BBC studios/James Stack

Inside No. 9’s Final Season: An Episode by Episode Review

Since its very first episode all the way back in 2014, Inside Number Nine has treated audiences to ten years of dazzling creativity and unpredictability, with episodes ranging from comedic and charming, to chilling and darkly twisted. The recent season nine is fittingly the final one for the show, meaning it had a massive amount of expectation to live up to. Despite not quite hitting the highest levels that the show is capable of, this season still boasts one or two instalments that could find their way into people’s top ten and is in my opinion without any of the true duds that have plagued prior seasons.

The series opens with ‘Boo to a Goose’, an episode that follows a diverse array of characters trapped together on a train carriage that’s been brought to a halt. Soon enough, a brief blackout occurs and a nurse’s bag goes missing, prompting the passengers to turn against one another. What follows is one of Number Nine’s most interesting episodes, due to what it has to say about authority and conformity. One man immediately accuses a homeless passenger, demanding he be searched. Some passengers quickly fall in line with his authoritarian demands, people who seem otherwise pleasant immediately submitting to this prejudice, supporting an accusation they’d likely never have made themselves. Others stand up to him as tensions in the carriage rapidly rise to a boiling point.

Number Nine’s tradition of every episode having a twist continues in this opener, although unfortunately not one of the strongest. Without giving too much away, the twist gives the episode a far more unrealistic feel. Up until that point the story had thrived on its feeling of relative plausibility, an uncomfortably realistic display of prejudice and conformity. Although the twist does still play with those themes, it does so in a way that in my opinion feels a little too metaphorical and fantastical compared to the rest of the episode. Despite this, the twist certainly doesn’t ruin the episode, which remains a very strong opener for the final season. 

The dynamic between Pemberton’s therapist and Shearsmith’s troubled visitor is a fascinating one to watch

I have comparatively little to say about the 2nd entry of this season, ‘The Trolley Problem’. It certainly isn’t a bad episode, with creators, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith, delivering characteristically strong performances in their roles. The dynamic between Pemberton’s therapist and Shearsmith’s troubled visitor is a fascinating one to watch, and a series of twists keeps the audience guessing. It falls firmly on the darker side of Number Nine’s entries, clearly intended to disturb the audience, and is fairly successful in doing so. However, by the ninth season, an episode like this one can feel somewhat generic, not offering much new to the show that hasn’t been done slightly better previously. The setting, characters, and presentation are all effective, but somewhat unremarkable, failing to produce anything especially memorable. This isn’t to say that the episode is bad, as I’d still say it’s more than worth a watch for fans. It may just struggle to be worth a rewatch for many.

Episode three ‘Mulberry Close’ is the only one of this series to get especially experimental with its storytelling method, being shown almost entirely through a ring doorbell looking out onto the street. Season 2’s ‘Cold Comfort’ was similarly told through CCTV cameras, but the single camera here is even more restrictive and the narratives make the two episodes strongly distinct from one another. The gimmick works well both as a fun piece of experimentation that few other shows would risk for a full episode, as well as complimenting the narrative’s central mystery. The audience and characters become increasingly suspicious of the inhabitants of the house to which the doorbell belongs. Of course, we’re unable to see inside this house, unable to penetrate its secrets despite being so close to it. Therefore, we can never be sure if the suspicion is truly well founded, or simply the result of paranoid and intrusive neighbours who appear to find selfish excitement and pleasure in their investigation. Either way, the episode keeps us gripped as we search for answers. 

The setting is so effective and seemingly obvious for the show that it’s almost a shock it hasn’t been used already

‘Mulberry Close’ was followed by ‘Ctrl Alt Esc’, which boasts the strongest setting of the series, as a family shares a day out in an escape room. The location allows the episode to seamlessly transition between mundanity and outright horror, as well as creating an obvious sense of entrapment. One moment the family are having some typical, mundane argument and the next their lives appear to be at risk. It’s hard for both the audience and characters to differentiate between the manufactured terror of the escape room and potentially real peril, keeping the episode on a knife edge for much of its second half. The setting is so effective and seemingly obvious for the show that it’s almost a shock it hasn’t been used already, so it’s no wonder that it had a place in this final season. Unfortunately, the first third or so suffers from some unnatural-sounding dialogue that falls short of what these writers are capable of, but this fades and the episode as a whole strengthens as it goes on. It also features probably the strongest twist of the series, which brings the whole episode to another level and arguably puts it among the show’s best.

The penultimate ‘Curse of the Ninth’ is a step down from the previous episode, but I would argue stronger than its general reception would suggest. Set in an Edwardian manor, Shearsmith and Pemberton fully embrace the potential campiness offered by such a setting. The performances are quite over the top at times, the humour often crude, and the directorial style decidedly expressive, and I believe this all works in the episode’s favour. The creators play with scenes of horror and manage to do so in a way that feels genuinely creepy without sacrificing the overall light tone of the episode. Whilst it doesn’t reach the emotional or stylistic heights the show is capable of, there isn’t a second of the episode that isn’t entertaining, making it another worthy addition to the final series. Similar to ‘The Trolley Problem’, ‘Curse of the Ninth’ is enjoyable, but may not stick in people’s minds the way other episodes do. 

How do you say goodbye to such a special show, one which included so much variety, and inspired such a dedicated fanbase?

Episode six, the final of the series, was always going to have a lot to live up to. How do you say goodbye to such a special show, one which included so much variety, and inspired such a dedicated fanbase? ‘Plodding On’ may not be an amazing standalone episode, but it was never intended to be. The fourth wall is quickly broken as the episode focuses on Shearsmith and Pemberton, for once not in any special costumes or playing news characters, but as themselves, contemplating what comes next once the show wraps up for good. The thirty minutes is littered with various guest stars and lines of dialogue borrowed from previous episodes, with every single episode being referenced in one way or another. Some moments also address common audience ideas and criticisms, such as Robin Askwith pitching a bus episode to both creators and suggesting it include a twist that all the characters are dead, two ideas that engaged fans will be all too familiar with.

The two creators being featured as themselves lends a great emotional weight. It’s unclear how much of the narrative reflects their reality and how much is invented for the episode, as they share with the audience in bidding farewell to the last ten years. Either way, it’s enough to get long-time fans welling up. On the whole, the episode is imperfect, a little disjointed with the occasional failed joke, but also delivers a story that perhaps no other show could have achieved in quite the same manner. And in a sense that makes it the perfect way to wave goodbye to an often imperfect, but overall incredible and brilliantly unique show that won’t be forgotten by fans any time soon.


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