"An Ode to 'Bandersnatch' and All the Things I Wish I Could Change" by Andrea Panaligan

February 10, 2019

I once saw a tweet that said something like, “You guys have never spent most of your days spacing out and imagining scenarios in your head and it shows,” or something, but I can’t remember exactly.

There are a lot of things I can’t remember. I’ve been meaning to google what it means when I can’t tell the difference between what happens in dreams and what happens in real life, but I always end up not remembering.

There are a lot of things I can remember, though. Right now I am overwhelmed by an itch I cannot scratch, a feeling of unrest I can never undo.


I’m too proud to admit that I’m a huge believer of alternate realities, but I am. Every time something goes wrong, the first thing that comes to mind is, “Somewhere out there in the universe is a timeline where this is not going wrong.” Every time I want something, the first thing that comes to mind is, “Somewhere out there in the universe is a timeline on which I have this.”

At first it’s romantic. Cutesy. Oh, maybe in another universe. To an extent, it is scientifically accurate. It even made me a better poet, I think (emphasis on the “I think”)—it made me seem more optimistic. Hopeful. And isn’t poetry more heartbreaking when it’s hopeful?

I don’t know what age it stops being hopeful and just becomes plain heartbreaking, though. I’m at that age, I think.

Okay, I think I’ve tiptoed around it enough, so I’ll just say it outright before I change my mind: very, very frequently I use my belief in alternate realities as an out; a defense mechanism, I think? I can never remember anything because I am never here—I am always somewhere out there in the universe, where nothing goes wrong and I have what I want to have. I have trouble remembering if I actually did something or said something in this world—my world, the real world—or if I just pictured it in my head, but I’m too afraid to ask. I can just simply imagine a world where I don’t have to ask, after all.


Since it looks like we’re telling secrets here, have another one: there are many, many, many, many, many things I wish I never did. Sometimes I just want to cry thinking about them. Shed my skin, maybe. I know we’re only human and we all make mistakes and all that faux-motivational the-past-is-in-the-past Quotes of the Day, but that just makes me feel more helpless—the past is in the past, I know that, but I’m stuck in it! I am in the past that is in the past!

It’s easier to create all these alternate lives—to start over, shed my skin—in my head than it is to actually start over and shed my skin here, in my world, the real world. It gives me a sense of control, like I finally get to decide the ending of my story.


I think you have to be some kind of psychopath to find comfort in a Black Mirror episode; maybe I am. I’ve been trying to write a review of Bandersnatch for what feels like weeks (I’m not so sure)—I put on my little Film Critic hat and took notes and tried to be as objective as possible, but any kind of review I tried to write that was detached from what it made me feel felt…pointless? I know rule number one of film criticism is to never talk about how it made you feel, so I’m gonna try not to, at least for the next few paragraphs.

Bandersnatch is the forerunner of this new genre/medium/experience that was practically destined for Black Mirror. The anthology’s episode plots very often double as thought experiments, so what better way to expound on that than by making the audience participate? Black Mirror in itself is already a feat—its bleakness is never just bleak for the sake of being bleak. It never fails to pack a punch—that punch usually being humanity’s impending doom that we brought upon ourselves. But after four seasons of bleakness and murder and humanity’s impending doom, the audience is, inevitably so, becoming desensitized. What used to be a series I could only watch one episode of every week because it stressed me out that much became something I binged. Season 4, the first to premiere on Netflix, was by far the breeziest—oh cool, he’s cloning them, when’s the next plot twist?

So this, this interactive episode/film/event was obviously a cause for anticipation; this was something new and exciting, not just for Black Mirror, but for television in general. It’s something that would practically force me to think about what I’m watching, because I control it, I get to make things happen.

News of it started circulating throughout last year, whispers about something interactive, etc. etc., but nothing concrete was confirmed until mid-December. It is interactive, starring Dunkirk breakout star Fionn Whitehead, with a reported 312 minutes of footage. The surprise trailer drop was, quite tragically, the highlight of my holidays then. I was staring at the Netflix homepage the day of the launch, etc., etc., you get the picture—I was excited.

