‘He was a gentleman on whom I built an absolute trust.’
These words of wounded disappointment belong to King Duncan in Macbeth, but they could have come from an episode of The Traitors – the hit show about truth, suspicion, and betrayal – which concludes tonight.
The premise is simple: 22 contestants, one Highland castle, a series of challenges, and a potential shared prize of £120,000.
But there’s a catch. Some contestants are out to eliminate the others and claim the money for themselves. These are ‘the Traitors’, and it’s the job of ‘the Faithful’ to discover and vote them out.
With an aesthetic blend of Hogwarts, Downton, and Dante, rapid movement between combustible group scenes and one-on-one shots, and a Shakespearian reliance on dramatic irony (we know who the Traitors are, the Faithful don’t), the show is compelling.
But could there be something deeper behind its pull?
We live in a world of social media bots and deepfakes, in a post-Partygate political climate, and in the wake of harrowing abuse revelations in the Church. According to a 2023 study, public confidence in Parliament has halved since 1990, and only 13% of British people have confidence in the press. Suspicion is the norm and deception is assumed.
Who can we trust? That’s the question behind The Traitors. And the show proves we aren’t as good at lie detection as we think.
King David expressed the sting of treachery: ‘Even my close friend, […] one who shared my bread, has turned against me’ (Psalm 41:9). His words foreshadow the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot, the archetypal traitor.
But unlike the contestants in The Traitors, Jesus knew which friend would betray him. Jesus chose to faithfully love his enemy, giving Judas chances to change until the end. And when from the cross he said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23:34), surely this prayer extended even to his treacherous disciple?
Who can we trust? The one who suffers for us and doesn’t resent us for it.
We might also ask, how can we become trustworthy? Can we seek the good of others above self-interest, even when it hurts? Can we be part of restoring the broken bonds of trust in our society, starting in our day-to-day contexts?
There is a bit of Judas in each of us. But, as disciples of Jesus, we’re called to trust and become like our Saviour, ‘Faithful and True’ (Revelation 19:11).
Dominic Palmer lives in Manchester with his wife and their young son. Having been an English teacher for several years, he now works for the Antioch Network of church plants.