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Musical Digest: 'Making Plans for Nigel' by XTC

Dubbed from 'Black Mirror: Bandersnatch'

Photo via Pitchfork

Forget the hype of Bird Box for a second and let’s focus on something a little bit more intricate for a moment. For those of you who have never seen a single episode of Black Mirror, you may not understand the intricacies that follow. The feeling after watching an episode of any Black Mirror storyline doesn’t just leave you baffled, it leaves you perplexed in a way that has your brain craving more.

This time, Netflix’s original series has outdone itself by delivering fans an interactive "choose your own adventure" episode: Bandersnatch. Apart from the fact that it gives a nod to all its previous episode titles and incorporates certain visual elements that also highlight its previous adventures, it blew me away with its carefully curated outcomes.

The core of the plot lies within a young aspiring game programmer Stefan (Fionn Whitehead) who wants to model a game after a "choose your own destiny" book written by (dare I say fictional) author Jerome F. Davies, who is notably known for going bonkers after consuming too many hallucinogens, eventually leading him towards decapitating his wife. The inspiration behind the game is the belief that we live in a world with multiple realities. Essentially, as stated by one of the characters Colin (Will Poulter), “What we do in one path leads us to other paths. People think you can’t change things, but you can. That’s what flashbacks are for, invitations to go back and change things.”

In reality, though, there is no remote controlled button that allows us to commit to one choice, rewind, and then choose another. Unfortunately, life is not a virtual play-by-play. It makes you question, though, if these choices are really guided by free will or if one’s fate has already been pre-determined for us no matter what path we choose.

You know that inkling you get when presented with a choice? It’s that brief pause before completely making a huge mistake or possibly the best decision... who controls it? That is the mind-boggling question throughout this interactive piece.

I’m not going to dissect the five potential endings, but what I think is relatively interesting to pay attention to in this sequence is the music choices dictated in this film.

Music in films and short narratives is the thing that captivates my attention the most; especially weird lyrics that may have a distinct connection to what is currently happening in the story.

The Bandersnatch soundtrack has a lot of really great hits from the late 70s and early 80s, attributing the likes of Eurythmics, the Thompson Twins, Kajagoogoo, Tangerine Dream, Laurie Anderson, and Depeche Mode. As viewers, we can make choices between two cassette tapes or vinyl records to help Stefan “get into the flow” of things as he’s commuting or working on his game code.

We’re going to focus on the 1979 XTC hit "Making Plans for Nigel" because its contents are a lot more provocative than all the others. Most of the songs in the film are primarily focusing on the ethereal melodies, but this song is specifically connected to the authoritative bond between Stefan and his heavily concerned father.

The first time that we are introduced to "Making Plans for Nigel" is when Stefan’s father drives his son to Dr. Haynes’s clinic. Prior to this scene, Stefan has had an outburst with his father. Stefan has a deadline to deliver finished code by September 12. He hasn’t left his room in days, nor has he eaten anything, which initially drives his father to check up on him and invite him out for lunch. Stefan gets upset and tells his dad to piss off. His father is alarmed by this sudden reaction and lies to Stefan by taking him to the clinic instead of food. In a rather non-consensual way, Stefan’s father makes the choice for him to get help. He intrudes and thus disrupts the creative flow.

From the perspective of a parent, it was the only reasonable thing to do. It still feels a bit authoritative and demanding. Notice the tone when he says, “You must speak to Dr. Haynes.”

When I looked into the creative process in the making of this song playing in the background, it wasn’t without reason that the producers had chosen this particular tune.

"Making Plans for Nigel," written by Colin Moulding of English rock group XTC, wrote this as a tribute to authoritative parents who make the choices for their son.

The lyrics justify their actions by stating:

“We're only making plans for Nigel
We only want what's best for him
We're only making plans for Nigel
Nigel just needs this helping hand”

BUT the most disturbing part of this is when the parents essentially start to perceive how their son feels, and be certain that young Nigel is happy and contempt:

“And if young Nigel says he's happy
He must be happy
He must be happy in his work”

Additionally, they start to make assumptions about who their son is and how to approach him in order to really understand who he is:

“Nigel is not outspoken
But he likes to speak
And loves to be spoken to
Nigel is happy in his work
We're only making plans for Nigel”

You can tune into the track here.

In correlation with the plot of Bandersnatch, Stefan recalls from his childhood how his father stole his beloved plush toy, Rabbit, indicating that he was too old to be carrying around plush toys. His father was so concerned about his own perception from his in-laws that he, once again, disrupted the flow of Stefan’s development, making yet another choice for him.

Who knows? Had he not barged into Stefan’s room at the time of his writing and construction of the code, maybe the game would have been finished in time. Maybe Stefan wouldn’t have gone so insane to the point of feeling "controlled." Maybe he wouldn’t be in "the hole."

This song, even in its brief moment, was the pivotal foreshadowing of the entirety of how the story was laid out. One way or another, no matter which ending the viewer ended up with, this tune provided insight into something far deeper.

Parents mean well, but in hindsight their executions of their actions may not always have their children’s best interests at heart. Unfortunately for us, unlike in Pac-Man, we can’t try again.

Paulina Pachel
Paulina Pachel

Contrary to popular belief, my first name is not pronounced PAH-LAYNA. I am an intricate mix of flavors and you'll get a taste of them through my writing pieces; versatility and vulnerability go together like a fresh-baked croissant+coffee.

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