If you’ve seen it then you know it warrants at least a second viewing, and so I did. I was adamant on unlocking every single iteration (and reiteration) of every single scene they shot, so I watched it four times in a row, only stopping when I was sure there were no more alternate paths to be taken. It only took me a second viewing, however, to realize that the novelty wears off much quicker than I would have liked. The tweets were coming in, and people were saying it was very gimmicky, and the story wasn’t really strong enough to match this new genre/medium/experience, and at that point, I agreed. I absolutely lost my marbles when my screen made me choose between Sugar Puffs and Frosties and Stefan (Fionn Whitehead) pointed at Frosties when I told him to, but somehow I wanted more. I didn’t want to run out of endings. So I watched it two more times that night, because I wanted more. 

I knew Bandersnatch wasn’t perfect, but that just made me more protective of it. I mean, how could people not like it? Were they not completely flabbergasted in the face of a choice point like I was? (It’s true that I didn’t like it as much when I watched it the second time, but seeing as I saw it four times, then another time, then another time, then another time, I’m thinking maybe I do love it, after all). I keep reading these reviews that all essentially boil down to, “It’s not actually interactive. It doesn’t really give you much of a choice!” and I’m sitting there, dumfounded (and honestly a bit hurt that something I truly love is getting so-so reviews), because wasn’t that the point? You’re not supposed to have control. You’re supposed to get the same bleak ending(s), no matter which permutation you end up choosing. This is Black Mirror, after all. 

But then I think, maybe they have a point. Certainly the geniuses behind Shut Up and Dance and Be Right Back can do better than “Destroy Computer” vs “Throw Tea Over Computer.” But what other episode/film/event has burrowed itself into the crevices of my mind for over three weeks (and counting), causing me to rewatch it again and again and again despite knowing it all ends the same, grim way? This mental do-I-love-it-or-do-I-hate-it limbo convinced me that no, I can never write a review of this; at least not one that follows the first rule of film criticism. Sorry, film critics—talking about my feelings is my only talent, after all.

What I’m trying to say is this: As someone who believes her life is greener on the other side of the universe, Bandersnatch angered me, scolded me, and ultimately healed me. I gasped when Stefan, sitting in his living room, defeated, said, “I should try again,” and then transported himself to another dimension where he could try again—that is a part of myself that I keep closed off and locked up, and seeing it onscreen—and so casually too—felt like I was being ripped open. Oh, how many times have I sat in my own living room, writhing in my own defeat, wishing I could try again!

So maybe I see myself in Stefan. Maybe the reason I keep watching it again and again and shielding it from the fangs of (objective) critics again and again is because I am Stefan. Maybe I see myself in the way he says, assertively, “I’m trying again.” Maybe I subtly flinch everytime I make a wrong choice and the film takes me back to the previous scene so I could choose again.

So maybe I see myself in Stefan, and seeing him end up in the same place I knew he would be no matter how hard I try to make my choices different this time, maybe that hurt me. That isn’t really an ~alternate~ dimension if what’s happening is not different to what happened in all the other dimensions. Maybe it hurt me to think that the things that went wrong here, in my world, the real world, could still go wrong there, in all my other worlds, and the things I can never get here are things I still long for no matter where I am.

But maybe it’s cathartic. Maybe on my fifth watch, or maybe sixth, I realized, hey, maybe the reason I’m watching this so much is because this is what I want. Maybe I don’t want to have control, in the real world or in any other world(s). Maybe it’s true that there are alternate dimensions, and like Stefan, I’m still making the same mistakes in all of them. Maybe the other worlds are just as flawed as my world, the real world. Maybe there is nowhere I can go where everything is pitch-perfect, where Stefan’s life doesn’t go into shambles and I do everything right. Maybe that’s okay. 

How people feel about this episode/film/event mainly depends on how they feel about the illusion of control. I hated Bandersnatch when I feared not having control. But maybe not having control doesn’t have to be scary (and maybe we don’t have to hate Bandersnatch for it). Bandersnatch may not have given me consolation, or relief, or retribution, or redemption, or absolution from all the things I regret, but it gave me liberation. It has given me the knowledge, and it has set me free. 

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