Sunday, July 7, 2013

Whodunnit? Recap + Reaction - Episode 1 & 2

Today I try something totally different - recapping a reality show.  Because I've found a new guilty pleasure and I want to write about it.  It's called Whodunnit? and it was a recent 9-episode order from the ABC network.  More after the jump. 

Let's talk about what Whodunnit? is for a second.  It was created by Anthony Zuiker, the creator and showrunner of CSI; since it focuses on, well, crime scene investigation, Whodunnit? could be considered a reality TV amalgam of CSI, The Mole, and classic sealed-enveloped dinner theatre.  Sounds like a good time. The third episode of Whondunnit? is tonight, and I'm here to get you ready for it. 

Now look, until now this blog was almost 100% about video games and comic books.  But I have a history with murder mystery and reality TV, I swears it!  I've read at least two dozen Agatha Christie books (and I own at least 10) and over the years I've had passing addictions to the likes of Criminal Minds, Lewis, Castle, Wire in the Blood (my favorite), The Mole, Survivor, The Amazing Race, and even Murder in Small Town X.  Whodunnit? has a few surface similarities to MiSTX, and just like that short-lived murder reality show I will be following it through to the end.  I mean, I gotta see who the killer is, right?  If you want to skip the recaps and go right to my analysis and predictions, go straight to the Meet the Cast section. 

EPISODE 1 - High Voltage

(these first two recaps will be brief and broadly summarized. I don't want this post to be 17,000 words)

Here's the basic gist of it: there are 13 people in a mansion, and they've been informed that they're to compete in a reality show with a grand prize of $250,000.  The manor's butler, Giles (portrayed by Gildart Jackson with a creepy flair), is also the show's host.  After they mingle in the hall area of the manor (and we, the audience, are introduced to them as well), they go up to their rooms to unpack and settle in.  Before leaving, one guest, Sheri (a former NFL cheerleader) drops a glass of champagne by accident.  After a brief interlude with guests unpacking and relaxing, there's a crashing sound and a whoosh of water.  One of the guests is found below the stairs, in front of a broken fishtank, dead.  Glass is embedded in her face and a stray electical wire in the water has her convulsing.  Sheri is the first victim

Giles explains why the guests are all there: one of them is Sheri's killer, and the other eleven need to find out who the murderer is or meet an end themselves.  The killer has left riddles and clues for the guests to solve, and at the end of each episode, the guest that has done the worst in solving the episode's case becomes the next victim.  There are three areas of investigation for each murder: the scene of the crime, the victim's last known whereabouts, and the morgue, where the victim's body can be examined in detail.  Each guest can visit one and only one location, and collaborate with other guests to try and determine exactly how the murder took place. 

At the morgue, examination of Sheri's body finds some burns along her sides (from the electrified water), but more importantly: a metal sphere resembling a musket ball embedded in her spine in the back of Sheri's neck.  The guests in the morgue agree to try and keep the musket ball a secret from the other investigative teams, in order to help themselves.  At the crime scene, there is water everywhere from the fishtank, a pool of blood where Sheri's head was, and an unplugged lamp with a stripped wire in the water.  In Sheri's room, the shower had been recently used, the lock of her door is broken (there are wood shavings on the ground by the busted lock), and after using a steamer the guests find a message written on her bathroom mirror in steam: MEET ME IN THE LOBBY - I HAVE URGENT INFO FOR YOU. 

Now here's where the games really begin.  Now that all three locations have been thoroughly investigated, each guest has roughly a third of the details surrounding the murder.  The different guests paired up, some of them sharing everything, some sharing almost nothing, and others deliberately altering or leaving out specific details.  A few characters made specific alliances and pledged to share information for the rest of the game (notably Kam and Ulysses, two lawyers that have sort of a mutual respect).  After all that occurred, Giles gathered the guests and gave each of them a key and a riddle, provided by the killer.  And thus begins the second event: finding the killer's clue. 

Eventually, by noticing the keys' inscriptions (13:17 on one side and two crowns on the other) several guests realized that the key was Bible verse 2nd Kings 13:17: "And he said, Open the window eastward. And he opened it. Then Elisha said, Shoot. And he shot." One guest, Ron, found an east window by the lobby that had a pane removed, revealing a large trunk in the manor's yard.  Ron's exclamations and rushing out to the yard attracted the attention of several other guests, so when he opened to trunk to find a slingshot and crowbar, a crowd of at least five or six joined him.  Shortly thereafter, in another mingling interlude, a few of the other guests that hadn't seen the trunk hear about what's in it (some hear about both items, some hear about only the crowbar). 

