I generally try to avoid spoilers when talking about Inside No.9. I never want to take away that incredible feeling of having the rug pulled out from under you. That being said, it’s difficult to talk about the latest episode without revealing some pretty important details so I’m just going to say right off the bat…
****this review will contain spoilers!***
Derek Jacobi (who now has the distinction of being the only guest actor to have appeared in the series twice -previously providing the voice of the nefarious director in The Devil Of Christmas) plays Webster, a terminally ill barrister, who chucks out all the guests at his birthday party and calls in his saintly carer Bedford (Reece Shearsmith). on his night off. The two pass the time by play-acting hypothetical court cases, until Webster reveals a secret that has been haunting him for years.
Despite the repeated assertions of the creators that Inside No. 9 isn’t like Black Mirror or Tales Of The Unexpected, comparisons with other anthology shows have always been inevitable (I’ve been guilty of this before). This week’s episode is especially reminiscent of The Twilight Zone, in particular, a very specific type of episode (and this is where you should avert your eyes) namely the “deal with the devil” style episode.
Yes, the devil makes an appearance here, because Webster has signed a contract with him, and he has come to collect. I should have guessed when it appeared Steve Pemberton had been relegated to a cameo this week that he was going to figure more later on, but I was still caught off guard when he stepped out of the lift towards the end of the episode. His performance as the devil is in keeping with the charming, suave depictions from Rod Serling‘s seminal series, (especially Burgess Meredith‘s playful version) and Pemberton clearly relishes his demonic role. However, despite the mischievous nature of the episode, there are still some creepy moments. Pemberton bellowing “WEBSTER!” and blasting the bedroom doors open is genuinely chilling – it’s clear that while this version of the devil may enjoy all the legal trickery, he remains pure evil.
Shearsmith and Jacobi are brilliant, and I could quite happily have watched a full episode of the two of them exchanging barbed insults and doing puzzles together. Jacobi is always a treat and here he shines as an initially cantankerous old man, until his darker side is revealed. He delivers all his lines with such skill that you could imagine Shearsmith might be a bit overwhelmed but he underplays his role beautifully, making the two performances complement each other.
Director Guillem Morales deftly navigates the constantly changing tones and judges each dramatic shift really well, from the fairly moving drama to the straight horror, ending with the darkly comic legal wrangling. Christian Henson‘s evocative score is especially creepy, and more than a little reminiscent of the eerie music he contributed to last season’s The Stakeout.
Something I really appreciated in How Do You Plead? is the way we cut to the chase as soon as the central premise is revealed. Once it’s hinted that Pemberton is the devil (“No rest for the wicked“, etc) there is very little beating about the bush, the writers trust the audience to catch on quickly enough that they can move straight on with the intricacies of the contract, which is where a lot of the fun comes from. Also, as with last week, most seasoned Inside No. 9 viewers will be waiting for the other foot to land as the episode draws to a close, and while they cut it very fine, it all comes together for a satisfying ending. The only issue I have is with that final visual effect (you know the one I mean) which looks very ropey indeed.
Both as its own thing and a tribute to The Twilight Zone (intentional or not) How Do You Plead? is a macabre joy. There’s a lot going on here and the show just about pulls off every aspect. It’s scary where it needs to be, atmospheric throughout and mainly a lot of fun, with three great performances as its centre.