Streaming / Television

Inside No.9 – 8.2 Review: Mother’s Ruin

Inside No.9 is back! The macabrely comic anthology show is back for its eighth season, and if the first few episodes are anything to go by, it’s just as strong as ever. Last season had a somewhat mixed reception, which some people saw as a downward trajectory for the series – for what it’s worth I disagree, with episodes like Mr King, Wise Owl and A Random Act Of Kindness ranking alongside the very best of the series. In any case, I’ve always thought that one of the most impressive features of the series is the fact that one persons least favourite episode can be someone else’s favourite, and vice versa.

Now that it’s been confirmed that the show will end after season nine (appropriately enough), it feels like creators Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton have really pulled out all the stops, and if Mother’s Ruin is any indication of this season’s tone, we can expect a series that pushes the boundaries even more than previous series in terms of gore and swearing, maybe since they no longer need to worry about the risk of being cancelled.

Last year’s Christmas special, The Bones Of Saint Nicholas was one of the all-time great episodes, a pitch-perfect combination of MR James and Don’t Look Now, and it served as the perfect prelude to the new season. With the same director (George Kane) and a similarly moody atmosphere, Mother’s Ruin is another effective blend of genres that leaves you wanting more.

Brothers Edward (Shearsmith) and Harry Blackwood (Pemberton) break into the house of their recently deceased mother, intent on using necromancy to discover where she has hidden all her money, but when the new owners Reggie (Phil Daniels) and Frannie Stone (Anita Dobson) arrive unexpectedly, it throws a spanner in the works, and things take a very nasty turn.

Inside No.9 has reached the point now where we are constantly second-guessing the plot, and this episode is no different, with every throwaway line a potential piece of foreshadowing. Shearsmith and Pemberton make the tonal shifts seem effortless, brilliantly pulling the rug out from under your feet a number of times throughout the episode. As ever though, these developments serve the story and the characters, not the other way round, and even more impressive than the twists of the plot is the characterisation and the constantly shifting dynamics between the characters. It’s a tricky needle to thread but as ever, it’s navigated with an impressive clarity that seems effortless, reminding me of Lip Service in it’s structure, if not subject matter.

Christian Henson’s eerie score sets the mood perfectly, reminiscent of the score from the earlier episode How Do You Plead and The Stakeout– this one has a similar horror aesthetic, and it adroitly hops from one genre to another, perfectly judging the tone for each beat. Part home invasion and part possession horror story, it straddles each genre and pulls it all together to create one of the more successful episodes of the series.

It also contains what might be the most grisly, viscerally unpleasant moment of the entire series, a moment I was sure would happen off-screen, but which we instead see it in all it’s glory. It’s beautifully timed too, and mischievously edited so you think it will cut away before the crucial moment – and then just when you might risk a quick glance at the screen, it cuts back to the brilliantly nasty effect in all it’s glory.

Shearsmith gives a great central performance as the self-loathing Edward. The fact that he goes from almost murdering his brother to offering up his own life in his place incredibly quickly could be jarring, but his non-verbal reactions sell his inner conflict perfectly, making his heel turn just about plausible. The climactic possession scene is also genuinely unsettling, as Shearsmith deploys his talent for demonic voices, and contorting his face in a way that calls to mind the truly disturbing tent scene from Ben Wheatley’s A Field In England. Pemberton also gives a subtly tender performance as the meek Harry, who is both comically oblivious (“Red wine on a wood floor? That’ll be a deep stain!”) and painfully guilt ridden over his mother’s death.

Daniels and Dobson play their characters very broad, although they convey just the right combination of menace and comedy – even if the reliance of cockney rhyming slang as a punchline does get a little grating after a while. Daniels in particular pitches it perfectly; he’s equally plausible as a genial old geezer or a sinister villain, and brings just the right amount of charm to what could be a fairly one dimensional role – his misunderstanding of what incense is provided one of the biggest laughs of the episode.

I’ve always liked the creepy episodes the most, an episode involving necromancy, possession and graphic torture is the perfect way to kick off the season. There are borrowed elements from previous episodes here; the break-in from A Quiet Night In, the otherworldliness of Seance Time, the nastiness of Riddle Of The Sphinx and yet the whole is something altogether unique. Mother’s Ruin is alternately a grisly, sinister, laugh-out-loud episode, the perfect showcase for Shearsmith and Pemberton’s assured storytelling, and an ideal way to kick-off the penultimate season.

Inside No. 9 has returned! Catch up now on iPlayer – and check out my previous Series Blog here


4 thoughts on “Inside No.9 – 8.2 Review: Mother’s Ruin

    • Well, I obviously disagree! I thought the beauty of the ending is that we don’t know if the parrot is just saying the words it’s been taught or not! And I completely bought the central relationship between the two brothers – I thought it was a solid episode with some brilliant moments! There are some better episodes yes, and some worse too, but that’s what I love about this series – what resonates with me and appeals to me can be entirely different to you. I bet there are episodes I love that you hate and vice versa.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Pingback: Inside No.9 – 8.4 Review: Love Is A Stranger | critical popcorn

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