As the choices of the story get more and more sinister and cruel, like making Colin jump off the balcony or killing Dad, you are put more and more in a tough spot. There is no clear indication of the consequences of the choices you’re making, the direction in which you’re pushing Stefan. The time limit puts pressure to decide about his actions, Colin is telling you that time doesn’t exist, that you can go back and change things. Unlike other Black Mirror episodes where things go to shit and you watch in dread or disgust or horror or repulsion, this time you are making it happen. And if the story is to turn out well for Stefan, that is also up to you.
A highlight in this situation you’re in is the scene where young Stefan is looking for his toy under the bed and his mum asks him if he’s going with her. One option shows on the screen: “No.” It doesn’t matter if you click – he is saying “no” regardless. It is going to happen and you can’t change it and you feel… relief? Nothing I can do.
You start off Bandersnatch by being lulled into a conviction that you are the hero – you have your mission and you want to get there. You make choices as Stefan, for Stefan, and you take control of the narrative. You feel responsible. But along the way, it becomes clear: you are not the hero, you are the villain. Not because the options offered to you are evil, but because you are making them for someone else. This story is not about you. You want to make the right choice but there is no right choice because you do not suffer the consequences. Agency without responsibility makes you the villain. If Stefan chooses to pour tear over his computer, he has to live with consequences: no game, no job. But it was his choice. If you make that decision for him, you’re the baddie.
According to Sartre, making the claim, “That’s just the way I am” is a form of self-deceptive bad faith, as you are denying the ontological responsibility for “choosing to be that way.” Stefan did not choose to be that way and thus, cut off from agency, he can make that claim without being insincere. You come to the slow realisation that you may be in control but that does not make you the hero of the story as the two functions have been decoupled. As it is not your story, it is irrelevant whether you make the right choice or not, as any choice you make for someone else where the outcomes affect them and not you, is inherently the wrong choice. There is no such thing as making the right choice for someone else. Even though Stefan has no control, he counterintuitively emerges as the rightful hero because he also has no responsibility.
As the ultimate hero-turned-villain character of all time said in “End Times,” Breaking Bad’s twelfth episode of the fourth season: “I’ve made choices. I alone should suffer the consequences of those choices, no one else.” You see, Breaking Bad starts out in a way that you are left with no choice but to root for Walter White, the underdog’s underdog. As the seasons progress, you are left with a moral dilemma: Am I still supposed to support Walter? Watching that show is a journey of coming face to face with your own moral compass, and who you are depends on when exactly do you stop rooting for Walter. For me the moment came rather late in the fifth season where Walter kills Mike. I saw him going from being the hero of the story to the villain and I continued to stand by him, support him and perhaps enable him to undergo that transformation. I wanted him to be badass; I wanted him to break bad. Even though I had no direct control, I felt I allowed this to happen, just by participating in the narrative or even being a bystander. Stefan’s predicament has to be understood similarly. I wanted control; I wanted to do the right thing, but just by participating in the story I have undergone a fall. It was I who pulled the trigger and Sartre will rightly hold me responsible. I may be a hero in your story and there may be merit in hearing my side of it (which is this article) but when it comes to Stefan’s story, Bandersnatch, I am the villain.