This Inside No. 9 review contains spoilers.
Inside No. 9 Series 5 Episode 4
Murder. Revenge. Sinister secrets. Occult props. Black comedy. Wigs. And an ingeniously constructed plot scattered with cult references, capped by a nasty surprise… If an Inside No. 9 fan were pressed to list the elements of a ‘classic’ story, the above might be the result.
“Misdirection,” a kind of ur-Inside No. 9 episode, had the lot. Dark, complex and inventive, it’ll satisfy traditionalists and pacify any viewers unimaginative enough to be distressed by this show’s genre-roaming spirit. (Though frankly, that lot can go distress themselves. What’s their problem, TV already too full of pithy, uncurbed innovation?)
The name itself – “Misdirection” – could even double up as the title of this whole venture. More times than it isn’t, Inside No. 9 is a magic trick, 25 minutes of making us look happily in one direction while the pack is switched and the fakes are slid into place, followed by five minutes of dazzle that leave us open-mouthed and pressing play again from the start.
Do that here and the way it all slots into place a second time is even more rewarding than the first. It’s the narrative equivalent of those factory production line videos of robots piping, slicing and wrapping foodstuffs to crisp, clean perfection; intense satisfaction at a job well done.
Well done, but also brutally done. For all the rightness there was in seeing Griffin brought to justice, his wife being a casualty of Gabriel’s revenge was plainly unfair. Had Jennie (played by Jill Halfpenny) been seen to collude in Willy’s murder and the theft of his trick, then her own punishment might have felt deserved rather than arbitrarily cruel. As an innocent, her death makes it impossible to celebrate Gabriel’s ingenuity, which was perhaps the point – revenge is a nasty business and the world is often morally unfair. Not everything can slot together as neatly as that complicated trick.
With precise editing of those instant-replay moments, and a full bag of magic tricks, it was a technical feat from director Guillem Morales and co. Even before the story flashed forward, the murder sequence was a riot of sick gags from the trick rope to the gristly sound effect of the guillotine being forced through flesh.
While anybody paying attention might have pegged Fionn Whitehead’s student journalist as Willy’s grandson from his first telling mention of the floating chair trick, few could have worked out the intricacies of his plan. Like an Inside No. 9 episode, it was really two plans – one designed to mask the other – that rested on him exploiting Griffin’s arrogance.
There was no shortage of that. Like the media caricatures of last series’ awards jury episode, Griffin’s hubris was keenly drawn. It wasn’t only the devil-worshipper outfit and awards-arranging, but his shift in language from the moment Gabriel entered. “The deed itself was deftly done,” Griffin told him with all the naturalism of a fairy tale wizard. Griffin’s fame-hungry self-importance throbbed through every pronouncement on “the ultimate trivialisation of the craft” and it made him easy prey.
Not that there was anything easy about Gabriel’s scheme. He needed three things from Griffin: his fingerprints on the razor, the combination to the safe, and the wiping of the security footage. To get them, he feigned awe, naivety and frustration, pretending to lose while really maintaining the upper hand at every step.
The script has to be one of the most densely layered yet. From the story in miniature playing out through Griffin’s tarot card reading (“Justice. You wish to right a wrong from your past”) to the episode’s thesis statement (“The misdirection is the elaborate narrative that allows a simple trick to hide in plain sight”) all the way to Tom Goodman-Hill’s police officer reeling Griffin in with the pre-trick patter of a magician (“Am I right in thinking you’re the only person who knows the combination to this safe?”), it was packed.
To the world of magic what “The Riddle of the Sphinx” (an episode that could be seen as a thematic pair with this one) was to the world of crosswords, “Misdirection” was yet another dramatic swerve in series five’s bewilderingly entertaining ride.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, Love’s Great Adventure, here.