I’m not a Game of Thrones fan in the slightest (fantasy stuff does absolutely nothing for me) but even I’m aware of how poorly the eighth series finale went down. It made major news stories, and supposedly there’s a petition to remake the final series “with competent writers”. I mention this because it’s clear that this story has filtered into the new Inside No 9, which pits an obsessive fan against a showrunner in an episode full of tension and darkness. I thought it was going to play out a little like Misery, but it’s Misery filtered through Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s genius eyes.
Spencer Maguire (Pemberton) is the creator of a fantasy epic called The Ninth Circle, and returns to his home after a disappointing night at an awards ceremony. But things have taken a bad turn – he’s got blood on his hands, and it transpires that he was involved in an altercation with a fan that took a turn for the worse. Another fan, Simon (Shearsmith), comes to Spencer’s house to tell him that he filmed the whole thing, and he’s happy to go to the police to make a statement on Spencer’s behalf. Spencer wants to keep him silent, but what lengths will he go to?
‘Simon Says’ is a psychological thriller, mostly a two-hander between the show’s two creators
I don’t want to give too much away about the plot (that summary comes solely from the first few minutes of the episode), which is typically packed (how the writers create the illusion of a fully-existing fandom and world as well as telling the story is beyond me). This is an episode in which not too much necessarily happens – to a large extent. ‘Simon Says’ is a psychological thriller, mostly a two-hander between the show’s two creators. Pemberton is great as The Ninth Circle’s insufferable creator: an unpleasant man who seems to take great pleasure in denying and ignoring the fans. Shearsmith plays to his strengths as the fan: being covertly malevolent and threatening. There’s a certain smugness to him, in his unwavering belief that he always knows best about the show and his sense of entitlement, that may seem unpleasantly familiar to anyone with any knowledge of toxic fandoms.
It’s a tale of arrogance and obsession that will linger in your mind after the credits roll
There are some small appearances by Lindsay Duncan as Spencer’s agent, and Nick Mohammed as another fan, but ‘Simon Says’ is about this battle between Spencer and Simon, and it takes us to some very unpleasant places. The battle starts out slowly, hints of blackmail and Simon being absolutely the worst kind of fan, building in logical ways to a finale that I found deeply unsettling. I’m a person that is very hard to shake, and yet there was a sequence at the end of this episode that really got under my skin – I think it’s one of the most disturbing things that Inside No 9 has ever done and, given some of the episodes we’ve seen in the past, that is a big statement. That feeling of unease is only exacerbated by an ambiguous final scene – it feels entirely appropriate, but it’s far from comforting.
‘Simon Says’ is a very different beast to last week’s ‘Wuthering Heist’, but it’s a strong instalment in a different way. It uses the framework of “creators vs fandoms” to take us down a very menacing path, and I was gripped even as I was disturbed. Pitting Pemberton and Shearsmith against each other typically results in strong episodes, and ‘Simon Says’ is no different – it’s a tale of arrogance and obsession that will linger in your mind after the credits roll.