After a few weeks of entertaining "experiments" that felt flawed or underfed in some ways, "The Guilt Trip" was a brilliant return to form for Derren Brown and a highly entertaining way to answer a simple question: can an innocent person be persuaded to confess to a murder they didn't commit?
Enter likeable everyman Jody; another of those people who volunteer to participate in a Derren Brown show months before their life starts to take a crazy direction. Don't they ever stop to consider this may all be part of a dastardly plan? Oh well. Jody soon found himself staying for a weekend at a country mansion, unaware he's entered a version of the board game Cluedo. A game where everyone's an actor and the house is full of cameras to watch his every move, with Derren and a production team lurking in a van full of monitors just outside. Their plan: to manipulate Jody's weekend stay, so he begins to doubt his own memory and associate certain things with a feeling of extreme guilt.
This was all very interesting, as Jody met his comedy hero Tim Minchin and was gutted to discover he may have offended him during a chat (according to his lying new "friends"), just as Derren rang a house-wide chime to make Jody subconsciously link the sound to the emotion. A chime that would be reused numerous times to nudge Jody into a culpable state of mind. There were also what could charitably be described as "practical jokes" to make Jody begin to doubt his own memory/sanity, as an expensive pearl necklace went missing and appeared in his room (did he steal it without even realizing?), people changed their clothes when they just out of Jody's sight, furniture in rooms was moved around, and people swapped dishes of food around at a dinner table. It was all very amusing, really, as poor Jody was left to look quizzical about these odd changes.
Then things were ratcheted up a level, by giving Jody a loose motive for murdering Dr Patrick Black, a man who beat Jody at a game of croquet before someone revealed to Jody that his opponent had been cheating. More importantly, Jody was put into a "hypnopompic state" while he slept, thanks to a microphone in his bedroom that Derren could communicate through, leading to the house guests lifting Jody up out of bed and carrying him outside to wake up on the lawn. The next day, with the arrival of police detectives investigating the murder of Dr Black, Jody's recent doubts about his memory, his feeling of enmity towards the cheating doctor, and the knowledge he woke up having "sleepwalked", all led to him suspect he may have done the need and simply forgotten about it. In fact, it worked so well that after Jody's awkward police interview, he promptly left the mansion and travelled to the village police station to hand himself in. A sequence that was presented as an instance of Derren's plan going awry, but it turned out Jody was playing into his hands, as Derren stepped into the police interview room to break the news that everything had been staged, before revealing the interview room itself had paper walls—beyond which stood all of the mansion's actors and a very much alive Dr Black.
A simple idea, but aren't those always the best? Like much of Derren's recent output, there wasn't anything here that hasn't been done before in different ways, but the situations were very enjoyable to watch unfold and Jody was very engaging. It also didn't feel so crazy that you had a tough time believing in what was happening. A few times, it even made me wonder if I'd be convinced I'd killed someone in similar circumstances. I'm sure Jody was selected because he was a particularly "weak minded" soul (I mean that in a nice way), but the seed of doubt would perhaps still be there for everyone if they had a similar experience. Or so it felt. Maybe most people wouldn't even pick up on half the things that was happening around them, but Jody was a particularly attentive, observant and malleable character?
It's the final experiment next week. I hope it's up to this standard.