Quiz leaves a lot of the humour at the door in its grand finale, and leaves audiences to make up their own minds about the truth of the matter.
This recap of Quiz Season 1 Episode 3 contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Close to the beginning of Quiz Episode 3, ITV’s head of entertainment Claudia Rosencrantz (Aisling Bea) takes a seat at the trial of Major Charles Ingram (Matthew Macfadyen), his wife Diana (Sian Clifford), and their supposed co-conspirator Tecwen Whittock (Michael Jibson), and mutters, “I love a good ITV courtroom drama.” It’s a joke, obviously, one aimed at the fact that, for most of the episode, that’s exactly what we’re watching. But it’s also a sneaky symptom of the malady that allowed a show like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? to become such a runaway hit in the first place, and the scandal of the coughing Major to seize the interest of an entire nation: entertainment is all that matters – more so, even, than the truth.
Quiz Episode 3 neither confirms nor denies whether the Ingrams conspired to empty ITV’s pockets of a million quid, but it convincingly argues that it doesn’t matter either way. Throughout the trial, during which their lives and reputations rapidly unravel, their kids begin to be targeted at school, and the members of the jury laugh openly at them and their plight, Charles and Diana become the nation’s fools; comedians to be pitied and ridiculed. Whether they cheated or not is beside the point. Their greatest crime was not being entertaining, and their efforts to hide the fact made them more entertaining than anyone could possibly have imagined – the only people not entertained in the end were themselves.
While it began as a comedy, Quiz became a tragedy to support this idea. Flashbacks to a Rocky-style training montage of Diana coaching Charles through a training regimen of pop-culture consumption, defence against the populist questions that are, apparently, a mechanism of the show designed to keep “people like them” off it, was the funniest the episode got. But if you think about that for a moment there’s a glimmer of sadness there, too. Here are people so detached from what’s popular that they have to train for a light-hearted appearance on telly – one gets the sense not to win as much money as possible, but to try and stave off ridicule as best they can. When Charles says on the stand that his bizarre, suspicious behaviour during the game was simply his attempt at being entertaining, you know he’s on to something. Had this scandal occurred today rather than the early 2000s, the jury would have probably understood.
Despite Quiz Episode 3 not taking a firm position either way, Sonia Woodley QC (Helen McCrory), a wonderful highlight, made a better case for the defence than the prosecution could muster. I knew what the outcome would be and still felt slightly surprised to hear a guilty verdict. Surely the evidence provided wasn’t enough? Surely there were too many coincidences to consider? Of course, with a suspended sentence, Charles and Diana essentially escaped legal justice, even if they had to continue to endure various personal reprisals. But the point of the show was made. The truth is what we decide it to be.