Can You “Win” Black Mirror: Bandersnatch?

 

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Disclaimer: Contains spoilers for Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.

Author’s note: I’m going to be referring to Bandersnatch as a game in this article, because it makes more sense to use this word within this context.

Since its release, Black Mirror‘s interactive nightmare Bandersnatch has drawn people into its labyrinth in search of secrets. While it seems that all possible endings have, at this point, been discovered, it is still up for debate which ending is the “true” ending. While, cinematically, the “5-Star” ending might seem the most in-keeping with Black Mirror‘s usual vibe, there’s something about it that seems too obvious. It doesn’t subvert our expectations, it just plays into them. We expect Stefan to end up like Jerome F. Davies, descending into a rabbit hole of paranoia and violence. Nothing about this ending is surprising.

As a gamer, I went into Bandersnatch with the mindset that I needed to get the “true” ending, and I knew well that the “true” ending isn’t always the most obvious. Silent Hill 2 and Bloodborne are prime examples of the true endings being the more depressing and unsettling. In my mind, the true ending to this unconventional story wouldn’t be the easiest to get, it wouldn’t be found at the end of the most conspicuous path, and it wouldn’t be one of the copy-paste endings with a review at the end. Seeking the highest rating for Stefan’s game was only playing into expectations, and going for the easiest answers. Notice how the first REAL choice we are given in Bandersnatch is whether or not to work at Tuckersoft, and making the more obvious choice of accepting the offer leads us to an unsatisfying ending, for both Stefan and ourself, the player. It’s only when you make the risky choice that you can progress. This fact, to me, is very telling of what the true ending of Bandersnatch is meant to be.

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There are many ways to lose a game. There’s far fewer ways to win. You can finish the game, get a review, and be fooled into thinking that you’ve successfully gotten the high score, but you’ve only done what the game expected you to. Only what it wanted you to. You played into the programming, and were controlled just as much as Stefan was. Bandersnatch expects you to go mad, kill your father, and finish making the game. To really beat the game, you have to get Stefan away from the dark fate Bandersnatch has planned for him.

There is only one ending that has you diverge from the path of slavishly completing the game. Only one that fulfills the Stefan’s wants and needs, not those of the player. Only one that actually frees Stefan from the endlessly cycling maze.

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The “TOY” ending, where Stefan goes back in time, finds Rabbit, and embarks on the fateful train ride with his mother, resulting in his spontaneous death in the current time line.

Changing the events surrounding his mother’s death is the only way to truly break Stefan out of the endless cycle of madness, murder, and imprisonment. While the result of changing history is bleak, it is the only ending that does not result in Stefan’s imprisonment, and is (arguably) more merciful. In his death, he is actually freed from the maze. It is the only way he can escape the confines of Program and Control.

Think about it: Throughout the course of Bandersnatch, we’re told over and over again that we need to break free. We’re challenged to escape the limitations of the programming, as impossible as that seemingly is. While we are still controlling Stefan no matter what path we go down, it is possible for us to choose a path for him that gives him closure, and allows him to rest in peace rather than driving him down a path that destroys him and everyone around him. No matter how you slice it, the “TOY” ending is the one that causes Stefan to suffer the least. It also allows him to confront his personal demons, rather than him being driven mad by them.

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We are constantly being told, don’t give in. Don’t make the easy choices. Don’t go for the obvious paths. In a sense, we are playing against the game Bandersnatch itself. The premise of the game tricks us, suggesting that the only goal we have is to complete Stefan’s video game. But doing that only causes him suffering, and surrenders to the trappings of obvious and easy answers. It’s easy to give in. It’s easy to let Stefan become single-minded and only care about the game, letting his own life fall to shambles as a result. What’s harder to do is to look for the deeper, more obscure path, and release our Pac-Man from his programming.

 

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Iron Fist: Is Danny Rand on the Autism Spectrum? [No Spoilers]

With the recent news of Iron Fist‘s cancellation, it’s sad to look back at the two seasons we were given and think about what might have been. While it was certainly the weakest of the Netflix-Marvel collaborations, the nonetheless holds the potential to be as amazing as the others, should he be taken down the right path. The time seems ripe for speculating where the character could go from here, if this iteration is kept alive within the Marvel-Netflix universe, or even brought into the larger scale of the MCU. How could Iron Fist find his footing again?

One of the first things that struck me, when I first watched Iron Fist Season 1, was how different Danny Rand was from the other heroes he shared his universe with, and not really in a good way. He was a typical straight white male from a wealthy family, like so many superheroes, including but not limited to Batman, Iron Man, Green Arrow, Reed Richards, and Ted Kord. Compare this with the other three members of The Defenders: Matt Murdock, a blind man, Jessica Jones, a woman who suffered sexual abuse and PTSD, and Luke Cage, a black man living in the impoverished Harlem. It would make a lot more sense if Danny was also a minority of some kind.

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YES. I know what you’re going to say. “The SJWs have to shoehorn in minorities in everything.” Look: If a tactic is working, DON’T CHANGE IT. The Defenders work GREAT as a group of minorities. It’s just part of the cocktail that makes these characters all so compelling. Furthermore, Marvel Comics made their name by publishing comics that catered to subcultures, minorities, and the disenfranchised. Perhaps the most famous example of this are the X-Men, who themselves are metaphors for racial minorities, LGBT+, and anyone else rejected by mainstream society. So, if you want the SJWs to get out of Marvel Comics, you’re decades too late.

