The great thing about an anthology show like Inside No. 9 is you can have a misfire one week, and then follow it up with a great episode without missing a beat. Kid|Nap is a return to form of sorts, with strong performances across the board, and some extraordinarily suspenseful moments.
Playing out like a mix of Ruthless People and Mike Figgis‘ Timecode, Daisy Haggard plays the wife of a wealthy hedge fund manager who is kidnapped and held for ransom by two desperate men. Of course, this being Inside No.9, there is a lot more to it, as the story unfolds utilising a split-screen, showing as many as three timelines running concurrently.
The characters are sketched out concisely and effectively within seconds; Daniel Mays is particularly great as the hapless kidnapper, alternating between absurd and genuinely menacing. He’s a mixture of David Sowerbutts from Psychoville and the sociopathic hitman Albie from Utopia. The image of him wearing a much too small monkey mask, is the perfect encapsulation of Inside No. 9 as a whole – simultaneously surreal and unnerving.
Daisy Haggard is also incredible as the kidnap victim with more going on than originally meets the eye. The subtle changes in her performance as we learn more about her character are brilliantly performed. Meanwhile Jason Isaacs is a reliable presence as the increasingly exasperated mastermind with secrets of his own. It’s a shame he doesn’t stick around a little longer, as he makes a wonderful straight man, and his interactions with the rest of the cast are a lot of fun.
Creators Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton take a bit of a back seat this week, turning up in supporting roles, but appear to relish the freedom that comes from not carrying the episode on their shoulders. Shearsmith is especially impressive as the insufferable husband – his unconvincing “I can do this!” was the biggest laugh of the episode, along with Mays’ “Stockport Syndrome” aphorism.
The episode is unpredictable throughout, and there are moments that are almost unbearably suspenseful; one emotionally fraught showdown was so tense I actually had to stand up! However, some of the plot mechanics don’t make a huge amount of sense, and the final reveal is a little underwhelming. Similarly to The Bill though, the disappointing twist doesn’t ruin the episode, due to the brilliant sense of unease that is been built up over the course of the story.
While the split-screen is an innovative way to tell the story, and provides a few neat visual gags, (Haggard going to the toilet as Mays pours himself a beer is perfect) it’s a little lazy to abandon this device at a pivotal moment and then serve that up as the episode’s twist. It’s like a magician rolling his sleeves up then rolling them back down again when he wants to do a card trick. Did it fool me? Yes, but it felt like a cheat. It also reduces the device to a mere gimmick with no real purpose in the story, aside from allowing the episode to include more locations without technically breaking the rules of the show (this is the first episode to not take place entirely in one location). Once Removed had a similar device, unfolding in reverse, although that episode ended with a hugely satisfying pay off that doubled as a meta nod to the show itself. By the end of Kid|Nap, the split screen has been all but abandoned. I found myself waiting for the other shoe to drop, and it just didn’t arrive.
But I’m nitpicking again, because overall this episode is a lot of fun, with some real belly laughs and brilliantly nuanced performances. A decided improvement on last week, hopefully this marks an upward trajectory for the rest of the series.