The Best 'Black Mirror: Bandersnatch' Ending Gets Hilariously Meta About Netflix
This post contains spoilers for Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.
The new movie-length "choose-your-own-adventure" episode of Black Mirror, titled Bandersnatch, feels like it never ends. It does eventually, but as soon as you get to the ostensible finish of the story about a young video game programmer (Fionn Whitehead) driven mad by his own creation, it gives you more options to go back and rework the finale. That's also when it starts to get hilariously meta. Netflix -- which may or may not have built an elaborate Christmas movie universe -- starts to acknowledge its own role in this whole thing.
The basic premise of Bandersnatch follows Whitehead's Stefan Butler as he attempts to program a game based on a choose-your-own-adventure novel of the same name. The writer of said novel, Jerome F. Davies, is famous for decapitating his wife. In the initial permutations, the tale ends gruesomely: Stefan, convinced he's the victim of mind control, murders his father. Depending on what he decides to do with the body (and whether or not he gets caught) his game reaches various stages of completion and levels of success. In one of these paths, there's a hop forward in time where the daughter of Will Poulter's game making savant Colin Ritman decides to remake "Bandersnatch" despite the curious circumstances surrounding its inception. There's a chance, she says, she could be working on it for -- guess who! -- Netflix. But Netflix's presence is going to get a lot bigger once you hop back in time.
Prompted by the screen, you head back to an earlier moment in which Stefan, unnerved by what he's experiencing, asks "Who's there?" The viewer must pick between a symbol that appears in the work of Davies, which you also may recognize from the horrifying Season 2 episode "White Bear." The other is P.A.C., based on a theory that the "pac" in Pac-Man is an acronym for "program and control." But in re-experiencing the moment, you're presented the glyph, again, and now "Netflix." Click "Netflix," and that's where the story starts to get amusing.
The computer, which is technically you, explains to Stefan that you are watching him on Netflix and making decisions for him. He's confused! He's in 1984! You try to explain the whole concept of a streaming platform to him and he gets really overwhelmed. When his dad enters, he relents and decides to go to the therapist, Dr. Hynes.
The doctor is equally befuddled by the concept of Netflix. She asks, "Wouldn’t you want a little more action if you were watching this on telly?" And then you're offered another option: "Yes" or "Fuck yeah." Both lead to a very silly, very highly choreographed fight sequence. In the midst of that, a choice pops up: "Leap Out Window" or "Fight Her." Pick the latter and you're invited to decide whether you "Karate Chop Dad" or "Kick Him in the Balls." However, if you "Leap Out Window," galaxy brain kicks in. Suddenly, a voice yells "cut" and it turns out everyone's on a film set, Stefan is an actor named Mike, and he may also be having a breakdown.
The "Netflix" option is definitely the funniest one available, a self-referential moment, like the time A Christmas Prince appeared in The Princess Switch when one of the Vanessa Hudgenses wants to have a "Netflix and chill" night. Other paths are more tragic, like the one in which Stefan manages to retrieve the toy rabbit his dad took away from him as a boy, inadvertently causing the death of his mother during childhood. But because he rewrites history and the stuffed animal is in his possession, Stefan gets on a doomed train with his mother in the past and ends up suddenly dying in his therapist's chair in the future. It's arguably the most melancholy of the conclusions. (If you want to dig into all of the endings, obviously Reddit already has you covered with an insane flowchart.)
But in a weird way, the meta ending might be the most meaningful. Watching (or rather, playing) Bandersnatch feels like watching Netflix flex. The content isn't all that revolutionary for a Black Mirror episode. Its ultimate message is: Your free will is compromised by tech, which has the potential to drive you mad. The format is what's new, giving you the semblance of choice, while gliding you along to various points in the story, sucking you deeper and deeper into its narrative, making it impossible to turn away until you've spent hours on the couch.
So, it's a bit freaky, then, that this week unverified suspicions went viral on Twitter that the company was using bots to create memes hyping its recently released horror movie Bird Box. Again, the claim is far from confirmed, but even the suggestion is right out of the Bandersnatch playbook. Netflix is calling the shots; we're all just pawns in its elaborate game.