Now that the BAFTAs have recognised the incredible writing on Inside No 9, I can feel even more vindicated in recommending it in every review. A day after its win for Best Scripted Comedy, the show returns with ‘How Do You Plead?’ – new viewers anticipating a half-hour of non-stop comedy may be disappointed, but they’ll be the only ones. This episode is a solid one, boasting a perfect guest star turn, a great narrative, and heaps of atmosphere.
Webster (Sir Derek Jacobi), a famous barrister with an incredible record in court, is at death’s door – he’s bedbound, cantankerous, and certainly not an easy man to look after. The man tasked with caring for this difficult patient is Urban Bedford (Reece Shearsmith), who has learned to give as good as he gets. After being pulled away from his evening’s entertainment, Bedford finds an agitated Webster with an old case on his mind and worry that he may not last the night. Bedford attempts to ease the barrister’s worries, but what happens during this night may test them both.
It hops through a series of genres, peaks and troughs, and wraps up with a brilliant final ten minutes
I’ve attempted to avoid giving anything away in my plot summary (as usual) – I’ve only really touched on the first five minutes or so of ‘How Do You Plead?’, but rest assured that this is a typically rich Inside No 9 with a really engaging story. It hops through a series of genres, peaks and troughs, and wraps up with a brilliant final ten minutes that I’m not going to spoil. I didn’t see it coming at all. You may place it in advance if you’re more familiar with classic literature than I am, or if you pick up on the many clues sprinkled throughout the episode (on a rewatch, it’s impressive how good the covert foreshadowing is).
What I can say, without a doubt, is that this episode thrives on its casting. Sir Derek Jacobi is now the only person (other than Shearsmith and Pemberton) to have appeared in more than one episode of the show, after a vocal turn in the show’s only festive special ‘The Devil of Christmas’. This time around, you get the man in the flesh, and his Webster is a delight. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not a pleasant man at all, but Jacobi somehow makes you see his fear of death even as you despise him. Much of the episode, like ‘Lip Service’, is a two-hander between one of the show’s creators (in this case, Shearsmith) and a guest star, and they share a great dynamic. There’s a scene in which Bedford, eager to imbue some life into his patient, acts out a courtroom plea – it’s really good stuff.
Perhaps it’s not the most inventive episode the duo has ever put out, but it knows what it wants to do and does it so effectively
‘How Do You Plead?’ also benefits from fantastic directing and a clear sense of tone, even despite the big tonal shifts we undergo. At points, it’s quite fun – the bickering patient-nurse duo works great, and there’s a brilliant line about Cats that is simply genius wordplay. And, as the ambiance shifts, it feels entirely natural and earned. I shan’t ruin anything, but there’s an effective dream sequence that could come from the cinema. Kudos to both director Guillem Morales and composer Christian Henson, who do a lot in this episode to enrich Pemberton and Shearsmith’s brilliant script.
Inside No 9 continues its incredible sixth series run with ‘How Do You Plead?’. Perhaps it’s not the most inventive episode the duo has ever put out, but it knows what it wants to do and does it so effectively. It juggles different tones and genres adroitly, and it wraps up with a brilliant finale that hits the mark perfectly for me. For its winning combination of guest star, writing, and atmosphere, I recommend it wholeheartedly – now, go and watch and appreciate all the twists I’ve tried so hard not to ruin.