Beware the Bandersnatch

Beware the Bandersnatch

For those who haven't unplugged from TV entirely or are considering it, whether it's because of ready access to older titles (though Netflix has fewer and fewer such options...) or other reasons, it's clear that nihilism has taken ground everywhere and tries to extend its reach along with the tendency of netflix shows to increasingly get woke.

Yeah, I know, the 70's is calling. You'd be right. That said, there was a resurgence of heroism/etc. in the 80's that has only slowly been killed off since, or replaced by "heroism" of he Mary Sue. Incidentally, one reason I'm not a huge fan of the horror genre is that there's a fine line between the inevitability of evil, and a path often taken that everything is evil - or pointless - all the time so why bother, and zombie stories tend to be the worst about it, though a few of the newer stories out there treat it as a problem that can be managed or even overcome.

The first book of A Song of Ice and Fire was enough to put me off of George "Rape Rape" Martin forever. Didn't bother with the rest of the series, as aside from the rape and incest and attempted child-murder and the know-it-all dwarf, it was obvious that any heroes were being set up to be chumps, any virtue pointless.

It's also why I cannot stand Black Mirror. Yes, I get the Twilight Zone had some dark episodes, but it also had quirky ones, weird ones, and wasn't uniformly as dark as the title of the newer series implies. Three or four episodes in I dumped out and gave up.

Nevertheless I ended up watching the interactive BM special, Bandersnatch, with family. It's a video "choose your own adventure story" that lies about being able to really choose anything of consequence.

If you don't believe me, check out the list of endings here:

The Sudden Ending

The first “ending,” if you can call it that, comes early in Bandersnatch. After Stefan Butler gets the chance to meet his idol Colin Ritman (Will Poulter) and develop his dream video game for Mohan Thakur (Asim Chaudhry), he’s asked if he wants to “accept” or “refuse” an offer to join the Thakur’s team. If you make Stefan accept the offer, Bandersnatch flashes to an ending in which a rushed version of his game gets zero stars from a critic, as Stefan resolves to “try again” — inviting the viewer to go back and make him develop the game on his own. It might seem like a sad ending, but given the carnage of the conclusions to come, this one won’t seem too bad in retrospect.

The Broken-Computer Ending

When Stefan’s father Peter (Craig Parkinson) comes in to his room after the boy’s spent solitary weeks working on his game, you face another choice: You can either force Stefan to shout at his dear old dad, or make him “throw” his tea all over his computer. Yelling is actually the “better” answer here, as destroying Stefan’s computer ends the story. Tea and electronics don’t mix.

The Balcony Ending

When dad takes Stefan to see Dr. Haynes, the kid spots Colin walking down the street. If you decide to make Stefan follow Colin instead of attending his therapy session, a long night of pot, acid, and philosophical musings leads to a terrifying moment in which Colin says it doesn’t matter if one of them jumps from his apartment balcony. (The logic is tricky, but basically, Colin tells Stefan that he believes in multiple realities. If either of them dies in this one, it’s no problem because they’re still alive in another.) The viewer is told to either force Stefan to take the leap, or make him tell Colin to do it. The former choice ends the story with Stefan’s suicide, and his game is finished “abruptly” without him.

The Medicated Ending

One way or another, Bandersnatch pushes the story forward so that Stefan has to visit Dr. Haynes for a session and get a prescription for pills. If you do choose to make Stefan see Dr. Haynes instead of following Colin, she’ll give him the pills and you’ll have to decide whether he should flush them or take them. (If Stefan visited her after seeing Colin, he also gets the pills, but the session doesn’t go nearly as well.) Once you make Stefan take his medication, the story leaps ahead to another sudden conclusion: It’s Christmastime, Stefan has been taking his pills for months, and his game has been released on schedule, but the critic only gives it two-and-a-half stars for seeming like it was made on “autopilot.”

The Broken-Computer Ending, Redux

If you’re tiring of Bandersnatch by now, this is your chance to call it a day for Stefan Butler and destroy his life’s work. As he struggles to finish his game and keeps hitting coding roadblocks, we’re given yet another choice: Should Stefan hit his desk in anger or totally destroy his computer? Doing the latter ends the story in much the same way as pouring tea on his computer did in the earlier branch.

