This review contains spoilers.
4.6 Tempting Fate
It’s an idea so perfect and inevitable that it must have dawned on Inside No. 9’s writers like an sunrise. What is it that makes number nine so very unlucky for some? What is behind the countless murders, accidents and ruined lives of those residing in, or temporarily occupying, a number nine? It must be a curse, surely.
It is. Specifically, a cursed object that links every tortuous story this pair has told since a gaggle of partygoers crowded inside a French Cherrywood wardrobe to play a game of Sardines. A bronze hare ornament can be spotted in every single Inside No. 9 (and one League Of Gentlemen) episode*. It’s been tucked away on shelves, displayed on mantlepieces and bedside tables, and glimpsed in the background of photographs. Now we learn that it’s not only a set-dressing in-joke but a blighted knick-knack of magical torment.
*“It’s just fun, there’s no real thing behind it,” Steve Pemberton told Den of Geek about the hare statue at the series three press launch in 2017. “It’s a nice little game we play. Because each episode is so wildly different there was nothing really linking them other than the fact they were all inside a Number Nine, I just thought it would be nice to have an object that you could hide and just have there on every set.”
It’s an irresistible way to wrap up this impressive fourth series. Tempting Fate was a horror morality tale told with Inside No. 9’s characteristic efficiency and love for the genre. The first half built a sense of sinister intrigue; the second half shot out the plot at speed. The living died, the dead lived and the ending was Inside No. 9’s cruellest yet. Nobody could accuse this show of becoming toothless with age.
Magic and the supernatural has always existed in Inside No. 9. Alongside all the earthly malevolence, we’ve seen demonic possession, a witch turn into a raven, and a little boy spirit scare the wee out of a TV prankster. A bonafide zombie is par for this extraordinary course. A bonafide zombie played by Nigel Planer shuffling around like Droopy Dog and muttering about tinned peaches is just the combination of comedy and strangeness this show does so well.
Planer was joined by a trio of cleaning contractors. Pemberton played Keith, the father of a lad with MS and the owner of a violent temper, with Shearsmith as Nick, a recovering alcoholic well-versed in the folkloric history of monkey paws and the dangers of messing around with fate. Weruche Opia played Maz, a newcomer to their macabre job, whose malapropisms and youth (“what’s a VHS?”) made her the episode’s clown.
The number nine itself, an insalubrious hoarder’s flat that even Homes Under The Hammer would shudder at, was well-suited to horror. Director Jim O’Hanlon made good use of its cave-like potential, following characters in torchlight down dark corridors teetering with junk that formed a landscape full of hidey-holes and shadowy blind spots. Ominous music and sinisterly buzzing electricity were all part of the game.
Key objects—the iron, the orange bowling ball, the fearsomely toothed floorboard, the hare statue itself—were deliberately shot to draw the eye. The pay-off in Maz’s gruesome Rube Goldberg-style ending was horrible but satisfying. Well, you can’t say she wasn’t warned.
This whole story was a warning in the traditional ‘be careful what you wish for’ mode. Literally so. Through its unsettling ending and the character of Nick, the most sympathetic and reasonable of the three “glorified bin-men”, it cautioned against those old classics, vanity and greed.
On the subject of greed, if I were to be granted three wishes right now? I’d like series five, six and seven please. Each one as strong and varied as this has been.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, And The Winner Is…, here.