Black Mirror’s “Bandersnatch” is the story of a 19-year-old software developer trying to turn a novel by a psychologically unstable science fiction visionary into a 1980s video game. After that? Well, it’s up to you. The dystopian anthology’s fifth “season” turns out to be a single project, an interactive movie (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) that offers viewers dozens of distinct choices, ranging from the innocuous selection of a sugary breakfast cereal to life-or-death forks in the road. You control Stefan (Fionn Whitehead), a jittery teenager trying to create a joystick-controlled analogue for Bandersnatch, a multistranded novel by the science-fiction author Jerome F. Davies, whose views on fate and alternate realities are clearly modeled on those of Philip K. Dick.
Stefan seeks out the already legendary game designer Colin Ritman (Will Poulter) for advice, but instead Colin leads him toward a psychotic break, insisting that freewill is an illusion, that people are controlled by unseen hands, and that what we take to be reality is just one possibility that exists simultaneously alongside many others. In other words, life is just one big game of choose your own adventure.
There are many paths through “Bandersnatch,” which often prompts you to return to a previous choice and pick another, more fruitful option. But notwithstanding minor variations and a few dead ends—any option that destroys Stefan’s computer will bring the story to an abrupt end—there are eight conclusions to the story, some more fulfilling than others. Since not everyone will have the patience to rewind and replay enough times to find them all, we’ve broken them down for you, one choice at a time.
Spoilers for Black Mirror’s “Bandersnatch” lie ahead. Do you proceed?
The “Be Careful What You Wish For” Ending
When software mogul Mohan Tucker offers Stefan the use of his in-house team to finish Bandersnatch in time for the Christmas rush, your first impulse is probably to jump at the chance. But instead of a lucky break, it’s the quickest route to the episode’s least satisfying ending. As soon as Stefan takes the deal, Mohan starts talking about “streamlining the project,” and Colin shoots him a knowing look: “Sorry mate—wrong path.” His prediction is confirmed by the reviewer for TV program called Micro Play, who dubs the made-by-committee version of Bandersnatch a dud that’s “over before it’s even begun.” (Bandersnatch rating: 0 stars out of 5.) “What they should have done,” he adds, “is gone right back to the start and tried again,” a suggestion that’s followed by the episode giving you the chance to do just that.
The “Down the Hatch” Ending
Colin tells Stefan that when it comes to a “concept piece” like Bandersnatch, “a bit of madness” is a necessary ingredient, and sure enough, once you’ve made the decision for him to pursue the game, his sanity starts to shred. Stefan starts to get the idea that he’s not fully in control of his own decisions—almost as if, say, an unseen presence were selecting them from a preset menu—but a visit to his regular psychiatrist temporarily puts him back on an even keel. And if you choose to keep Stefan on his meds, he stays that way: Fast-forward to Christmas, where Stefan eyes the completed Bandersnatch in a shop window as the soothing strains of “Silent Night” play. But what’s good for him is not good for the game. Micro Play’s reviewer says it feels “as if the creator simply gave up halfway through and went on autopilot.” Bandersnatch rating: 2½ stars out of 5
The “Over the Edge” Ending
Eschewing Stefan’s bid for sanity, skip his date with the headshrinker and follow Colin to his apartment, where he’ll offer you the opportunity to drop acid with him. It would be rude to say no, but it doesn’t matter either way; if you turn Colin down, he’ll just drop a tab into Stefan’s tea when he’s not looking. (So not cool, dude.) A tripping-balls Colin explains to Stefan that there are multiple realities, so it doesn’t matter what we do in any of them—and by way of putting that idea to the test, he takes Stefan out onto his balcony, where Colin says that either Stefan jumps or he will. If you cause Stefan to take the plunge, he ends up dead, and four months later, Micro Play is lamenting the half-finished version of Bandersnatch that was rushed to market. Bandersnatch rating: “It’s just not a good game. It’s just abrupt and jarring and unnecessary and creepy and weird.”
