"Black Mirror," Charlie Brooker's acclaimed anthology series about the darker side of technology, can often be unsettling because the story lines feel like they are one app update from happening in real life.
"Bandersnatch," the show's newest installment, released Friday, takes that unsettling familiarity to a new level with an interactive element that allows viewers to control the story plot.
So, how does it all work? We took our first foray into the interactive episode and put together this helpful guide.
- First things first, what is "Bandersnatch" about? Set in 1984, "Bandersnatch" follows Stefan (Fionn Whitehead), a young computer programmer who sets off to design a choose-your-own-adventure game based on a novel he's treasured since childhood.
- You say the episode is interactive . . . what does that mean?
Throughout the episode, you'll be presented with a series of choices that chart a path for the main character. They range from the mundane (which cereal do you want for breakfast?) to the more consequential (think career moves). You'll have 10 seconds to make a decision using your remote (or mouse or trackpad if you're watching on a computer).
Netflix says there are five main endings to "Bandersnatch," but multiple variations for each possible ending, depending on what you've picked earlier. Overall, the streaming giant says, there are more than 1 trillion unique permutations.
Filming all those variations must have taken a while.
Netflix says it took 35 days to film "Bandersnatch", Compare that with, say, the reported two-week timeline of "San Junipero," a celebrated episode that took place across multiple decades. "San Junipero" lacked the choose-your-own-adventure component, but it still packed a punch in terms of scope.
- How do I watch it? Per Netflix, you can watch it on newer TVs, video game consoles and Web browsers, as well as Android and iOS devices that have the latest version of the Netflix app. The company says it's not yet supported on Chromecast, Apple TV or certain older devices, but you'll encounter further instructions if you attempt to watch on a device that's unsupported.
- How do I point the story in a new direction? You can restart the episode - you'll see a warning that restarting will clear the choices you've made and play the episode from the beginning.
- Do my choices really alter the story? Yes! We tested this by restarting the episode fairly early on, and things were drastically different after we made a different choice.
- What happens if I don't interact? If you space out (easy to do if you're watching with multiple browser windows open, as we were) or opt not to make a decision, you'll end up with a default choice (which is essentially still a decision in the "Black Mirror" universe and, well, real life). The default path to the episode clocks in at 90 minutes, but the Hollywood Reporter notes that different permutations could result in an installment that's up to two and a half hours.
- Has Netflix done anything like this before? Yes, actually. Several children's titles, including "Puss in Book" and "Minecraft: Story Mode" offer choose-your-own-adventure options. This is the company's first interactive experience geared toward adults.
"Black Mirror" usually includes Easter eggs, right? Does that happen here?
Ah yes, "Black Mirror" is notorious for sneaking in callbacks to other episodes. (Theories abound on how the installments within the Black Mirror universe are linked). The Easter eggs begin early on in "Bandersnatch." We're keeping this spoiler-free, but we saw references to two installments within the first five minutes of watching.