BBC / Sophie Mutevelian

Misdirection: ‘Inside No 9’ sustains its devilish wit and creativity

After the kitchen-sink drama of last week, this week’s Inside No 9 feels like a return to the show’s typically-dark world. The magical ‘Misdirection’ showcases the series at its best, with a deeply-layered plot supported by some fantastic character work, and fans of the show will love this one.

Neville Griffin (Reece Shearsmith) is shown a phenomenal new magic trick – the ‘chair-raising’ experience – by small-time magician Willy Wondo (Steve Pemberton), and is desperate to understand how it works. Nine years later, Griffin is an established performer with an illustrious magic career. He’s to be interviewed by a young student journalist called Gabriel (Fionn Whitehead), who is a practising magician himself and who is very keen to discover some of Griffin’s secrets. Just how did Griffin come into possession of the ‘chair-raising’ experience trick, and what other secrets is he hiding?

From an opening trick that, even on TV, looks as impressive as it’s made out to be, this is an episode packed full of illusion and mystery

As you may imagine from a name like ‘Misdirection’, magic is very much the name of the game in this week’s Inside No 9. From an opening trick that, even on TV, looks as impressive as it’s made out to be, this is an episode packed full of illusion and mystery. There’s some fantastic editing from director Guillem Morales that lets us see what is truly happening, courtesy of some instant-replays from other angles which re-direct our focus, a device that works incredibly well. And, as is the way with Inside No 9, you know that we’re building to something – in a way, the whole episode itself is the most sophisticated piece of misdirection we’ve got.

A large chunk of ‘Misdirection’ is simply a conversation between Griffin and Gabriel, and it’s a testament to Shearsmith and Pemberton’s writing that this feels so tense and gripping. As Griffin tells us at one point, it’s the story surrounding the trick that adds to the effect – a perfect piece of misdirection that draws our focus away from what is actually happening before our very eyes. And the same is completely true of this episode, in which a typically layered and intricate plot is laid without us having any clue what is happening. Every line is full of meaning, every scene part of the trick, and you’ll find just as much on a re-watch as you did first time round. It also goes without saying at this point in the show’s life, but it is so well-written and so devilishly clever.

The opening sequence is one of the darkest and most brutal the show has ever done, and it sets you on edge throughout

This works so well because our lead duo is so impeccably acted. Shearsmith plays Griffin with such arrogance and a sense of self, desperate both to impress his audience and maintain his sense of security. We get a sense of his true character in the opening sequence, one of the darkest and most brutal that the show has ever done, and it sets you on edge throughout. Whitehead (you may recognise him from Dunkirk or Black Mirror: Bandersnatch) finely toes the line between bumbling and the air of something a bit more going on – you may peg his relationship to one of the characters quite quickly, but that’s about all you’ll get. The cast of ‘Misdirection’ is rounded out by some smaller parts – Pemberton as a charming magician, Jill Halfpenny as Griffin’s wife and Tom Goodman-Hill as a police officer – which have comparatively less to do but are no weaker for it.

‘Misdirection’ is another characteristically-strong episode of Inside No 9, exhibiting the show’s mastery in providing compelling characters and effective, complex writing. It shows that, five series in, Shearsmith and Pemberton are losing none of their devilish wit or creativity, and I’m excited to see where we’ll be heading next week.

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