Now we have the third and final important phase of the game: stating your case.  Each guest goes into an empty room and declares how the victim was killed in detail to a camera, then makes a final accusation as to who the murderer is.  There is also a written test taken to this effect, just like in The Mole, but it's off-camera.  Most people seem to think that Adrianna or Dontae is the murder (a crime reporter and an insurance investigator, respectively), but amusingly two competing alpha males, Kam and Geno, each thinks the killer is the other.  If you'd like to know who the hell these people are, check out the Meet the Cast section below. 

At dinner, Giles comes over with a new note from the killer, saying how it really happened: after the guests separated, Sheri went took a shower.  While she was in the shower, the murderer broke in with a crowbar, wrote a message on the mirror, and hurried downstairs.  The killer then unplugged a lamp, stripped the edge of the live wire, and placed it on the ground near the fishtank.  The killer then removed a windowpane from the east window and hurried outside.  When Sheri exited the shower she saw the message and walked downstairs by the fishtank.  With Sheri facing the fishtank, the murderer shot her with the slingshot, hitting Sheri in the neck and killing her instantly.  The murderer locked the slingshot and crowbar in the outdoor chest and drew shut the curtain covering the missing windowpane.  Sheri hit her head on the fishtank glass after being shot and cracked it, then fell on her back; soon after the cracked fishtank broke, spilling water everywhere and shocking the already-dead Sheri into convulsions. 

Giles declares that one guest did better at stating her case than the others: Sasha (a journalist who takes zero shit and gives zero fucks).  Sasha is essentially the "winner" of the round and the other guests are forced to open envelopers with cards showing either "Spared" (they won't be the next victim) or "Scared" (possibly the next victim).  Dontae and Don get the two Scared cards; Don, by the way, is an ex-cop pretending to be a high school football coach, so as to keep a lower profile.  Anyhow, Dontae missed several important details in his description and Don thought the murder weapon was the crowbar.  Missing out on seeing the killer's clues is a HUGE problem.  Giles asks the guests to go to their rooms, and to wear the special pajamas left on their beds for a pajama brunch the following morning.  Don and Dontae are (not unreasonably) nervous and uncomfortable. 

BRAAMP BRAAMP. The fire alarm goes of at 4:38 AM.  All of the guests rush outside with Giles, who calls roll, and (fuckin' OF COURSE) Don and Dontae are the only ones missing.  Don shows up a little late, but is soon followed by Dontae, who is FUCKING COVERED IN FLAMES.  Dontae jumps in the swimming pool and floats there facedown, shaking.  Dontae is the second victim

So that's what it is.  1) a guest is murdered. 2) the remaining guests individually choose to investigate either last known whereabouts, crime scene, or morgue.  3) the guests solve the killer's riddle for additional clues. 4) the guests individually make a case and take a test to determine the next victim.  5) Giles reveals exactly how the murder took place, and then announces a winner and at least two characters at risk to be the next victim.  In between the guests try and play a game; they're sharing, withholding, and lying about information to try and succeed for themselves and sabotage others.  I fucking love it, but I also acknowledge that it is creepy as hell and occasionally BEYOND hackneyed.  Poor Giles has to deliver about thirty morbid puns every episode.  But I don't care.  I want to see more ridiculous staged murder scenes (remember that CSI pedigree) and I want to know who the killer is.  But enough talk!  Time for the second recap. 

Episode 2 - Fire Starter

So, Dontae is dead, burnt to a crisp in the pool, and that means that the three guests that had him pegged as the murderer were dead wrong.  I won't write them here, but the over-under on Giles's fire and murder puns is 21.5 and you should take the over.  Anyhow, Kam, Adriana, and Sasha check out the crime scene at the pool.  Kam dives down into the water to find a locket with an inscription of Saint Agatha and some plaid fabric.  Sasha and Kam notice that it's different fabric than the socks and pajamas that the other guests have, while Adriana is off in la-la land inspecting the door locks or something.  Adriana's kind of a kook, and has drawn a lot of suspicion from other guests (she was the most-guessed murderer in both episodes). 

