Warning: contains spoilers for Inside No. 9 episode ‘Kid/Nap’
The internet can’t decide if it was Pablo Picasso or the Dalai Lama who said “learn the rules like a pro so you can break them as an artist”, so let’s split the difference and say it was Peter Andre. What Andre’s getting at is that rules will only take an artist so far (to ‘Mysterious Girl’) but transgression of said rules is necessary for an act of true creation (‘Insania’).
In ‘Kid/Nap’, Inside No. 9 transgresses its own golden rule. Not the one about never hiring actors Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith have worked with before – that went out with Jason Watkins in series three’s ‘The Bill’ and has been snubbed several times since (Derek Jacobi, Sarah Solemani, Mark Gatiss…). Lara in this episode being played by Daisy Haggard, aka Psychoville’s Debbie, is no foul.
Instead, it’s the rule about every Inside No. 9 story taking place in a single location. The action of ‘Kid/Nap’ travels between three separate places: the Grant home, the No. 9 bungalow, and Dominic’s office (four if you count Shane’s walk home from the corner shop). I ask you! It makes a mockery of…! How can they expect us to…! Can you even believe…! Nope, I can’t do it. If Shearsmith and Pemberton, makers of over 40 varied, surprising and standalone stories, choose to break the rules they set as artists, who’s going to argue. Not Peter Andre. And not me.
Anyway, there’s a visual gimmick to draw it all together. The split-screen storytelling device tethers ‘Kid/Nap’ to the tumbledown bungalow where most of the action takes place. It lets the story move between the swanky home of Lara (Haggard) and her odious hedge fund manager husband Dom (Shearsmith, dipping into the same comedy well as his mate Bob Mortimer’s ‘Train Guy’), and his equally swanky London office, while staying anchored to a number nine.
Was it strictly story-necessary to show Lara at home, or to have Dom as anything other than a voice on the end of a phone before he came on the scene? No, but had it not happened, this thriller episode would have boasted even fewer jokes.
The split screen looked like it was going to pay for itself early on with a visual gag that showed Lara peeing while Shane (Daniel Mays) poured and drank a glass of yellow liquid. The rest of their simultaneously choreographed morning routine though, only set up their contrasting characters, not more laughs. From then onward, it was mostly there for practical reasons, adding interest where usually there’d just be edits.
Director Al Campbell (who also made this series’ ‘Merrily Merrily’ and directs Daniel Mays on Sky comedy Code 404) and Mays built a sense of real menace early on. Backed by shafts of light and a thriller score, Shane felt dangerously unpredictable – an overgrown child one minute, a credible threat the next, even behind that comically undersized monkey mask. All that tension was sucked out of the room the second that the real nature of Jason Isaacs’ Clifford and Lara’s relationship was revealed. So that explains her oddly playful demeanour and why she calls her husband and not the police; Lara had planned her own kidnapping to get at Dom’s money.
Fargo-style, it all went tits up. Cliff was planning to betray Shane, but accidentally shot himself in the gut, leaving his “halfwit colleague” to clean up. Like Kevin Bishop’s Harlequin character in ‘Wuthering Heist’, hapless Shane ends up quids in. That’s if you trust Lara, which of course we don’t. A tenner says she dumps Shane-without-a-passport at the nearest Esso service station before boarding that plane. (That’s if the plane and the new identities really exist and Cliff wasn’t actually planning on killing her – as Shane believed – and taking the 1.3 “mil” for himself.)
Whoever ended up betrayed didn’t much matter, as all four main characters were horrible, and only professional leg breaker Shane (and perhaps Steve Pemberton’s DI) inspired the least bit of compassion.
What a cast though, what a complicated vision, and what a terrific performance from Haggard, who doesn’t need a showreel by this point in her career but has one in ‘Kid/Nap’ anyway.
Inside No. 9 continues next Wednesday the 25th of May at 10pm on BBC Two with ‘A Random Act of Kindness.’