This review contains spoilers.
4.4 To Have And To Hold
Until now, it was the the dehydrated peas – the way they inflate and bob around in that jellified slick of floating miscellany. After To Have And To Hold, there’s a new reason to sicken at the thought of a Pot Noodle.
We should have seen it coming. After all, this unsettling story announced its game two minutes in. “The picture on the box bears no resemblance to the actual jigsaw,” explained Adrian, a middle-aged man seated at his kitchen table, snapping little cardboard pieces into place. The clue was there: what you see is very much not what you get. Not with Adrian, and not with this episode.
What we saw, until eighteen and a half minutes in, was a well-acted, poignant and funny drama about a brittle relationship sucked dry of passion. Harriet (Nicola Walker) and Adrian (Steve Pemberton) were twenty years in to a floundering marriage. They’d wanted kids but not had them, she’d had a fling with a colleague and now Adrian didn’t trust her, they were deeply in debt and shuffling through an extended sexual dry patch.
In an attempt to inject some romance into their life, Harriet had planned for the couple to renew their marriage vows. And neatly, by the end of the episode, that’s exactly what she did. Harriet recited the words that had provided a structure for this five-act play, “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.” The result wasn’t romance of course, but sick irony. Inside No. 9’s writers, ever alert to the slipperiness of words, had exploited all the layered potential of ‘having’ and ‘holding’ and sickness and death.
Pemberton’s character, it turned out, wasn’t the most boring man in the world; he was a monster. Specifically, he was one of those ‘seemed like a nice, quiet fella’ monsters who manage to conceal their monstrosity and lead double lives. Until Adrian removed that false wall, there was no reason to believe he was anything other than a depressed, impotent cuckold. Pemberton played him with restraint and pathos, hiding any hint to his true nature behind a façade of weary bitterness.
Nicola Walker’s performance as Harry was characteristically excellent. An actor fluent in funny-sad, this was a peach of a part for her. The Nurse Honeypot scene was excruciating to watch in all the right ways. The comedy of Harry’s determined seduction of a reluctant husband—her eyes flashing with unconvincing promise (“How’s that? Is that nice?”) as she massaged his thighs and worked her greasy way up to what became increasingly clear was a non-existent hard-on—would have been entertainment enough. Inside No. 9, though, never stops at just ‘enough’. It goes further, adding another layer and another, often nasty, surprise.
The surprise that nine years ago, Adrian had kidnapped cleaner Agnes (Magdelena Kurek) and held her captive ever since in a purpose-built sound-proofed basement room in which he’d systematically raped her, was a very nasty surprise. The additional twist of the knife that he’d fathered a son during her imprisonment, and called him Levi, the name he’d planned for his and Harriet’s son, was nastier. The revelation that Harriet, Agnes and Levi had swapped places with Adrian, and were now his captors, was the final flourish.
As ever this series, Christian Henson’s score played a crucial role. Initially, it was to there wrong-foot us. An elegant string and piano motif announced a relationship drama. It led us into what promised to be a tragicomic study of the foibles and resentments accrued over the course of a long marriage. That simple motif started to twist as Adrian boiled the kettle and made his preparations to open the locked door. Then the music disappeared, returning with a new, ominous bassline that accompanied the real story.
Any Inside No. 9 fans impatient with the show’s late expansion into romance and happy endings have been served well in this David Kerr-directed story. (“You’re working in the dark to some extent. Quite a challenge.” Indeed.) It was dark as pitch and it’ll take a while for its uncomfortable aftertaste to fade.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, Once Removed, here.