In Dontae's room, the guests here (Geno, Lindsey, Ron, and Melina) find an empty box and a note offering "protection from Saint Agatha" and burn markings on the lamp and doorknob.  The carpet in Dontae's room is thick shag, different from the carpets in other rooms.  Geno suggests that they tell others that the note said "Saint Agnes" or "Saint Augustine" instead of Agatha, to throw the others off and the others agree (they, of course, don't know that the pool group found the locket that was in said box).  In the morgue, Don, Dana, Cris, and Ulysses examine Dontae's dead body and determine that the burn originated from Dontae's right arm and chest. (Those CSI makeup and prop professionals are really good at their jobs).

In sharing all this information, there are varying degrees of trust.  Geno and Melina are telling everyone about Saint Agnes (not Agatha), and the dynamic duo of Kam and Ulysses decide to add Lindsay to their circle so they can have information from all three areas of investigation.  Geno clearly trusts almost no-one, and Sasha is suspicious about most everyone and clearly frustrated with Kam's bullshit.  Dana, Melina, and Adriana almost seem too trusting and willing to share information, poor saps, and Cris, Don, and Ron seem to be getting along with other people.  Those latter three don't get a ton of face time this episode. 

So Giles brings in the next Killer's Clue, in which everyone is given a white flag and a riddle involving looking for "liquid fire above the cycles" and referring to "dragging your feet."  Ron and Don start checking the barbeque (next to some parked bicycles) to no avail.  Melina gets the idea to check the laundry room, and finds a carton of benzene above the dryer.  Applying the benzene to their flags results in a pink stripe forming.  Several other guests followed Meline down to the laundry, but Kal and Ulysses realize that the pink stripe refers to a door upstairs.  Upon walking across the carpet and touching the door, the front of it sparks Kam's hand.  Kam's team found it. 

Now the interpersonal drama begins.  Only Kam, Ulysses, and Lindsey saw the door, and after speaking to Cris about the case they decide to bring her in to make four.  At different times Dana, Adriana, and Sasha try to speak to Team Lawyers-Blondes, but are all rudely rebuffed by Kam.  This affects Dana particularly roughly, as she believed she had a rapport with Ulysses (Dana is a nurse and mother of six).  Rifts are forming.  While those four are despairing, trying to piece together the murder without realizing the static electricity angle, Ron, Don, and Geno are upstairs, examining the door that Team Lawyers-Blondes found earlier.  Those three seem to have solved it as well.  Downstairs, Sasha confronts Milena about the Agnes / Agatha confusion on the locket, and Milena comes clean with Geno's little scam.  With dinner soon approaching, the ones feeling the pressure the most seem to be Dana, Melina, and Adriana.  Probably for good reason.  The guests state their cases, and then the dinner bell rings. 

At dinner, Giles creeps everyone the fuck out even more with a meal en flambe, asking "too soon?"  Here's how it really happened: after dinner the previous night, the killer replaced Dontae's house pajamas with flannel ones, his socks with static-building nylon socks, and his rug with a thick shag carpet.  The killer sprayed Dontae's PJs with colorless, odorless, flammable benzene (found in the laundry room later on). Lastly, the killer left the St. Agatha pendant and card on Dontae's bedside table.  At bedtime, Dontae entered his room, put on the pajamas, read the note, and put on the locket (come on, man. I know this is a scripted scene from after you lost the round, but COME ON).  At 4:38 AM, with the others asleep, the killer tripped the fire alarm.  While everyone was rushing downstairs, Dontae stood up, walked across the carpet (building up static with the nylon-on-shag), and created a spark on his doorknob, setting his PJ's on fire from his right arm outward and melting part of a lampshade.  Dontae then sprinted downstairs into the lobby, across the deck, and then into the pool.  He died from his burns. 

I should mention this now: this show is fake and people aren't murdered for real.  Seriously, intrepid blogger Andy Dehnart catalogued a few Twitter reactions to the first Whodunnit episode and it's a little startling that some people thought that guests were actually murdered in the show.  Sheri, the first victim, was an actress hired to set the scene, and the contestants even give interviews in full "death makeup" after each episode.  Sorry, just had to make that aside.  This show is about investigating crime scenes and finding clues and solving murders, but they're all fake.  But like I said before, those CSI effects people are good. has posted a postmortem of the first episode describing a few of the special effects used in Dontae and Sheri's murder scenes. 

Back at the Whodunnit? dinnner table, Melina and Dana burst into tears, certain that they're on the (mostly) proverbial chopping block.  Giles names Ulysses as the one that impressed the killer the most, perhaps proving that the path to victory in this game is working with a team and then finding the Killer's Clue (no shit, Sherlock).  Only Dana and Adriana get the Scared cards, which means more tears from Dana and Melina.  Adriana seems a little more composed in her possibly-forthcoming murder.  And with some more uncomfortable "this could be my last night" scenes, the day ends. 

