Inside No. 9 Series 9 Finale Review: Plodding On

The series finale played a brilliantly dangerous game.

Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith wearing black suits in Inside No 9 series 9 episode "Plodding On"
Photo: BBC Studios/James Stack

Warning: this Inside No. 9 review contains spoilers.

Rip our hearts out, why don’t you, Inside No9.

Who saw that twist coming? The one in which Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton stomped right past all the glittering possibilities for their series finale – a musical ep, a properly live one, a sequel – and instead, for the purposes of drama, chose to offer up… themselves.

The setting was a swanky club hosting the Inside No. 9 wrap party. The guest stars were a night sky’s worth of real Inside No. 9’s guest stars from across the years. And the story was about a break-up between a villain (arrogant, callous Steve) and a victim (lonely, broken-hearted Reece). 

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These are characters Shearsmith and Pemberton are playing, let’s be clear, as part of a light satire on the self-serving showbiz world. The fictional plot saw Steve dump Reece and their next BBC project in favour of a shit-but-lucrative Amazon fantasy epic. Alone and grieving the loss of his best friend, Reece tried to reunite with another old pal in The League of Gentlemen’s Mark Gatiss, but was cruelly turned down. 

After a montage of Inside No. 9 clips was screened for the guest-star-packed crowd, a last-minute twist saw Steve lose the Amazon gig and make up with Reece. Then a final happy (?) ending saw them give in and finally make the much-discussed 1970s-sitcom-style No. 9 bus episode they teased last year.

There were laughs, in-jokes, and a motherlode of Easter egg references (don’t worry, we’ve listed them) to previous stories, but the real meat of this brilliant finale was Reece and Steve’s relationship. It felt risky and exposing, because however fictionalised it all was, we know that some of it is true. That line about Reece coming in to their little office to find Steve pretending to be a murder victim has been a long-standing practical joke between the two of them. Fans know about it. Blurring the line between the real and the made-up gave this finale jeopardy. Because if that was real, then how much else could be?

Turning the camera around on this real-life creative pairing was a genius dramatic move because really, what matters more? The number nine, for all its talismanic presence in this show, means nothing at all. It’s part-trinket, part-game, just like the silver hare statue hidden in every episode. The real connection between these stories, what makes their many and disparate parts into a whole, is Reece and Steve. Their steady partnership is the common factor behind this whole endeavour. So to make viewers lean forward, what better thing to put in danger? 

You can throw the dog against the window, sacrifice the schoolteacher to ancient gods, and burn down the house with the little girl in it, and so what. Those are just stories. Jeopardising this bedrock real-life friendship was much more dramatically potent. 

And it really worked. It worked for obsessive fans, and cleverly, it also worked for casual viewers who wouldn’t recognise the references they weren’t getting, or feel anything was amiss. After all, there’s not much more universal than a story about a relationship having run its course, or professional jealousy, or friendship or betrayal or loneliness – we get it. Those two are good enough actors to make us feel anything they like, and in “Plodding On”, they made us feel plenty. Heartbreak, in particular, with the line: “Reece, we’ve been working together for so long now, I don’t even know if we are friends anymore”.

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If the finale was aiming for tears with that manipulative combo of “Con te partirò” and the clips montage then they got them, but for me, it was the appearance of Helen McCrory and David Warner on screen that did it. Because woven in with the satirical, reference-patchwork story was something totally unironic. 

Seeing all those guest stars at the party wasn’t just a Jools Holland’s Hootenanny feeling of ‘oh look, it’s them off that thing’; it was a tribute paid to memories. To theirs and to ours. To a decade of everybody’s life having passed in between episode one and episode 55. For all the finale’s self-deprecating mockery and clever nods, there was nothing ersatz about its emotion.

Inside No. 9 series one to nine are streaming on BBC iPlayer. Learn more about Den of Geek’s review process and why you can trust our recommendations here.