The “They Fight” Ending
Let Colin take the fall, and Stefan will wake up in the car on the way to the psychiatrist’s office, suggesting that the whole acid-trip sequence was merely a vivid hallucination. Work on Bandersnatch continues apace, as does Stefan’s descent into madness. Eventually, he demands to know who’s pulling the strings, and you’re offered a choice of explanations: either the Netflix logo or a three-pronged glyph in the shape of a decision tree.
Pick Netflix and you’ll be guided down the most meta of the “Bandersnatch” pathways. “I am watching you on Netflix,” Stefan’s computer screen informs him. “I make decisions for you.” Not surprisingly, the news that he’s being manipulated by a person from the future sends Stefan back to his psychiatrist, who asks him an entirely reasonable question: If he’s being controlled for someone else’s entertainment, why isn’t his story more … entertaining?
Fortunately, she knows just the thing: Let’s rumble! She pulls a pair of retractable batons from the back of her sensible skirt and drops into a combat stance; a minute later, Stefan’s dad joins the fray as well. You’ve got the option to give him a karate chop or a swift kick in the balls, but either way Stefan gets dragged out in a headlock, screaming the 1980s geek equivalent of “Are you not entertained?”
The “All the World’s a Stage” Ending
Instead of fighting his shrink, you can order Stefan to jump out the window. But when he tries, it doesn’t open, for the simple reason that he’s on a movie set and not in a real office. Unlike the other participants, though, Stefan doesn’t know he’s an actor, and he stares blankly at the crew as they reset for another take.
The “Bury Your Feelings” Ending
Choosing the decision-tree glyph heightens Stefan’s psychosis instead of confusing him, and he reacts by killing his father, all the while insisting he’s not in control of his actions. You can’t avoid steering Stefan toward murder, but you do at least get a choice of what to do with the corpse. Opt for burial, and either Colin, Mohan, or Colin’s wife will drop by the house while he’s in the process of dragging his dad’s body into the backyard. Whether or not he commits another murder to cover up the crime—various pathways add Colin and Mohan to the list of casualties—Stefan ends up in jail, and Bandersnatch is never released. The closing image of Stefan scratching a network of decision trees on his cell wall is the closest the episode comes to a traditional Black Mirror ending, a tidy moral that suggests there really is no escape.
The “Rest in Pieces” Ending
There might not seem to be much difference between burying his dad’s corpse and chopping it up, but guiding Stefan to break out the hacksaw allows him to finish Bandersnatch on his own terms, with his father’s severed head as inspiration. The game is released to critical acclaim, although it’s pulled from the shelves once Stefan’s crime comes to light. But in 2018, a young programmer—whom careful viewers will recognize as Colin’s grown daughter—is aiming to reboot the game for a new generation. Unfortunately, the process doesn’t go any more smoothly for her than it did for Stefan, and she’s left smashing her computer in frustration, just as he did so many times. Bandersnatch review: 5 stars out of 5
The “Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train” Ending
The root of Stefan’s psychological anguish is the loss of his mother, who died in a train crash when he was 5—on a train she would not have taken had she not been delayed by Stefan’s search for a missing stuffed animal. It may take a couple of play throughs, but eventually you’ll arrive at a locked cabinet in Stefan’s father’s study, with the option to enter the passcode “TOY.” Open it, and Stefan, now returned to his 5-year-old self, finds the bunny and re-enters his room on that fateful morning. It’s still too late to keep her off the train, but this time Stefan has the option to join her, knowing that boarding it will mean death for him as well. Choose it, and we see mother and son side by side in the train car, bathed in sunlight as Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman” floods onto the soundtrack. Smash cut to 1984, where 19-year-old Stefan has suddenly and inexplicably died in the middle of a session with his psychotherapist. Although “Bandersnatch” has many endings, this is the one that the episode has been guiding us toward, the only one that doesn’t immediately offer you the opportunity to go back and choose again. Stefan embraces his fate and chooses death over struggle—although in video games, death is just the easiest way of getting back to the beginning. After the credits roll, we return to an early scene of Stefan listening to his Walkman on the bus, only instead of popping in a Thompson Twins cassette, this time it’s the demo version of Bandersnatch. Our ears are filled with digital static, but he finally seems to be at peace—at least until you decide to play through Black Mirror one more time.