious bump into the camera, I cannot fault the episode on any technical points.
It was a fun ride, but one I wouldn’t be keen to repeat, but given the format of the episode, I inevitably will return to find the rest of its secrets. My “first impression” rating is attached below.
— Crow out.
The Azure-Winged Magpie:
(◔ ◡ ◔✿)!
Ehhh… it coulda been better. I liked it, but I didn’t like it THAT much. The story had some wtf moments that I really didn’t think fit in that well (like the dad and the safe and the whole P.A.C.S thing). Col was also a bit of a weird one for me. I got his character and all but kept thinking he’d be a bit… more important? And then he goes and chucks himself off a balcony and turns his-self to jam (I mean, I LOLed, but still…).
Now I’m no debbie downer like the other guy up there. I’m going to play Bandersnatch again tomorrow or something and see how the little things affect the story and everything (like the music tapes/vinyls… those HAD to have some good reason for being there right?!). Maybe I’ll KILL DAD straight up front and see what happens. (We’ll SEE if he’s still around to get kicked in the goolies once I’ve gone through him)! Maybe I’ll call 999 (or 911 since the serial’s all American now) on the phone and see who picks up. I BET there’s a LOT we ain’t seen yet. I mean… it took us like two hours or so? And we took breaks and kep pausing. They’ve got FIVE hours of stuff in here. There’s GOT to be tons more!
And it’s like… if the whole story angle was made “for the Crow” (it does sound it). That ENDING was made for ME! Every little bitty thing about that ending was like me getting a Christmas prezzie one after the other. AND it let me SWEAR on the post today! If the show goes batshit. I go batshit. NUFF SAID.
Right now though on watch #1… I’m gonna keep the score pretty neutral since I just haven’t seen what else is there. But I did like it. It just didn’t do… “it” for me. Even if I find something later on that makes me wanna bump up this score, I’m not going to do it by much, since the first time was a bit of a downer. But hey. We’ll see how it goes first. kay?
Magpie Up! Up! and Awayyy!*BONK!*
— Fɪʀsᴛ Iᴍᴘʀᴇssɪᴏɴ Rᴀᴛɪɴɢs —
— ᴛʜᴇ Cʀᴏᴡ: 4.5/10 —
— ᴛʜᴇ Aᴢᴜʀᴇ-Wɪɴɢᴇᴅ Mᴀɢᴘɪᴇ: 6/10 —
Here’s the official poster for Bandersnatch:
— BANDERSNATCH —
— Team out.
8 thoughts on “ Review/Thoughts: Bandersnatch ; Play Along With Us! ”
It’s exactly like one of those annoying twistaplot books from the 80s. The writer struggling to make choices with little stories involved and the overall story suffers and is only loosely connected by some dull theme at best. There’s a reason those books were never super popular. No one has figured out how to do such a thing well. And black mirror certainly hasn’t. It’s just disjointed silly anecdotes they shoehorn in as a result of the stupid choice mechanism they have to serve.
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That is exactly what it is. I have to say I’m quite disappointed in the episode, looking back on it. The gimmick was all there was to it.