Inside No. 9 Series 7 Episode 3 Review: Nine Lives Kat

Sophie Okonedo guest stars in a cliché-riddled episode of Inside No. 9 filled with generic characters and terrible dialogue. Spoilers.

Inside No.9 series 7 Nine Lives Kat
Photo: BBC

Warning: this Inside No. 9 review contains spoilers.

Without question, that episode featured the worst dialogue, the most clichéd plot threads, and the most thinly drawn, hackneyed characters Inside No. 9 has ever produced. Which, of course, was entirely the point. This was metadrama: four characters (six, if you count off-screen Ashley and Georgie) in search of a rubbish author.

Unlike with most of Inside No. 9’s surprises, who bets the show’s creators were hoping the penny would drop sooner rather than later with this one? If regular viewers didn’t smell a rat when they heard Sophie Okonedo’s flawed-detective-with-inner-demons gutsily snarl, “I know how to dig my heels in, and let me tell you, size eight stilettos dig in deep,” Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith should worry. The stink was quite deliberate.

There was more where that came from, ‘Kat’ spoke only in affected barbs and emphatic monologues about not having a cock and balls but having a brain and heart and guts, and bringing the scared little kidnap victim out into the light and not caring whose toes she had to tread on to do it!

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Casting Sophie Okonedo, one of our finest actors, only to give her lines of that calibre was a joke in itself, one of few in this brainy episode. ‘Nine Lives Kat’ was a mystery that parodied crime thriller cliché, and as such, intrigued more than it amused.

Conceptually, it was a pretty big swing. Writing about writing can shut out audiences, who are generally less fascinated than authors are by the tussles between creators and their creations. Making the whole thing also a critique of lazy, formulaic writing in one of our most popular genres opened the door a crack. From the detectives’ troubled home lives to Shearsmith’s “spectrum-y” genius, from evidence walls to creepily sung nursery rhymes, it’s a world we all know.

If it needed pinning down, the ‘real’ story appears to be that of writer Matilda Gordon (Siobhan Redmond). She was attempting an ambitious meta story about Ezra Jones (Pemberton), a popular crime thriller novelist tormented by his own fictional characters. Jones and his blandly familiar creations Kat and Barnabas Bull were all Matilda. Her novel aimed to blur the boundaries between the real and the fictional and hoist a hack by his own petard when one of his under-developed characters (Okonedo) – jealous of the success of her successor – framed Jones for his stepson’s abduction. It all disappeared up its own arse soon enough and Gordon did the right thing by banishing the lot of them to the bottom drawer, a kind of purgatory for fictional characters.  

That purgatory was well rendered by director Kieron Walsh and co., who expressively showed Kat’s lack of development through her desaturated, underpopulated sets – in contrast with Ezra’s more fleshed out but decidedly abstract decor – and expertly mimicked cheap horror tricks. The score, as ever, was in great service to every misdirection and reversal.

The script was finely tuned to serve a dual purpose. Ezra’s lines in particular were those of a police officer on a first viewing but became something more literary on a second. When asked about the five suspects in the abduction case, he tells Kat he was “still in the process of fleshing out their stories”. He describes Barney as “quite a character” whose arrival marks “an interesting development”. Kat’s lines held similar clues to her non-existence, from declaring herself “a walking cliché” to describing how the baby teeth ritual made her feel “alive”.

Clever, complex stuff. More cerebral than emotional, and more sly and knowing than laugh-out-loud funny, but yet again, inventive, surprising, and very different to what came before.

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Inside No. 9 continues with ‘Kid/Nap’ next Wednesday the 18th of May at 10pm on BBC Two and BBC iPlayer.