You will never look at Pacman the same way again.
It is dark times when Pacman gets reduced down to an allegory for consumer hell. Such is the world of Black Mirror. As our protagonist, Stefan points out there are no happy endings just the allusion of choice. Wait, what? Does that mean nothing we did actually mattered? My brain hurts…..
To say this is one of the bleakest versions of Black Mirror is not an exaggeration.
I started watching Bandersnatch when it released this morning in the wee hours of dawn. I watched with anticipation and trepidation. After all, this was Black Mirror where things rarely work out for anyone, and even the most optimistic of technological advances get warped into a nightmare. I have watched and rewatched and changed choices so many times you would think I had become schizophrenic. It doesn’t seem to matter what decisions I make, some silly, like Thompson Twins versus Now 2(as if there was any choice) or flush my pills or trash my pills I always end up all kinds of f@#ked. I either kill someone or multiple someones, kill myself or realize it is all a meta nightmare I’m starring in. There is no true happy ending only variations of grim. To say this is one of the bleakest versions of Black Mirror is not an exaggeration. Not only is the experience somewhat painful, what felt like an endless looping reality that could not be escaped or fatalistic endings that include prison, murder, and my personal favorite suicide by train is almost claustrophobic in its level of futility. It was exhausting and kudos to Charlie Brooker for giving us so many storylines collapsing in on themselves.
The many endings of Bandersnatch. SPOILERS AHEAD!
According to Netflix, there are five main endings. Those endings are suicide, jail, history-changing, meta Netflix, and a lousy game. Those are just the beginning, however. Each of those main types has countless permutations that alter the ending just a little. Black Mirror is rarely happy so as a result, the endings all fall on the darker side of the shadows. Stefan either dies, gets incarcerated, goes crazy or creates an utterly pointless game. Most of the time it is a mixture of several of those. There are also three main plot points to converge from. The demon PAX, the P.A.C.S. government experiment, and mental illness. Just as Stefan struggles with how to know what is real and what is mimeograph(all you kids of the ’80s will get that) we the audience struggle with how to determine what is the best course of action to further the storyline or help Stefan because they often are not the same. Complex and multilayered this is an immersive experience designed to make you feel just like our poor programmer, crazy.
The endings all fall into four main categories.
These four include prison sentences, death, game completion, and meta ridiculousness. I got prison a lot. I was forever killing someone with the majority of my choices, and it wasn’t until I literally did the opposite of my impulses that I was able to break free of my homicidal story beats. That is not to say I only killed others though. One of the earliest disasters had me jumping from a building balcony. This, of course, ends in a resetting of the timeline. When a different choice is made Colin eventually jumps. Sometimes that jumping results in Colin’s immediate death and others he is missing and presumed dead. In one particular ending of this nature, his daughter Pearl programs Bandersnatch in the future and finds Stefan in the code of the old game. Upon determining she also has lost free will, she smashes her computer. That one may be my very favorite as it really felt like Black Mirror.
To take our meds or not take our meds, that is the question.
Stefan is faced with a plethora of big pharma in most of the versions. We must decide for him to take his anti-psychotics and what I’m assuming is acid at one point. In the case of the acid, the decision is really moot as he is drugged one way or another. In the case of the medication, the consequences of taking or discontinuing his medicine are dire. In a shortened story version he takes the medication given instead of flushing them or throwing them away and completes the game. The game makes it to market, but is boring and we reset again. When the choice is made to stop taking the meds, he continues to finish the game, but the all-consuming nature of the game or his reality(you choose)makes him go a little nutty and almost always kills someone, usually his Dad.
The many deaths of Bandersnatch.
Stefan does a lot of killing. Like a buttload. He kills himself a few times through suicide or passive suicide by history(more on this later), kills his Dad, kills Colin, and kills his boss. Depending on whether Stefan chopped up dear old Dad or buried him I was able to finish the game. The choice of body disposal also seemed to influence greatly how many extra people got killed. Stefan killed his boss in only one iteration, however that one was more than a little satisfying because that guy was such a tool. Colin got stabbed by a knife and asked for me to bludgeon him with a trophy in one of the most absurd scenes of the movie. That scene alone was enough to send many people down the Tyler Durden rabbit hole. I do not subscribe to the imaginary person theory, but I do understand where it came from. In the saddest but most complete ending Stefan takes the rabbit from his Dad and goes willingly with his Mom onto the 8:45 am train knowing he is dooming himself to death. That is the first time I got the final credits.