The following morning, we see a quick montage of Adriana dropping a bowl of cereal, running through the manor to the rear deck, hopping on a golf cart, driving through a path across the mansion's grounds, and then exploding.  In a next episode teaser we see that the blast has presumably flung her some distance and left her hanging over a tree branch.  Adriana is the third victim

That's two recaps!  If I get any sort of response to this, then I'll continue recapping Whodunnit? but if I don't, then I might or might not.  Anyhow, let's get to the final part of this way-too-freaking-long article, where I break down the cast. 

Whodunnit? - Meet the Cast

Let's talk about the players in this game.  I'll talk about the thirteen mansion guests, their current status, what I feel their chances are in the game, and what I feel the likelihood is that they're the murderer.  Let's begin.  If you want to see their official bios on ABC's website, here you go


Sheri is a former St. Louis Rams cheerleader that lasted roughly ten minutes of the first episode.  She wasn't ever a contestant (she was an actress hired by the showrunners to die first), but I guess it's fair that one person had to die to set scene.  Attractive Blonde #1

Status: Dead


Dontae was really proactive in the first episode, scheming against Kam and getting an above-average amount of screen time.  Of course that meant he was as good as dead.  I guess his experience as an insurance investigator didn't help much.  Amusingly, three people guessed he was the killer while presenting their cases in the first episode. 

Status: Dead


Adrianna was all over the place in both episodes.  She was focusing on unimportant details and butting around player alliances clumsily.  Her investigation work was so ham-handed that a large number of guests believed she was the murderer in both episodes.  Well, they're all wrong, and Adrianna's dead.

Status: Dead


Cris has been solid in both episodes.  She found the clue both times and seems to get along with the rest of the cast.  She somehow managed to ingratiate herself with Kam, Lindsay, and Ulysses even after those three seemed to be a tight-knit group shutting everyone out.  Still, all of her socializing has drawn suspicion - she had the most killer accusations of anyone other than Adrianna.  While her behavior does seem killer-esque (staying under the radar, becoming part of a group), I haven't seen enough of her in the episodes to believe she's done it.  Attractive Blonde #2

Chance of Killer: High
Chance of Winner: Medium

Cris doesn't seem as smart or observant as her teammates on Team Lawyers-Blondes, so I'll put her at the bottom of that totem pole.  Her actions are kinda suspicious, so I'll give her numerous accusers (including one of her own teammates!) some credit there. 


Poor Dana.  She seems awfully trusting, allying herself with Ulysses and (maybe) Melina early on and then getting totally rejected in the second episode.  At first I would get her confused with Adrianna (both brunettes around the same age, at late 30s early 40s), but Dana is clearly smarter and more confident.  She had some bad luck in episode 2, but I think she'll bounce back just fine.

Chance of Killer: Low
Chance of Winner: Medium

When Dana cried after drawing the Scared card, those tears looked real.  I think she is a genuinely earnest person who was afraid to go to sleep that night.  Anyhow, I think if she teams up with some combination of Melina, Don, Ronnie, or Sasha then she can continue participating with a little more success. 


Don is an ex-cop who is pretending to be a high school football coach (he doesn't want to intimidate others).  However, he looks and acts so much like an ex-cop that at least three other guests have figured it out and I'm pretty sure a few others call him "Coach" ironically.  Don made several errors in his case presentation in the first episode, but teamed up with Ronnie and figured out what was going on in the second.

Chance of Killer: High
Chance of Winner: Low

I'm not sold on Don.  He always seems to be on top of things in the investigation phase, but is near-useless in finding the killer's clues.  I'm still not sure he or Ronnie weren't sabotaging one another in the second episode, and Don made an eerie "Dontae's Inferno" reference that the Killer made in a similar manner later on in a message.  Could be a coincidence; could mean Don's our murderer.  


I like Geno.  He's a bar trivia host who is really trying to play the "game" part of this game.  He wants to sow lies, play tricks, and win that fucking quarter million.  He also has serious issues with Kam, and I hope both of them stick around long enough to escalate that conflict.

Chance of Killer: Low
Chance of Winner: Medium

Geno's unwillingness to work with others does not say much for his chances of winning, but he seemed to be working with Don and Ronnie pretty well in the second episode.  If Geno's as smart as I think he is, he should align himself with those two, or at least Ronnie.  Also, Geno's dislike of Kam and obvious stubbornness seem genuine.  Not very murderous behavior, even if he was trying to sabotage other guests with misinformation.  