The Netflix version of Iron Fist was not well-received by fans, who criticized the writing and performances. Danny Rand comes off as an oblivious, disconnected, inconsiderate jerk. But, what if there was a reason that Danny has issues with his social interactions? What if there was a reason Danny doesn’t understand the way he acts comes off as rude? What if there was a reason Danny can’t communicate properly?

What if Danny Rand is on the autism spectrum?

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Danny shows a lot of behaviors associated with Asperger’s, a condition on the autism spectrum. Symptoms of Asperger’s include difficulty with social interactions, trouble empathizing with others, and a need for calmness and routine. Even Danny’s constant word-vomiting about K’un Lun and his defeat of the dragon Shou Lao, despite peoples’ reactions, mirrors the way people with Asperger’s can be hyper-obsessive over one particular subject. He tells anyone he meets that he’s “the immortal Iron Fist,” unable to understand that no one knows what that is.

Yes, all of these things could have alternate explanations. After all, Danny did leave the typical world and spent the majority of his life in K’un Lun. And he did fight the dragon Shao Lao, which is definitely something to be proud of. Why wouldn’t he want to talk about it often? This crystallization could account for Danny’s childlike demeanor, but it also doesn’t really explain everything. After all, it’s not like people don’t mature in K’un Lun. Why wouldn’t Danny be a more disciplined person, able to speak politely, be patient, and empathize with others?

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Iron Fist makes a lot more sense if you believe Danny is on the autism spectrum. All the other Defenders and their supporting cast are either disabled, mentally ill, or minorities. If Danny was revealed to be on the autism spectrum it would make his character more sympathetic, and give representation to people on the spectrum.

So, Marvel, if you want to hire me, I’m great at revamping problematic characters…

(Editor’s note: I also came across someone on Reddit who had similar thoughts. The thread is worth reading, in my opinion.)

 

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Theory: The Deeper Connection Between Bloodborne and Lovecraft

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers for Bloodborne.

There’s no question that the Hidetaka Miyazaki game Bloodborne is heavily influenced by the works of H. P. Lovecraft, particularly the concept of the Great Ones and other incomprehensible beings. There are three main cycles in Lovecraft’s work, with some overlaps here and there: The Cthulhu Mythos, the Dream Cycles, and his miscellaneous works. For this theory we’ll just be focusing on the first two.

There are two factions of “Gods” (for lack of a better word) in Lovecraft’s mythos: The Great Old Ones, such as Cthulhu and Tsathoggua, and the Outer Gods, such as Nyarlathotep and Azathoth. (There are also their minions, but those irrelevant here.) The Great Old Ones are mostly Earth deities, worshiped by ancient man. They are rooted in nature and the workings of the Earth itself. Then, there are the Outer Gods, which are more concerned with the Dream Lands and space. They exist outside of our natural realms, living instead in the far reaches of the cosmos and other dimensions.

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In Bloodborne, the main goal of the humans is to transform into higher beings, akin to the Great Ones, through consumption of the blood of the left behind Great One, Ebrietas and experiments with the Kos parasites. However, these humans attempting ascension seem awfully confused. They believe that the Kos parasites will grant them the insight needed to ascend, and begin working with water-based experiments. Kos seems analogous to the Great Old Ones of the Earth. However, there seem to be bigger fish to fry, like the Moon presence, which seems more like an Outer God. It’s not a one-to-one comparison, but I believe Bloodborne drew from this concept of there being two factions of Gods, and created a conflict between them. Someone* suggested that the Amygdala seemed to be the antagonists of the Moon Presence.

*Author’s note: My sincerest apologies, I can’t recall whose theory this is. If anyone reading this knows, please bring it to my attention in the comments below so I can properly attribute their work to them.

Furthermore to prove that the citizens of Yharnam are greatly unaware of the truth, they mistook the concept of Insight to mean “Eyes on the inside.” This makes no sense, honestly. It sounds like the result of a game of telephone, wherein the original concept was to gain insight into the nature of these greater beings, so as to reach their level of existence, but over the years, or decades, or possibly even eras, this word “insight” was mistranslated by those that followed the original discoverers of the eldritch truth, and thought that they were supposed to literally have eyes inside their brains. They therefore began experimenting on animals, and later humans, mutilating them to sprout multiple eyes.

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My theory on what all this means for the story of Bloodborne: Humans attempting ascension are concerned with the “Great Old Ones” like Kos, but they fail in their goals because this is not the true way. The twist at the end is that, while the humans were concerned with the Great Old Ones, the Moon Presence, an Outer God, was pulling the strings the whole time, and it is the true means of ascension. The ending is a revelation that everything the humans thought was important was a red herring. It was never the way to becoming a higher being. Something that other humans could never have fathomed was there was the true means they sought. It enslaved Gehrman so that it could find a Hunter to do its bidding, and destroy the Great Old Ones for reasons that are probably unfathomable to us mortals. Who knows how long this has been going on. Perhaps every Hunter has been given a different task, each one a step towards the Moon Presence’s ultimate goal. Eileen and Djura seem to have been successful in whatever task they were given, and were returned to the waking world by Gehrman’s execution.

Notice how it’s only once you meet the Moon Presence that you ascend to being a higher being. That was the only way the whole time. The blood of the Great Old Ones, Gods of the Earth, were only ever going to turn people into beasts, because the beasts are creatures of the Earth and Nature. The only way to become a higher being, is to commune with the cosmic entities.

 

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