Dead rarely means dead.
Just like in Pet Semetary dead things do not stay dead in the land of Bandersnatch. The most glaring of course being Dad who gets murdered quite often and just keeps reappearing back in the timeline after a reset. That miracle is easy to explain however as the timeline rewound and thus he didn’t die. Colin is much harder to explain. He jumped from his apartment balcony but reappears in some timelines as if the suicide never took place. In others, he jumps and is never seen again. In still others, Colin reappears just long enough to be killed by stabbing or thumping. In one reset he never jumps but goes to jail for possession of illegal substances. Colin himself provides the most lucid if altogether trippy explanation when he says all of their choices are futile as another timeline will just intervene. This means that other Colins could crop up whenever needed. It is also plausible that Colin did not actually jump in all the timelines and Stefan just thought he did being high as balls and all.
The great philosophical debate of whose in charge.
At one point in the film, Stefan begs to be let in on the secret. He wants to know who is controlling him. If you pick the White Bear icon or Pax, you kill your Dad and usually complete the game with varied success, but if you select Netflix and do not kill your Dad a bizarrely entertaining scene straight out of Into the Badlands ensues with your therapist which quickly disintegrates into an actual Netflix series set. This was one of the most entertaining divergent points. Poor Stefan does not appear to be in on the joke, however. In the Netflix version, you are conceding that you the viewer is in charge. If you choose the other two options, you kill Dad. The only question becomes was it a mental break caused by mind control experiments or the work of demonic possession?
What is with the fax machine sound in the after credit scene?
If you were lucky enough to reach the end credits and continued to watch you were treated with a confusing scene featuring Stefan on his way to his interview with Tuckersoft at the beginning of the film and instead of listening to Thompson Twins as I always picked because I love them, he listens to a tape containing facsimile sounds only. First, this hints that no decision is final or even meaningful as another Stefan somewhere out there will just reset or get reset by another viewer and secondly is the source of the transmission the actual controller? If that is the case, maybe we are all being controlled, and we never had any decision making power at all. The graffiti seen in the background reiterates that as it says we have no future. This is not Terminator where we have no fate but what we make, but an arbitrary future where our decisions only seem like our own. The sounds when translated correspond to a QR code that downloads an online game called Nohzdyve. A special Tuckersoft site developed by Netflix for this very reason can be accessed here.
How many different safe codes are there?
There are several ways to unlock the safe and all of them set up the final ending of their respective storylines. If you choose PAX the demon shows up and kills Stefan, if you choose JFD the author himself appears and the movie resets(this one was the most surprising and scary). PAC unlocks a wealth of P.A.C.S. conspiracy stuff that explains Stefan has been involved in a government mind control program since he was a child and TOY brings the childhood rabbit and the time altering train sequence of events.
That crazy phone number.
For those of us with working phones. this one stumped us. We heard the number right 20541, but where were the other two numbers? I know this is a game and as a result, we didn’t need it, but still that aggravated me. If this number was entered when trying to call Dr. Haynes, you were rewarded with an annoying conversation with her secretary. She either makes an appointment for you the next day which depending on choices leads to the Kung Fu scene, or she calls the cops on you, and you go to jail. I tried several different wrong codes including the P.A.C.S. patient number of 13014 with no results. Random numbers never warranted anything.
Was this all one giant continuation of White Bear and if so was Stefan or us the viewer in jail?
With all the White Bear symbols thrown around and Black Mirror’s ability to make us think we know what is going on it seems only natural to question our own reality. At the very least, contemplate whether all of the choices were meaningless because Stefan really did go to jail and this is the endless loop of his life precisely like White Bear. One final odd observation lending credence to the whole we are in Black Mirrorverse theory, many people have reported being kicked to Black Mirror episodes after the closing credits and the extra scene. I was taken to Hated in the Nation, but others at Signal Horizon got San Junipero, The Waldo Moment, Nosedive, Metalhead and USS Callister. What that means or why it happened are just some of the lingering mysteries of Bandersnatch. Brava Charlie Brooker and Netflix. Which endings did we miss? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.