Far and away the most obviously manipulative of the guests, Kam the lawyer is smart, sought out alliances almost immediately, and has done a pretty good job during investigations and clue hunts alike.  If I had to make lists of front-runners of both likely killers and likely murderers, Kam is the only person who would make both lists.

Chance of Killer: High
Chance of Winner: High

Team Lawyers-Blondes was extremely effective in the second episode, and exemplify the winning formula of form a group, share information, find the clue.  Kam is the alpha dog of that team, but also has shown a willingness to game and manipulate that could be Killer-esque strategies.  If Kam is the killer, then his suspicion of Geno is either for show or just to mock/bait Geno. 


The third charter member of Team Lawyers-Blondes, Lindsey could be accused of riding Kam and Ulysses' coattails, but I think she's a capable teammate.  She did a fine job reporting on her investigative phase and realized that Don is a cop almost instantly.  Plus, as an engineer and as the daughter of a cop, she clearly has brains and sense.  Attractive Blonde #3. 

Chance of Killer: Low
Chance of Winner: High

If it seems like I'm inclined to think that any member of Team Lawyers-Blondes is a possible winner, you'd be right.  That team has this shit figured out.  Lindsey was actively recruited for the team and seems to get along with others (particularly in the first episode, before she joined Kam's family), but hasn't seemed manipulative or gamey in the way I'd assume the killer would act.  If Lindsey can outguess her teammates when the cast gets smaller, she could be the winner. 


Melina the flight attendant's not stupid, but has made a few missteps and has had some bad luck.  She wisely kept with the group in the first episode to find the clue that Ronnie discovered, but dropped the ball on the laundry room clue in the second episode, essentially handing it to Kam and Ulysses.  When she went along with Geno's plan to give the wrong name on the locket to the other guests, Sasha saw through her immediately.  I don't think Melina has the chops to make the final four or five remaining guests.

Chance of Killer: Low
Chance of Winner: Low

Melina's best move would be to ally with at least two others (I'd guess some combination of Sasha, Dana, and Don) and keep working hard.  Still, I don't think she's as capable as a few of the remaining guests, and her weepy dinner in the second episode has me convinced she's not the killer. 


Ronnie was the crux to finding the killer's clue in the first episode, but made an unlucky guess in the second.  Still, he eventually figured it out and probably saved Don and Geno's asses as a result (or, well, they saved their own asses as a group).  If Ronnie can find a good team, his instincts and could make him the winner.  Or the killer.  It's kind of badass that he's a bounty hunter - I imagine him like a real-life Keith Mars.

Chance of Killer: Medium
Chance of Winner: Medium

I like what I saw of Ronnie, but it's possible he was trying to throw Don off in the second episode.  Still, the fact that he figured out the murder in the end throws suspicion off of him.  His only consequential mistake so far was leading everyone to the first Killer Clue.


A tough-as-nails journalist from DC, Sasha was the "most impressive" guest in the first episode and survived the second episode despite never locating the Killer Clue.  I think if she can get good teammates then she can make the final group.  She clearly has the smarts and attention to detail for it.

Chance of Killer: Low
Chance of Winner: High

More than any other guest I think Sasha is zero-bullshit.  She has never acted in a sabotaging manner, but definitely has a lot going for her in terms of what it takes to win.  I don't think she's the killer because of her reaction to the Team Lawyers-Blondes shutout, but if she teams up with Melina, Dana, Don, Ronnie, or Geno then she can win this thing. 


The second lawyer in Team Lawyers-Blondes, Ulysses has worked well as Kam's sidekick but is also probably the most thorough member of his team - he was the most impressive guest in the second episode, when he presumably had the same information pool as his teammates.  He's definitely smart and good at this game, even if he is basically working under Kam's direction.

Chance of Killer: Medium
Chance of Winner: High

Ulysses seems to either be bland or reserved, but is in a pretty good situation game-wise.  His success is his team's success, but he is probably the smartest of the four (again, he was most impressive in episode 2).  Not sure about his chances as the killer, but I think he's a reasonable bet to be the winner.


So that's that!  If I get any sort of response to this post then I'll make more in the future, hopefully the day after each episode airs.  I've found a new reality TV guilty pleasure, and I'm running with it.  If you want to learn more about the show then I'd recommend watching it on Hulu and checking out ABC's website.  Let the prognostication begin! 

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