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Quiz Finale Recap: The Court of Public Opinion

The Court of Public Opinion

Ironically for a story about trivia, Quiz is built around an unanswerable question. Charles and Diana Ingram and Tecwen Whittock were found guilty of cheating, but still maintain their innocence, and it’s likely nobody but them will ever know the full truth. And just in case we were still in any doubt about how thoroughly the makers of Quiz have embraced this ambiguity, the finale ends with an imaginary Chris Tarrant breaking the fourth wall to echo our collective thoughts: “So, come on then. What’s the answer, after all that? Tell us. It’s killing me.”

Spoiler: Nobody tells us. As I noted in my last recapQuiz tries to (mostly successfully) have its cake and eat it, presenting enough evidence throughout episode two to suggest that the Ingrams are guilty, before flipping the tables for the big climax. Although writer James Graham doesn’t fully commit to their innocence, he focuses this final hour not only on the surprisingly compelling case for the defense, but on the genuinely nightmarish ordeal they were put through thanks to the court of public opinion.

The Ingrams’ formidable barrister, Sonia Woodley QC (a deliciously tart Helen McCrory) is unimpressed by the media circus around the couple, which she blames in large part on the police. Being arrested in a dawn raid, she notes, is usually reserved for far worse crimes than what her clients are accused of. Her defense begins on this basis: that the narrative of the Ingrams’ guilt was so tempting and sensational that it became “de facto true” in the minds of everyone from the Millionaire producers to the general public. The prosecution started out with a theory, then worked backwards from it, she argues, and thanks to confirmation bias they’re finding evidence where none may actually exist.

For instance, on the night of the Ingrams’ win, a researcher testifies that she overheard what sounded like a tense argument between the couple backstage (this seems to be loosely based on Eve Winstanley’s real testimony). The researcher says that from the snippets of conversation she heard through a door, Diana appeared to be shouting at Charles for being too “obvious” about the “signals,” but as Woodley points out, memories are unreliable. By this time, the show’s entire production staff — with the notable exception of Chris Tarrant, who wasn’t privy to the same collective conversation as the producers, sound engineers, et al. — had already come to the conclusion that something was iffy about the Ingrams. “All memories are, by definition, a lie,” Woodley says, suggesting that it’s possible to project guilt onto a perfectly innocent moment. And in a sharp Rashomon-like twist, we watch an entirely different version of the same backstage memory play out: In this one, Diana is yelling joyously into the phone on a celebratory call alongside Charles, and apologizing for her patchy cell reception (“the signal’s really bad, obviously!”) We don’t know which version is true, but the point is that both are valid memories of the same event.

On the subject of conversations between Charles and Diana, this is the one area in which Quiz’s balancing act doesn’t entirely work for me. The couple’s interactions behind closed doors are strange; they never acknowledge guilt to each other, but also stop just shy of acknowledging full innocence. Charles comes close — “They really think we did it, don’t they?” — but Diana is more cagey, which tracks with the last episode in which Charles seemed oblivious to the plan that Diana and Tecwen had hatched. Although Charles seems genuinely stunned to learn from the cops that Diana was in touch with Tecwen the night before his taping, he seems less concerned with whether she cheated, and more concerned with whether she cheated, capital C. This weird note of Charles being upset by the possibility that Diana had an affair with Tecwen feels like a red herring to distract viewers from just how odd it is that this married couple are speaking in code even when they’re alone.

Whether you think they’re innocent or not, it’s hard to reach the end of Quiz without feeling sympathy for the Ingrams, whose house is mobbed by press, whose children are ostracized at school, and whose dog is murdered by a vengeful detractor with a pellet gun (I personally was not prepared for that scene). That’s to say nothing of the endless mocking coughs that follow them whenever they’re out in public, which you can only hope have abated in the age of coronavirus. Stealing money from a TV show is close enough to a victimless crime to make the Ingrams’ fate feel excessively cruel even if they’re guilty, although they avoided jail time and are this year mounting a new legal challenge in the hopes of having their verdicts overturned.

But let’s get to the case for the defense. As someone who remembers this case clearly from my teenage years in the UK, I went into Quiz solidly convinced that the Ingrams were guilty. After the show aired in the UK back in April, many viewers reported doing a U-turn and came to believe they were innocent, and although I’m not quite there, the finale does present enough compelling points to make you think twice. For instance: Tecwen Whittock had competed on numerous game shows in the past, including Millionaire, and had never come close to winning big money any of them (although he did win a dog bed made of silk one time, and that’s… not nothing!) Coupled with how he supposedly has a chronic and uncontrollable cough, and he doesn’t seem like the greatest candidate for this supposed plan.

There’s also the fact that Charles Ingram is a member of Mensa, a famous society which only admits people whose IQ falls in the 98th percentile or higher, suggesting he’s not exactly the hapless buffoon some portrayals made him out to be. Couple that IQ with a lot of prep work courtesy of Diana, and it’s not all that implausible that he might really have known the answers. And maybe most damningly of all, there’s an 18 minute cough-free gap in between the Craig David question and the Baron Haussmann question, during which Charles still gets every question right. How could Tecwen know which questions he needed help on, and which he didn’t, Woodley asks?

Paul Smith, on the stand, doesn’t have an answer. But what he does have is a gut feeling that ends up carrying through to the jury despite Woodley’s stellar defense: “I know that he cheated.” Rightly or wrongly, in the absence of hard facts one way or the other, that gut feeling is what doomed the Ingrams.

Closing Thoughts

• The Ingrams’ trial being suspended due to a coughing outbreak in the courtroom is yet another blissfully bizarre real detail. I assumed this had to be an uncharacteristic moment of total fabrication from James Graham, but nope, just like every other couldn’t-make-this-up element of the story, “Coughing Major Trial Suspended By Coughing Outbreak” really happened.

• I know I can’t be the only person who was deeply not okay after watching the demise of poor Buffy the dog, and I have both good and bad news for my fellow animal lovers. Although this horrifying scene is based on the truth, in real life the Ingrams’ pet survived after being shot with an air gun — but it was their cat. The Ingrams’ dog really was killed in a separate incident, so presumably the makers of Quiz just combined the two because they figured we can only take so much.

• “God, I love a good ITV courtroom drama.” In case this little meta-narrative got lost in translation, Quiz was produced by and aired on ITV in the UK, the same network that airs Millionaire.

• Helen McCrory’s entire performance is *chef’s kiss*, but I want to draw particular attention to her chirpy, “Okey-dokey! Withdrawn!” That is the energy I want to take with me into the rest of 2020.

• Not sure I’ve laughed harder at any TV scene this year than I did at Diana quizzing Charles on the lyrics to Craig David’s “Seven Days”: “I believe they were making love by Wednesday, and continued to do so throughout Thursday and Friday as well.” “And on Sunday?” “They just chilled.” Anyone willing to commission a show in which Matthew Macfadyen and Sian Clifford simply discuss the lyrics of early-aughts pop hits… take my money.

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