The Reddit detectives are hard at work decoding Black Mirror: Bandersnatch

By Tasha Robinson

Early in the morning on Friday, December 28th, Netflix slipped its viewers a late Christmas present: a new episode of Charlie Brooker’s technological-dystopia anthology series Black Mirror, in the form of an interactive movie called Bandersnatch. Its arrival didn’t entirely come as a secret — as far back as October, there were rumors it was on the way — but Netflix has been secretive about the storyline and the scope of the project. Just as Netflix seems to be experimenting with high-profile ad campaigns and wide-scale theatrical releases for award-courting movies like Roma, it’s also experimenting with releasing films like Tau or The Cloverfield Project with little to no advance notice, apparently to test what its subscribers will watch without significant buildup or prompting.

But the abrupt drop was more or less the crack of the starter’s pistol to a legion of detectives and decoders over at Reddit, who’ve seemingly revealed every single way the movie can play out. At Reddit, competing to pull apart entertainment has become a regular industry. Users have banded together to squeeze every possible clue out of mysteries from the real-life murder story behind the podcast Serial to fictional conundrums like Jon Snow’s parentage in Game of Thrones. Entire marketing schemes are being designed with these entertainment detectives in mind — HBO’s Westworld spent its entire second season baiting the faithful with stunningly obscure puzzles featuring binary and hexadecimal code glimpsed in passing.

Bandersnatch may not have been designed specifically for decoding in the same way as those puzzles, but it’s still exactly the kind of complicated project the Reddit secret-miners thrive on dissecting. The episode, set in 1984, follows a programmer named Stefan (Dunkirk’s Fionn Whitehead) who’s struggling to complete an interactive video game full of user-directed choices. The story itself branches like an old Choose Your Own Adventure novel, asking viewers to click on one story option or another at specific decision points. Some of those options (which breakfast cereal do you eat?) appear to be entirely meaningless. Others open up or shut down new choices. Just like a game with save points, or one of those CYOA books, Bandersnatch lets the audience jump back to those branch points and choose a different option than they chose the first time. And just as with a long game, the choices can start to seem a little overwhelming — especially for participants wondering if they’ve missed an important option or clue along the way.

Fortunately, Reddit users are busy at work hunting down the answers. This running thread is collecting all the available endings for the movie, and how to get there. Another thread is digging into the subtle Black Mirror episode crossovers, references, and Easter eggs hidden in Bandersnatch. And most helpfully, multiple users have built flow charts that detail the episode’s decision trees and where they lead.

Photo: Reddit, via user alpine-

These flow charts are reminiscent of the storyboards other Netflix creators have developed for their own interactive episodes. But they’re also remarkably like video game plot trees. Like so many previous attempts at interactive movies, Bandersnatch borrows heavily from games’ story-tree methodologies, where many choices are meaningless, others lead back to the main path for the sake of story economy, and still others lead to abrupt endings. The Reddit users’ maps are effectively just a collaborative game walkthrough, and “Let’s play Bandersnatch” videos on YouTube and Bandersnatch-watch videos on Twitch may be the logical next step.

Reddit has yet to turn up any cheat codes for the movie, but given the episode’s video game theme, its openly meta storyline, and the self-referential ouroboros of an interactive story about a man trying to design an interactive story, who knows? They may actually be in there. Reddit will figure it out. In the meantime, as Vulture points out, you can also just watch the whole thing by failing to make any choices at all.