Review: Inside No 9: Once Removed
- Credit: BBC/Sophie Mutevelian
Uncomfortable, disturbing, dark, twisted - and brilliant. The writers of Inside No 9 show no signs of running out of inspiration for this wonderful series of self-contained stories that are all linked by a number.
We're well into the fourth series of Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith's anthology of darkly-comic twisted tales, but there's no sign of the terrible twins running out of sinister storylines that link to the number nine.
Tuesday's episode was a masterclass in storytelling, a creepy fairytale told Memento-style, the action leapfrogging back by 10 minutes in time to reveal the truth behind those opening scenes which is, of course, nothing like we'd imagined.
In Once Removed, the episode began at the end before rewinding through the plot until we ended with the beginning: keep up there at the back.
Told in sequence, the story would be far less entertaining. In essence, the chap at number nine has been having an affair with his wife May's friend Natasha, who lives at number six with her father, whose dementia leads him to believe that he's Andrew Lloyd Webber.
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Keen to leave the frumpy May (played by Monica Dolan with equal measures of wide-eyed innocence and devilish cunning) for the fragrant Natasha (Emilia Fox, unchained from the deathly dull Silent Witness to appear as a guest star), Charles (never seen, but heard on the end of a phone call and played by Rufus Jones) had arranged for an assassin to solve the May problem.
Natasha and Charles then plan to run away to Portugal, leaving her dear old Dad Percy (David Calder in a gem of a role) to live in a nearby old people's home – his only stipulation is that he doesn't have to share a room with Tim Rice.
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It would have all worked perfectly had May not stumbled upon the affair and discovered the plot to kill her: she turns everything on its head with the twist of a screwdriver, causing the six at the front of Natasha's house to hang upside-down and become a nine and in doing so condemn Natasha rather than herself to a swift end.
Hitman Viktor, played by writer Shearsmith, despatches Natasha, her father and hapless, desperate estate agent Hugo (co-writer Pemberton) in a killing spree that takes minutes and leaves Viktor clearly annoyed that a simple job has turned into a logistical nightmare.
That's the simplified version, but of course this is Inside No 9, so the pieces of the puzzle aren't put into place until the last minute – we're not sure if Viktor is May's husband, Percy's son or Natasha's new 'mystery' man.
It's not until you watch the programme for a second time that you see just how cleverly this episode has been constructed and how impressively-detailed it is.
The episode opened with removal man Spike (Nick Moran) arriving at number 9 as the Handle Me Gently (he tells May, when she asks about the name, that his boss had considered calling the business 'Van Man Style') removal man come to help a clearly troubled May leave the house she tells him she's lived in for 'yonks'.
Viktor then appears wearing a pink silk dressing gown and within a matter of minutes, Spike has stumbled across two bodies – a woman shot in the head in a chair in the kitchen, a man with a bloodied face in the downstairs loo slumped on the toilet – seen an old man vomit blood and witnessed May stabbing Viktor in the head with a screwdriver. It's all go at number nine.
As time spools backwards, we quickly realise that we've drawn the wrong conclusions about what's happened and even who the protagonists are.
When we see Viktor stir rat poison into cocoa for Percy, it could be euthanasia, but it turns out to be cold-blooded murder. Calder gets the best lines of all as Percy/Andrew Lloyd-Webber – 'I haven't felt this bad since the press night of Love Never Dies!' he says after drinking the poison, 'close every door to me!' he tells daughter Natasha when she tells him she's leaving to start a new life abroad.
The exchanges between Natasha and Viktor are equally clever when she asks him if he 'enjoys doing removals' and asking if he offers 'disposal services' too, only for him to promise her that he won't leave any loose ends as he shoots her, shortly after she tells him 'there's something very satisfying about taking care of people, don't you think?'
Inside No 9 showcases Shearsmith and Pemberton's skill as writers and performers: last week's episode was heart-breaking, the opening episode toyed with Shakesperean verse, this week's was a complex and twisted tour de farce/force complete with bubble wrap suffocation. The creativity of this pair and their ability to inhabit any character continues to impress – what a treat this series has been.