Saturday, 3 November 2012


Saturday, 3 November 2012
The conclusion of Derren Brown's zombie apocalypse prank was everything it needed to be, although more issues with the concept bubbled up in my mind. The biggest being how the psychological changes to Steven didn't require such an elaborate fraud, and there were times when the narrative worked overtime to make you believe Steve was undergoing a huge transformation of personality... when he was only behaving like any sane person would in this situation (surely), prodded along by actors with earpieces. For instance, when the show cut to behind-the-scenes—with Derren watching everything on a bank of monitors, and grinning when Steven decided to persuade brash Ian to trust a timid survivor called Danny—it made me question the assumption Steven wouldn't take pity on a nervous man before the show and argue the case.

Thankfully, Apocalypse ended on a persuasive note—with Steven sacrificing an airlift to his evacuated family, instead opting to return to the zombie-infested army base to be with teenage Leona (the survivor he promised he'd keep safe shortly after meeting her). You'd have to be a heartless bastard to do otherwise, sure, and I'm still not convinced pre-Apocalypse Steven would have jumped into the chopper and flown away with a middle finger directed at Leona below... but, I guess it worked well enough. Once Ian left the picture (reunited with his infected wife) and Steven inherited his role as "leader", looking after his own cowardly replacement in Danny, not to mention Leona, you definitely saw a more confident Steven start to emerge—which was ultimately the point of this two-parter.

Like most of Derren Brown's specials, I was more interested in the denouement than the actual hoax. It was a beautiful moment when Steve fell back into a trance after leaving the base with Leona and discovering a ringing phone on an incongruous wooden table, only to wake up in his bedroom and hurry downstairs for an emotional reunion with the family he's been taking for granted all his life.

I can't help wondering how these shows get made, or how its targets are chosen from the thousands who apply. We saw footage of Steven's audition in this episode, so he obviously applied to be part of a TV show of some description, even if he didn't know it was a Derren Brown project. If that's the case, wouldn't you remember that and smell a rat when you're suddenly in the middle of a zombie uprising a few months after you recorded stuff for a TV show? We also never see the hypnotism that must take place off-camera, enabling Steven to be put into a quick and easy trance—so does Derren put a block on certain thought processes Steven might have during the hoax, to stop him considering the fact everything's related to his Derren Brown audition? If so, would that be fair? I kept waiting for Steven to comment on the ridiculousness of the situation and how it's like being in a George Romero movie, but was Steven's brain stymied to prevent such logical thoughts? This may explain his half-lobotomised expression half the time, too.

Maybe it's best to ignore all that and take Apocalypse at face value, but a part of me suspects it (and the similar shows Derren's done of late) would feel much less impressive if you understood all the months and months of preparation that goes into it. As a piece of Friday night entertainment, Apocalypse was a stimulating conclusion to a captivating idea, but it's far from my favourite thing Derren Brown's ever done—as it appeared to be 80% elaborate deception and 20% hypnotic suggestion.

The biggest mind-fuck of Apocalypse was learning the actress playing "Leona" is older than Steven!

Channel 4 – Fridays, 9PM