It’s almost cliché to sing the praises of Inside No 9 for being inventive and breaking new ground, but I think this fifth series has really tried to push the envelope more than ever before. The fifth episode, ‘Thinking Out Loud’, is perhaps the show’s most experimental and deeply-layered instalment yet, with the few cracks that show a result of needing to deal with its own ambition. It cements Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s place as two of the most exciting TV writers working today.
‘Thinking Out Loud’ takes the form of a number of successive pieces in which seven characters talk to the camera. Each character tells their own story, essentially providing us with six mini narratives that give us a sense of their personality and history. However, all of the seven people are unknowingly linked, with their fates set for a head-on collision as their connection is laid bare. I admit that that is not much of a description (with much of it essentially borrowed from the show’s website), but that’s probably a fair way to approach this one. For large chunks of the episode, I really had no idea where it was going.
“The acting needs to be good because there’s little obvious connection or narrative until the final five minutes”
As is befitting an episode that is primarily miniature character sketches, the acting is superb. The little vignettes that we see touch all of your emotions. We open with Bill (Phil Davis), an old widower who describes his search for love in a dating video, a sketch that sets a tone the episode does not run with. From then, to Nadia (Maxine Peake), a slightly comedic bit in which an ordinary housewife describes her distaste for her perfect friends, the ‘Smugs’. We meet a monstrous serial killer (Pemberton), a dying father (Shearsmith), and see a pitch-perfect representation of a social media influencer (Ioanna Kimbook), taking in hashtags and gestures and little else. The acting needs to be good because there’s little obvious connection or narrative until the final five minutes, and ‘Thinking Out Loud’ really delivers on that front.
The ending of ‘Thinking Out Loud’ is undoubtedly clever and, on a rewatch, this may be one of most layered episodes that Pemberton and Shearsmith have ever put out. Some of the pieces explaining what is going on are provided at the end, but there’s a lot more to discover and I’m still thinking about it and the distinct cleverness hours later. And it’s because ‘Thinking Out Loud’ is so clever that the matter of the ending is so profoundly unsatisfying. I’m not going to give anything away in terms of content, but it all wraps up in a huge exposition dump that feels out of character with the show. Typically, Inside No 9 trusts its viewers to be able to put the pieces together, and I didn’t like the heavy-handedness of the ending.
“There’s a lot to discover and I’m still thinking about it and the distinct cleverness hours later”
‘Thinking Out Loud’ is a fantastic episode of Inside No 9 and it shows that Pemberton and Shearsmith can really do a lot in a thirty-minute framework. Watch it twice to get the most out of this one – once for character work, and the second time to pick up on all the clues and suggestions that underline what’s going on. But, despite some reservations about the manner of the ending, it would be remiss to describe this episode as anything other than another strong instalment in a series shaping up to be one of the show’s best.