Derren Brown’s latest special is a continuation of projects such as “Hero at 30,000 feet” in that it combines his still-excellent techniques and tricks with the reality TV trope of a “journey of self-discovery.” Brown takes Steve Brosnan, a selfish and lazy 20-something and plans to spook him into gratitude towards his family, and action within his life, by – naturally – convincing him the world is destroyed, and everyone he knows is dead.
That is the surprise of this two-parter, and one which raises many moral questions. The audience tuned in to witness destruction, and this aspect is fairly satisfying, with many low budget explosions and imaginings of post-apocalyptic Britain. Zombie fans have seen it all before.
But what hasn’t been seen is the genuine shock and emotional agony of a man who believes the world is over, and his family probably dead. He emerges from his deserted hospital room to see a repeating ‘army broadcast’ detailing the near-end of mankind, and he has been prepared and conditioned to believe it. There is a camera perfectly positioned to capture the breaking of his heart, his mouth gaping, his eyes wide. It is disturbingly moving to see the face of man who believes that the apocalypse has arrived.
Within the first instalment of this man’s ordeal, Steve meets two actors playing specially crafted characters designed to provoke positive personality traits to shine through. The first is a young girl who has lost her mother and needs protecting, and lo and behold we soon find the subject promising to take care of her no matter what. The episode ends with Steve taken somewhere safe and reassured by a message that his family is alive. It is good TV, but is it perhaps cruel to a man who had no clue what he was signing up for?
Catch up on 4oD now to see how the story ends.