Derren Brown: The Assassin

SHAUN LU looks into Derren Brown’s eyes. Not around the eyes, just into the eyes, and he’s under.

4OD channel 4 derren brown magic Rob Young shaun lu the assassin TV



A few years ago he persuaded four innocent people to perform a heist with a toy gun in broad daylight, now he’s only gone and managed to convince some poor sod to bump off the one-and-only Stephen Fry.

Admittedly the latter may not have required Derren Brown’s greatest powers of persuasion, but The Assassin (4OD) was still a welcome return for the old shyster.

Miracle Maker, his last effort, was an aberration which at times was more soap-opera than tense psycho-exploration, with Derren spending more time playing babysitter than Svengali. Thankfully, his latest is convincing and shocking in equal measure.

In many ways, Brown’s greatest trick lies not in the actual act, but in convincing sceptics that his acts are not fraudulent. Has the audience been picked? Are people merely playing along? Has it been completely staged?

His infamous failure to predict a roulette wheel cost him £5,000, but this was a small price to pay for paradoxically increasing
his credibility. It showed us that he was fallible, thus casting his successes in a much more astonishing light. Derren is as adept at PR tricks as he is at mind tricks.

To answer his remaining doubters, his assassin of choice on Friday night was subject to a number of tests that went beyond the pale – forcing him into situations which in theory would strip away any pretence of faking it. He remained in an ice bath until his heart rate dropped so low that he was close to going the same way as his intended target, while he also soaked an audience member with a vial of what he thought was hydrochloric acid – all while under Derren’s voodoo.

This did not entirely rescue the clichéd nature of the ‘subject selection’ process, which inevitably descended into how many euphemisms the writers and Brown himself can find for ‘impressionable moron’ (I counted seven). But it was enough to convince me that I was watching the real McCoy.

Thereafter, Derren employed all of his usual tricks of suggestion and impression. Especially of note was the ‘marksman mode’ that the chosen one was able to tap into when he received certain triggers, such as when Derren played a certain ringtone on his iPhone. This had the unnerving effect of transforming everyman Chris, who had never shot a gun before, from Emily Heskey to Wayne Rooney on the shooting scale – hitting the bullseye with almost every shot.

I also enjoyed the presentation of the episode amid the historical backdrop of the CIA’s MK ULTRA experiments. There were thinly-veiled suggestions that the CIA was behind the murder of Robert Kennedy by a Lebanese man called Sirhan Sirhan, who claims no memory of the incident or the preceding 24 hours. The juxtaposition of the clueless, helpless looks of both Sirhan Sirhan and Chris, after he was informed that he had shot Stephen Fry, was superbly executed.

Brown, as always, succeeds in leaving the viewer a heady mix of confused, shocked, entertained and amused. Tipsy, even. But hidden in the undoubted entertainment is the inconvenient truth that we, as the viewing public, need more and more to get ourselves going. A bank heist sufficed five years ago, now it takes murder of celebrities to get us to switch over from Corrie.

But what does Derren Brown care? He has found his niche and is exploiting it well. Overall, a triumph.