This INSIDE NO. 9 review contains spoilers.
Inside No. 9 Series 5 Episode 6 Review: The Stakeout
There are limits. Whatever Time Lord technology Inside No. 9 uses to pack its 30-minute episodes fuller than a foie gras goose, there isn’t always room for everything.
Take ‘The Stakeout’. It managed to cram police procedural, car chase, meta-commentary, comedy, poignancy and a supernatural rug-pull into the precise amount of time it used to take Mad Men’s Don Draper to light and smoke a single cigarette, but that left no space to explain why and how the application and training process to become a volunteer Special Constable might be undertaken by… a vampire.
(Even if not specifically referenced on the Met’s ‘precluded occupations’ list, would vampirism not at least present a hurdle come, say, the medical?)
An explanation for the how is imaginable. Perhaps Special Constable Varney (as he identified himself on the Oscar Nine car radio to Control) conjured a glamour or hypnotised the interviewer, or has the original PCSO Varney locked up and bleeding into a demijohn in his garage. Who knows? The talents of the undead are many and may even extend to lying on official forms.
Why Varney did it is more of a puzzle. Until the episode’s macabre twist, his behaviour suggested a few potential secret identities. Varney could have been a counsellor assigned to covertly coax PC Thompson into the talking cure, an undercover detective investigating Dobbo and Tommo for corruption, or the shady criminal who ordered the hit on Dobbo – all possibilities seeded in the dialogue.
But no, none of the above: VAMPIRE! Why? Because it’s the biggest and best and goriest surprise, and therefore the most Inside No. 9.
(Had Pemberton and Shearsmith’s roles been reversed as per the original plan revealed at the series launch, the surprise would have been even bigger. Pale and dark-haired, Shearsmith makes a natural vampire but apparently not a natural – or more pertinently, qualified – driver. Pemberton had to be the one behind the wheel, hence the swap).
As ever, the twist was seeded not only in the moody graveyard setting, but also in the dialogue. Starting with the episode title’s vamp-pun, Varney’s idioms were peppered with references that leap out once you know what’s coming. Needing an invitation into the car, his story being “as old as time itself,” not drinking alcohol, not being able to stand the garlic in that fetid curry, thinking about Tommo’s “blood pressure”, eating meat around once a month, sleeping as though “dead to the world”, avoiding the (running water) bridge route during the Google Maps pursuit, being “a bit too long in the tooth” for retraining, Tommo telling him that he’s got “under his skin”.
Usually, the retrospective clue-finding makes the game an Inside No. 9 episode plays seem fair, but not so here. Had there been time to understand Varney’s motivation in befriending Tommo before making him Dobbo’s first meal (did it have to be Tommo? Was there a reason the victim and attackers had to be emotionally close?) the character’s shift from kind to conscienceless might not have felt so… unanchored.
We saw Varney make genuine attempts to reach out to Tommo and soothe his pain, (as well as, puzzlingly, panicking about suspension over dereliction of duty) before the ‘Ha! It was me all along!’ extended neck-suck. Rather than one character and a twist-reveal, there were two characters in relay: the nice guy and the demon, who had nothing in common with each other, including a voice. (“It’s just one of those things” versus “Come in, my child, and enjoy your first feast, an eternity of them await you!”)
None of which will have made the slightest difference to your enjoyment of the episode while watching. Throughout, it was totally absorbing, our attention held tight by two actors who are by now an elemental fit for one another. The script was funny and poignant, the plot was exciting and the twist blitzed genres as only Inside No. 9 can. The string score too was a beautiful thing (Christian Henson’s music in this series is regularly a wonder).
Another gripping, entertaining episode, then, capping off a series with many high points. If ‘The Stakeout’ had stayed only a Car Share-ish double act with some Line Of Duty intrigue, it might have fitted more neatly inside its container. Where there are limits though, it has to be better to overreach than to underwhelm – the latter of which Inside No. 9 seems incapable.
All episode of Inside No. 9 are available to stream on BBC iPlayer.
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