ABC’s Whodunnit concluded with an intense, rapid-fire finale that had a challenge and pace reminiscent of an outstanding The Amazing Race finale. But it was guilty of emphasizing the wrong thing, insisting that the “who” mattered in everything from its title to its finale’s focus.
The episode began with a Giles-narrated intro that should have preceded every single episode, because it succinctly summarized the competition and the conceits, like having the contestants play-act their own murders. It would have done a lot to clear up the hilarious confusion had versions of it aired all season long.
Yet even the finale left people confused, because Kam suspected Lindsey was the killer, but still won after Cris was revealed to be the killer via footage of Lindsey’s murder and some memorized rhymes.
That’s because the who never mattered, even in the last episode, which continued to insist that it was about the who. It was not.
Instead, it was about the contestants’ ability to solve puzzles and challenges. Period. Knowledge of the killer’s identity never, ever, never, never, never ever, never ever never ever never, never never never mattered. Never. Yet everything from the contestants’ murder-of-the-week explanations to social media infographics to the show’s title made it seem like the who was of consequence.
That–and the subsequent play acting everyone was required to do as part of that conceit–deflected attention from all of the series’ strengths, primarily its wit, humor, strong production values, great host, and smartly designed challenges.
The final challenge was particularly intense, providing edge-of-the-couch excitement for most of the hour. Even the corny ending of having Cris being carted away in handcuffs was actually a fun in-joke: the cops were played by executive producers Anthony Zuiker and Cris Abrego.
The final challenge tested the contestants’ memory and intellect, and one-upped The Amazing Race‘s use of similar challenges in finales. It was physical and mental, but didn’t just test how well they’d paid attention to the previous challenges, because they also had to problem-solve while racing each other. The use of eliminated contestants in full corpse makeup worked well, too.
Kam was a strong player overall, and won the $250,000 because performed best in the final challenge whose winner would win the game and whose loser would be the last pretend victim; Cris played, but her performance didn’t matter. Yet even in those final moments, the show kept emphasizing the who.
This was the series’ big mistake. Casting a person as a killer–never mind having her, coincidence.
Because she was cast as the killer, how Cris performed did not matter, but she should have just been allowed to play, because she was a worthy opponent to the other three finalists. Cris ended up with not a single “scared” card, but that was because of her own skill as a contestant: she had no knowledge of the murders and took the 3-page tests along with the others.
It’s ironic that ABC executives who once worked on The Mole actively steered Whodunnit’s producers away from emulating that show, because they ended up rejecting the parts they should have kept (mostly, the quiz) and keeping the one part they should have rejected (the mole/killer-as-cast member).
Like the network did with last summer’s The Glass House, ABC tried something interesting with Whodunnit?, but here they have a format and production design that has much more widespread appeal (mystery-solving in one-off episodes versus a social game that unfolds over time and gives obsessive viewers power). The show wasn’t a home run, but it was far from striking out. This was a solid double, even a triple, and just a few tweaks–maybe even to its name–and the series could become a Mole of its own.