Warning: this review contains spoilers.
“This isn’t like a séance, this is different,” Ed Blackwood tells his brother Harry and anyone watching at home thinking ‘hang on, they’ve done this one’. Inside No. 9 hasn’t done this one. Series 2’s ‘Séance Time’ was a frightening horror story about spectral vengeance that left us in no doubt we were witnessing the supernatural; ‘Mother’s Ruin’ is a jet-black gangster comedy about family that left us on a clever note of ambiguity.
Every few minutes of this half-hour from ‘The Bones of St. Nicolas’ director George Kane, there was a Rubik’s Cube twist that shifted the picture. First, we were watching a burglary, then a brotherly squabble, then an occult ritual, then a gangster torture session featuring this show’s goriest moment yet, and finally – maybe – a possession.
Did the necromancy ritual work and summon the spirit of Ed and Harry’s dead mother into the body of her pet parrot? Maybe, maybe not. Inside No. 9’s svelte runtime cut the story off before we could know if Mr Macey’s “What d’you want” was just the Scarlet Macaw repeating an earlier-established catchphrase, or whether it was something… else.
Setting up that final see-saw question by slipping in a couple of early “What d’you want”s from Mr Macey (who has to be named for the Silas Marner clerk who started the rumour that Silas routinely sends his soul on walkabout with the devil?) was one of several nuggets neatly tucked into this script. It was a fair play mystery that in retrospect, had embedded all the clues we needed to reach the plot turns and punchline before they arrived. Mr Macey was kept in play throughout with cuts to him perching outside the bungalow, and Frannie killing Reggie was teased multiple times from her Women Who Kill obsession to their dialogue (“you wouldn’t want to cross her”; “she ain’t got rid of me yet”). Very good housekeeping, as expected from an Inside No. 9 script.
By casting themselves as brothers for the first time, were the physically mismatched Shearsmith and Pemberton teasing a bonus mystery too? We learned that Ed was the older of the pair, yet Harry was the one named after their dad. We know Ed’s mother had a long-term affair with Reggie (he didn’t deny it when Ed faked being possessed) and she resented Ed for no given reason. Given there’s a stronger family resemblance between Reggie and Ed than between him and Harry, perhaps unbeknownst to them both, Ed’s grisly foot-ectomy was carried out by his biological dad. Or maybe the incest fumes have just got to me.
Whatever the family connections, Phil Daniels and Anita Dobson were great casting and didn’t hold back as grotesque psychos Reggie and Frannie Stone, a sort of Mr and Mrs Wormwood from Matilda but in a Tarantino film. Daniels in particular fully committed to Reggie’s swings between comedy and violence and left a real impression (as well as another tricky deep stain on those floorboards).
The Stones’ story was exaggerated, nasty, and funny, but – unless you count flinching at the buzz of an electric handsaw – unemotional. Ed and Harry’s tale though, managed to pack in pathos alongside the bickering and comic misunderstandings. Sweet idiot Harry’s “I don’t mind, at least we’re together” was touching, and Reece Shearsmith put on an excellent show both in the emotional moments, and in that disturbing fake-possession scene.
When it comes to performances though, there was only one star of the show. That parrot upstaged them all. Masterful.
Inside No. 9 Series 8 continues on Thursday the 4th of May at 10pm on BBC Two.