Inside No. 9 Series 9 Episode 3 Review: Mulberry Close

In a word: perfection.

Cast of Inside No. 9 "Mulberry Close" (Left to Right) Vinette Robinson, Reece Shearsmith, Adrian Scarborough, Steve Pemberton, Dorothy Atkinson
Photo: BBC Studios/James Stack

Warning: this Inside No. 9 review contains spoilers.

Alfred Hitchcock and co. needed just shy of two hours for Rear Window; Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith and director Al Campbell nailed their version in under 29 minutes and got a great gag in at the end. 

Inside No. 9 perfection? I’d argue so. Show me one second wasted in this expertly constructed half hour. From Larry’s “best to use a brick” introduction, all the way to the Netflix punchline, this was pretty unassailable storytelling. It had comedy, tension, surprise, very decent guest stars and a formal experiment that was no gimmick, but integral to the story’s suburban satire.

Less Rear Window than Front Door, “Mulberry Close” was told almost entirely through the static frame of a video doorbell. Val and Damon (Vinette Robinson and Shearsmith) were newcomers to the close, having just moved into No. 9 next door to Larry (Adrian Scarborough) and across the road from curtain-twitching Sheila and Ken (Dorothy Atkinson and Pemberton) at No. 8. 

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That description alone – Sheila and Ken from No. 8 – conjures up plenty to be going on with. Add in the quilted bodywarmers, Tupperware, and mention of “the winter newsletter” and these are people we’ve all met – and know to avoid. “Boo to a Goose” was remarkable for its record-breakingly swift establishment of character, but I swear that we learned everything we needed to know about Sheila just from the way Dorothy Atkinson pressed that doorbell. Perfect casting. 

The judgement, as it so often does in middle-class suburban enclaves, had begun before the neighbours had even met. Val and Damon’s garden gnomes and takeaway bags didn’t pass muster with Sheila and Ken, so it was a relatively short hop from tutting over their recycling habits to suspecting Damon of – what else – having murdered Val and chopped her up in the bath.

We too were led to suspect Damon, and to enjoy a shiver from our escalating suspicion. The limited setting worked wonders, with No. 8’s front bedroom and balcony offering another depth to the otherwise flat image. In terms of direction and editing, it was a technical triumph and, like the best of these stories, a masterclass in what to leave out.

From the noises-off argument, to the heavy suitcases, the night-time driving, and the voicemail message that could have been an attempted alibi as much as the real thing, the episode played with the idea that Damon was the killer all the way to the 22-minute mark. Then, missing-Val breezed home right as rain, having spent the past week with her sister. By that point though, the machinery was already in motion for her murder, not by husband Damon but by inept, comical, dog-loving neighbour Larry.

In his unplanned attack on Val – wrongly believing that she’d poisoned his dog Popcorn and dumped the body in a wheelie bin – Larry did use a brick. That was just one of several satisfyingly seeded pay-offs in the episode. Sheila’s terrible driving was another, when it was revealed that she had accidentally reversed over Popcorn (whose existence we were neatly reminded of at regular intervals) and then callously dumped his body in Val and Damon’s bin. Larry killed Val, Damon was arrested for it, but thanks to the doorbell footage, the truth will out. 

All of which was told in the resulting Netflix true crime parody that capped a running gag about Michael Ball. Perfect plotting. Perfect pay-offs. And perfect – if slight – satire, both on the small-minded, suburban snobbery of the terminally humourless Sheila and Ken, and on our voyeuristic fascination with true crime. 

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Did you notice, incidentally, that the title of the Netflix doc took up Sheila’s suggestion of “The Mulberry Close Murders” plural? Unless they’re counting Popcorn as a victim, there’s a tantalising chance that this story continued even further down its dark path after it left us behind. Did Sheila’s driving strike again? Did Ken and his rake? Or was Larry’s timid Alan Bennett-ish persona revealed to be a front for a sicko with a garden stuffed with buried bodies? It’s always the quiet ones, and we never found out what happened to previous No. 9 residents the Bensons and their cat…

Inside No. 9 series 9 continues on Wednesday May 29 at 10pm on BBC Two with CTRL, ALT, ESC

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