Following in the footsteps of Memento and Irreversible, Inside No 9 ventures into the arena of the reverse; telling its narrative from end to beginning, and still managing to add depth of character whilst it appears to stripping it away.
Things start off normal enough with a removal man turning up at a country cottage (Number 9, natch) to help housewife May (Monica Dolan) move her stuff. There’s a Carry On style farce to proceedings as May tries to wrap her head around the removal man’s euphemistic company name, and he tries to handle seeing May’s husband (Reece Shearsmith) walking into the kitchen dressed as woman. It’s end of the pier stuff and Kenneth Connors emerging from a bush to utter ‘Crickey!’ wouldn’t seem out of place. And then the bodies start turning up. One wrapped up in a roll of carpet, the other in the downstairs toilet, it’s understandable by the removal man would want to make a hasty retreat. When May ends up killing her husband, it’s time for explanations. Instead, Shearsmith and Pemberton rewind the clock to ten minutes previously.
And so it goes on for the rest of the episode and more layers are added to the narrative. May is not the owner of the house, it actually belongs to Natasha (Emilia Fox) and her senile father, Percy (David Calder). Natasha’s neighbour is May, who – we eventually discover – has just found that Natasha’s sleeping with her husband. To add insult to injury, Natasha and May’s husband are planning to elope after getting a hitman to kill May. Shearsmith is that hitman, Viktor, and his reasons for being at Natasha’s house and not May’s? Well, that’s down to May changing Natasha’s house number from 6 to 9. This one tiny act of somewhat excusable self-preservation, we learn and have already learnt, will lead to the deaths of five people instead of just one. Talk about the butterfly effect.
It’s a brilliantly constructed piece of work that plays upon the audience’s assumptions, without letting them get in the way of the narrative. It’s fascinating to watch how the characters change as they’re dragged back to their original states. Natasha leaps from tragic murder victim to Lady MacBeth-esque conspirator. Whilst Viktor goes from camp cross-dressing husband, to doting son (Percy imagines him to be a long lost relative), to the cool and calm hitman he always was. All of which is coloured by his utter frustration as he continually stumbles across one more witness he must dispose of. You almost feel sorry for him.
Once Removed revels in farce as much as it does bloodshed and is all the better for it. After the rather bittersweet ending of the last episode, it’s nice to see the boys getting back to some impish comedic misbehaviour.