And so, too soon once again, we’ve arrived at the end of another series of Inside No.9. Like last week, I genuinely don’t know if it’s even possible to talk about this one without giving too much away so, please be wary – SPOILERS AHEAD – but suffice to say I loved this episode. Loved loved loved it.
The Last Weekend sees show creators Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith working at their highest level. I enjoyed last week’s sensational twist, the bait and switch of the advertised episode, but I’m a much bigger fan of the surprises that are borne out of the tricksy writing. Episodes like Lip Service, which is one of my all-time favourites – not because it takes huge narrative swings, or contains any huge shocks, but because the dynamics are shifting constantly, with every new plot development pulling back another layer of the story.
This episode unfolds in a similar way, and as with the very best episodes of Inside No.9, what makes the episode work so well, and the twist pay off so beautifully, is the way every interaction, every line of dialogue, can be reappraised once you know the full picture.
Joe (Pemberton) and Chaz (Shearsmith) have been together for nine years, and spend their anniversary at their holiday cottage. However, what should be a celebration is a melancholy affair, as it’s revealed that Joe is battling a terminal cancer diagnosis, and both he and Chaz take stock of their lives together, and their own mortality.
The episode follows a similar structure to previous stories that are based around a specific theme, in this case using subtly placed onscreen titles to signify the five stages of grief (I thought it was seven too, but shows what I know). This proves to be a misdirect though, as the episode heads into much darker territory. We are now conditioned to look out for twists in Inside No.9, so as poignant and beautifully observed as the love story is, the whole way through we are waiting for the other shoe to drop, frantically clutching at any potential clues and plot details that might indicate where the story is headed. And still they managed to blindside us!
There are a fair few genres that the writers have played with over the course of their series, but the two that resonate the most with me are the heartfelt character studies (Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room, 12 Days Of Christine) and the pure horror episodes (The Harrowing, Séance Time) and The Last Weekend manages to balance these two perfectly.
Similarly, I have always had a soft spot for the episodes that just feature Shearsmith and Pemberton, like The Stakeout and Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room. This episode is pretty much a two-hander too, albeit with a brief appearance from Sheila Reid as the couple’s dotty housekeeper. The two actors have worked together for so long now that they make an incredibly plausible couple, and adroitly navigate the shifting character dynamics and narrative beats.
More than anything else this is a touching tribute to their working relationship, as they utterly nail every element of the central relationship; the moving scenes of tenderness, the moments of bitter pettiness, it all feels authentic and grounded in reality. It goes without saying that they are both excellent, with both characters processing their own form of grief. Shearsmith especially gives an incredibly poignant performance as the ex-popstar who is already grieving the loss of his partner while they’re still alive. Meanwhile Pemberton is the picture of stoic acceptance – although his moments of reflection take on a new significance on a rewatch, as does Shearsmith’s vulnerability and self-loathing.
If I have one criticism, and it really is a nitpick, the actual logistics of Joe and Chaz’s relationship is a little confusing – have they really only seen each other on weekends for the past nine years? That’s really my only thought though because episodes like this are why I love this show. Every beat is executed perfectly, and it ends with just about the cruelest, most haunting closing scene the writers have ever attempted.
I get the impression that Pemberton and Shearsmith intentionally finished on an episode that is sure to appeal to fans of the series after the risky move of last week’s episode – the result is a uniquely cold-blooded closer to one of Inside No.9’s most consistent seasons, (not to mention the darkest, with an overwhelming number of horror episodes, or at least horror adjacent!). What begins as a tender love story, and meditation on the various stages of grief, turns into something a lot nastier. The Last Weekend is a perfectly judged encapsulation of the series’ strengths, and one of the strongest episodes of the entire series.