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Black Mirror: Bandersnatch Causes Season 5 To Be Delayed

You've gotta take the bad with the good.  

The innovative Black Mirror feature Bandersnatch arrived on Netflix to much fanfare and discussion on December 28 (the good). Unfortunately, season 5 of the dystopian series will arrive later than expected (the bad) — due solely to the complications involved in producing the choose-your-own-adventure-style story.

For those few who haven't yet dove in, Bandersnatch is set in 1984, and tells the story (or rather, stories) of Stefan (Fionn Whitehead), an aspiring video game programmer who receives a plum assignment from famed software company Tuckersoft. His task: to create an adventure game based on the titular fictional novel, which features multiple branching paths and endings, and which happened to drive its author murderously insane. Hoping to live up to the standard set by his idol (and Tuckersoft's star programmer) Colin Ritman, Stefan isolates himself and begins banging out code in an attempt to bring the game in on a tight deadline. Depending upon choices made by you, the viewer, his efforts produce wildly varying results.

Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, series creator and writer Charlie Brooker revealed that, while Black Mirror's creative team knew they had their work cut out for them in mapping out, filming, and editing Bandersnatch's many twists and turns, it quickly became evident that even their most pessimistic expectations weren't quite pessimistic enough. "We knew going into it that it would be difficult and challenging and more complicated than a normal film that we would do. Even then, we underestimated," Brooker said. "As the story expanded, I like to say that the story got longer and it got wider. So the whole thing started expanding a bit like an inflatable life raft in a small room."

Originally, Brooker says that the team had expected to dump about twice as much time and resources into the standalone than they would have for a standard Black Mirror episode. As production progressed, however, they were forced to admit that it was actually looking more like Bandersnatch would gobble up the resources it would've taken to produce four regular episodes — or, roughly two-thirds of a complete season. 

"A lot of that is because literally the tools that we needed to create it didn't exist at the start, so we were learning as we went," Brooker said, alluding to the Branch Manager tool that he and his team used to keep track of the flick's multiple, at times interweaving plotlines. Netflix worked with Brooker and producer Annabel Jones to create the in-house tool, which the streamer plans to utilize in the production of similar projects in the future. Even with that assist in place, Brooker and his team struggled to map out previously uncharted territory in bringing Bandersnatch to the screen. "There was quite a bit of trial and error of learning what would and wouldn't work. Because you have to learn a whole new way of editing," the writer explained. "It's not like editing a standard film where you can often rearrange scenes or cut things. In some respects you have more freedom because you have so many different stories that you can be telling. But then you are restricted in new ways. There's a whole new language you have to learn and on top of that, you have to write and film so much more."

In addition, Brooker and company found themselves unsure as to just how varied Stefan's multiple paths should be. "Something like this is obviously a massive undertaking and bizarrely, the really time-consuming thing is holding onto that truthfulness," said Jones. "You could have created something like this where there were very dramatic and very big, disparate decisions for Stefan to make. But you might have ended up with a sprawling and incohesive story, which wouldn't have been very satisfying. A lot of the craft comes from keeping the world as small as possible, but also keeping the world as emotionally impactful for Stefan as possible."

While some viewers were put off by the relative lack of variety in the multiple conclusions offered by Bandersnatch, the producers ultimately came down in favor of streamlining the proceedings a bit, a choice that — without giving away too much — ended up fitting perfectly with the movie's themes. But its complicated two-year journey from conception to debut inevitably meant that Black Mirror season 5 would have to be back-burnered, although the new set of episodes is still expected to debut sometime in 2019.

"It did take an enormous amount of time and as a result, then season 5 sort of gets shifted back a little bit," Jones said. "But this is such a huge, interesting new opportunity for Netflix that we're a part of. And there is so much fun to be had with it. That's one thing that I hope people take away from it: I hope that you just enjoy the experience."

Brooker has also hinted that he may give viewers something else they can take away from Bandersnatch: the character of Colin Ritman, brilliantly portrayed by Will Poulter. While traversing the flick's many paths, it becomes evident that Ritman (minor spoiler ahead) is quite aware of the multiple timelines at play, suggesting that he is not so much a mere mortal as some type of transdimensional entity. Even though more than one timeline results in the character's death, Brooker has hinted that we may not have seen the last of Ritman — and he even offered the possibility (with tongue planted firmly in cheek) that he's been a part of the Black Mirror universe all along.

"Ostensibly, he could go on forever, because he's both dead and not dead," he mused. "Colin popped up as a character and then I kept writing more and more for him because I was really enjoying him. I like the idea of that. He could show up anywhere. We should be like George Lucas and go back and insert him into episodes we've already done. I could see him popping up in 'San Junipero' or running around in 'White Bear.'"

We'd like to go on record as stating that this would be quite possibly the coolest thing ever. It's been observed that, in-universe, Tuckersoft is likely the first iteration of game developer TCKR, which offers the hapless protagonist of the season 3 episode 'Playtest' an immersive gaming experience to literally end them all. Could Ritman's magnum opus be a game that offers the player a myriad of insane, dystopian experiences? Could the entire Black Mirror universe itself be set within the ace programmer's masterpiece?

Yeah, probably not, but we can dream.