The Meta Ending

In Bandersnatch’s most surprising iteration, Stefan demands to know the truth: Who is controlling him? If you choose to answer honestly — that his life is actually entertainment on “a streaming platform from the early 21st century” — he soon winds up back in Dr. Haynes’s office to tell her all about this futuristic technology called Netflix. The good doctor points out that Stefan’s story would be too boring for such an advanced form of entertainment, but then — surprise! — she leaps out of her chair and challenges him to a brawl! You have to decide whether Stefan should fight her or flee through a window, and if you choose the latter, that’s when the fourth wall totally shatters: The camera pulls back to reveal that Stefan is actually an actor standing on the Black Mirror set, and a director storms over to tell him that he’s “not scripted to jump out, it’s the fight scene now.” The story ends after the actor asserts that his real name is Stefan, marking his final break with reality, and the production is forced to call a medic.

The Bloody Endings

There are several endings in which Stefan is imprisoned for murdering his father. (Depending on the route, he also winds up killing Thakur, Colin, or Colin’s wife, Kitty.) In these versions of the story, you’re ultimately forced to make Stefan kill his father if you didn’t choose to already — even if you select “Back Off” during their kitchen confrontation, it cycles back around to “Kill Dad” — and then you have to decide between burying or chopping up his body. All iterations of burying the body lead to Stefan in jail and Bandersnatch getting trashed by the critic, if it even gets released at all.

The 5-Star Ending

The darkest ending happens after you tell Stefan to chop up his father’s body. Surprisingly, this macabre choice gives Stefan enough time to finish his game, which gets five stars from the critic when it’s released — although it’s pulled from stores soon after Stefan gets caught and sent to jail. From there, Bandersnatch flashes forward to the present day: We see Colin’s daughter Pearl working on a reboot of Stefan’s game for a new generation. As she runs into some of the same bugs that he once did, and perhaps the same obsessions, a familiar question pops onto the screen: Should Pearl throw tea over her computer, or destroy it?

The Train Ending

If you figure out that “TOY” is the password that Stefan needs to recover his beloved stuffed bunny from his father’s safe, he then travels back to that moment in his past and places it under his childhood bed. Alas, even that can’t change fate entirely: His mother still misses her train while Young Stefan looks for his toy bunny, but this time, the viewer is given more than one choice when she asks if he wants to go with her. If Stefan says “yes,” he winds up on the train with his mom when it crashes — and in a surreal twist, we see him simply and suddenly pass away in his therapist’s office. He’s gone back and “fixed” the biggest moment in his life, but it also led to his death. How very Black Mirror.

Any good endings there?

The "meta" ending actually has two versions, only one is truly meta, the other he's dragged off by his father as he continues to rave.

There is no ending where Stefan ends up healthy and happy, no choices you are allowed to make, that lead to success in any respect but the game he's working on getting good reviews. Even in the sudden, meh, least harmful ending the company takes a financial hit (though presumably survives), Stefan fails, and it is implied begins to go down a path of being even more obsessive since he wasn't the first time.

In no ending is the game and the computer company a success, and in most, the company is destroyed, and it's CEO's life destroyed, even n the majority the CEO isn't killed. In most of them, Colin, the star programmer, dies via suicide or mysteriously disappear.

If his father isn't useless, he's actively doing mind-control experiments on Stefan - and in no case does Stefan get to have a living mother. In the one case where it turns out his dad isn't quite such an ass, and the trigger for his guilt over his mother is assuaged, you are given the option of letting her die anyway in a train wreck, or going with her and dying yourself.

The show makes its theme crystal clear by having Stefan explicitly lay out that he's only giving the illusion of choice, and that no matter what you do you end up at the same or similar fates. Much like American Beauty was a dark story of the inevitability of life so why bother trying to improve yourself?

Compare this to a choose your own adventure story from the 80's. You could find one, sometimes more, "happy" endings. You could choose virtue. Your choices made a significant difference in how the story worked out even if the choices were premapped.

Bandersnatch?

It's evil. I know that sounds like an exaggeration, but hear me out.

Not because nihilism itself is evil - an argument I'd make, but irrelevant here. The series, or what I saw of it was dark, and grim, and pointless, and written by those who hate life and people, but it at least existed in its own bubble that you could observe.

It's because it makes you choose between a series of false and pointless choices between lesser and greater evils, with virtue never a possibility. It makes you buy into the idea that your choices don't matter, and rubs your nose in it. It makes you complicit to the horrible things that happen to Stefan and those around him.

A documentary in the background even explicitly says that if your choices don't matter, why not murder?

But, it's a warning, I hear - though those who saw it with me were generally also disturbed by the number of forced choices where a reasonable action wasn't even allowed, and the inability to choose "good" or save Stefan.

Sure, so why not allow virtue? Why not show the evils of obsession, etc., and that personal choices matter?

Incidentally, this attitude isn't new. It wasn't new when American Beauty, another ugly pointless story about the pointlessness of life, came out either.

About Last Redoubt

Ex nuke mechanic, jack of all trades.