This review contains spoilers.
3.5 Diddle Diddle Dumpling
As if we needed more proof of this strand’s ingenuity, the latest No. 9 was neither a house or a room, but a shoe. A lack of walls didn’t make it any less encompassing or prisonlike for the story’s lead David, a character played with painful depth by Reece Shearsmith.
What started as a light and witty portrait of an eccentric obsession ended as the darkest picture of a mind unhinged by grief. Over a spring, summer and winter, a lone shoe seemingly discarded in front of his house became the focus of David’s spiralling breakdown. Though as the CCTV footage playing over the end credits showed, his unravelling was already well underway when first we met him.
David and wife Louise’s well-appointed home in a leafy suburb may not have been the No. 9 of the title, but its decor played a vital role in telling the story. Symmetry and identical pairs were everywhere – two matching lamps on the sideboard flanked David as he dusted the photo frames, the same chairs were placed on either side of him as he ate dinner. We watched him place an olive each into two symmetrically arranged martini glasses, and later, sit at the kitchen table with a duplicate chair to his left and right. Vases, cushions, paintings, pots of garden shrubs… the house was filled with matching pairs. The scenery reflected David’s psychosis, and what he and Louise had lost in the death of Sally’s twin brother.
The backdrops were key, but the composition worked just as hard. Director Guillem Morales’ camera lingered on unpopulated rooms and repeatedly filmed the austere house from above, creating an unnerving sense of emptiness. Figures were placed right in the centre of the frame, emphasising the sets of matching pairs surrounding them (nowhere more noticeably than in the final shot of David, his back to the camera, standing dead centre between those two identical chairs saying the chilling words “can’t remember”). A second before Mathew Baynton’s character left with the shoe, he was even filmed split down the middle by the chimney hearth – an incomplete, half person. The result was an eerie sadness that reflected the episode’s true story before it had even emerged.
The still, deliberate camerawork was at a contrast with the hectic Vivaldi score, which wasn’t only there to mark the passing of the four seasons, but also—as seen when it plays while he tunes out Louise at dinner and gazes at the shoe—to be synonymous with David’s obsession. The visuals conveyed control; the music, chaos, presenting two warring strands in the mind of the character.
To begin with of course, we had no idea how much David was struggling. His and Louise’s early conversations about children’s names, school fetes and competitive holiday destinations set the stage for an amusing portrait of middle-class life. The story might be about the boredom of a stay-at-home parent, perhaps, or how easy it is for obsession to take root in an unstimulated mind.
Soon though, hints arrived that David was vulnerable. As his mania about the shoe developed, Louise became more careful than angry around him. The kindness with which Steve Pemberton’s character humoured David rather than laughing at him about his ‘project’ pointed towards psychological fragility. The same goes for Ted, whose appearance was contrived by Louise to help David find closure. When we learned that Ted had been there at Louise’s behest, it made sense why he so calmly went along with David’s unusual behaviour, playing his games and allowing him that distressing, tender goodbye to an object onto which he’d transferred his love for his dead son.
An episode rewatch (always recommended with this show) gives up more secrets—we’re finally shown the photograph that stopped David in his tracks while doing the housework early on. We also understand why Sally’s birthday finds him especially morose and staring out of the window before he musters a mask of cheery enthusiasm.
The episode was a real showcase for Shearsmith’s talent as an actor. He and Hawes were terrific, playing it absolutely straight and both giving very detailed performances that revealed the struggles writhing inside their characters. Her mortification and his temper during that woeful dinner scene with the two-minute test was genuinely hard to stomach.
Not harder to stomach though, than one of the possibilities for what David had done by the end of the episode. Did the blood belong to Ted, or, in David’s obsessive mania for his children to be together again, could Sally have been his victim?
This sparse, stark and pitch-black half-hour could hardly have been more different to last week’s loud, busy love story. That variety is the joy of Inside No. 9; each series is a carefully composed menu alternating sweet and sharp flavours, all of it adding up to a feast.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, Empty Orchestra, here.