This review contains spoilers.
4.3 Once Removed
The best Inside No. 9 episodes are the ones that, as soon as the end credits arrive, make you want to rewind and watch again from the start. (The very best—last week’s included—are so poignant you need a bit of time to walk the dog to the Spar, buy a Twix and feel your feelings before that’s even an option.)
Once Removed does that job for us. The episode starts at the end, rewinds ten minutes, rewinds another ten minutes, then another, then a final time, until we finish at the beginning of the story: a motorbike pulls up to a well-appointed rural house on a hill. House number nine.
Except really, it’s house number six disguised as number nine (is this the first time the nine has been a plot-point? Brilliant.) Everything’s upside down in Once Removed, a clever murder farce directed by Jim O’Hanlon that starts with the jigsaw completed and splattered in blood, then systematically removes sections until all the pieces end up clean and back in the box.
It’s a fun game that, by its end, has provided the satisfaction of filling in a crisp crossword grid. Steadily, it reveals the solutions to its big mysteries—who are these people? Why are they acting so strangely? What’s with all the corpses?—and its small ones—why is Shearsmith’s character’s hand bandaged? How was that breakable broken?—as the story unspools, or… winds itself back around the spool.
To tell it the boring forwards way, Once Removed is the story of an assassin, an affair and a planned escape. Married Charles from number nine has been having it off with Natasha from number six. He’s hired a hitman to murder his wife May before he and Natasha hot-foot it to Portugal, abandoning Natasha’s dementia-suffering father to a care home. May discovers the plot to kill her, and in self-defence, kills her assassin, who’s already grudgingly executed Natasha, her senile father, and a hapless down-on-his-luck estate agent, all witnessed by removals man Spike.
That’s the thrust of it, but it takes a good twenty minutes before we’re allowed to reach any kind of conclusion. Until the hitman plot is confirmed, there could be any number of reasons for Viktor’s murder spree. He could be May’s husband or Percy’s son or Natasha’s “mystery man”. The fun is in the not-knowing. The secondary fun is in a proper rewatch, which reveals the episode’s meticulous attention to detail.
It’s not just all the usual enjoyment of an Inside No. 9 script peppered with gags and lewd wordplay (“If I don’t fill your slot today, it might be weeks before I can get up again”), but also the game of tracking how the scenario is built from one segment to the next. A bucket of water used in one scene is put into position in the next, a rug used as a murder weapon in the previous segment is pulled into place to cover a bothersome stain in the following act, and so on. (Inside No. 9 is so expert in figuratively pulling the rug out from under us, it’s only fitting that it literally does so here.)
The dialogue too, has been cleverly written to tell more than one story. On a first go around, May telling Viktor that she hopes he’ll take “good care of” May seems to be the heartfelt wish of a true friend. On a second, they’re clearly words of black vengeance from a woman wronged. By the time Natasha asks hitman Viktor whether he enjoys “doing removals”, we’re in on the joke so alert to the dramatic irony, from his promise not to leave any loose ends and pointing a tape gun at her, to her saying “there’s something very satisfying about taking care of people, don’t you think?” As ever with this show, not a word is wasted.
Once Removed keeps you engaged and guessing throughout, with sillier elements like the Andrew Lloyd Webber gag forming bright patches amid the darkness. The same goes for the Christian Henson’s jaunty and gently humorous score. The music continues to be a great addition to this series.
Speaking of Andrew Lloyd Webber, David Calder, with his booming theatrical voice and presence was an excellent shout to play Percy, while Monica Dolan was terrific as the hyper-stressed but fast-thinking May. It’s only a pity that, like Sian Gibson last episode, there wasn’t time for the very funny Rufus Jones to do more as Charles. Inside No. 9 attracts so many excellent guest actors, there don’t seem to be quite enough parts to go around.
Not at all lacking though, to judge by this episode, are delightful surprises. It seems Inside No. 9 has an inexhaustible supply of those.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.