The cult anthology series, Inside No. 9 returned to our screens a month ago. It has been just under two years since it was on TV as a proper full time series, before returning for a one-off live Halloween special in October 2018, which already feels like an iconic episode of television. Created by Reese Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton (who have previously created the cult television shows, The League of Gentlemen (1999-2002, 2017) and Psychoville (2009-2011)), the series, known for it’s anthology format and twisty, subversive stories, and it’s newest episode, Misdirection is a brilliant example of this.
I say this because the series’ fifth series has been a little disappointing up till now: the second episode (“Death Be Not Proud”) – in which did a brilliant crossover with Psychoville – was a real highlight, however, the first episode (“The Referee’s a W***er”) was quite underwhelming and the third episode (“Love’s Great Adventure”) was an interesting experiment, but ultimately felt a little hollow and dull. However, with it’s fourth episode, “Misdirection”, the show returned to being absolutely brilliant.
The plot follows Neville Griffin (Shearsmith), a magician, extremely secretive about his trick secrets, who is interviewed by student journalist and aspiring magician, Gabriel (Fionn Whitehead). Over the course of their interview, Gabriel attempts to uncover about Griffin’s secrets, including how he might of stolen his famous chair levitation trick from another magician, Willy Wondo (Pemberton).
Although, in this series, Pemberton and Shearsmith have experimented and done very different things, this episode feels like a return to the show’s very traditional roots. The episode’s concept of a chamber piece between two characters who are both trying to outsmart and outwit each other feels very quintessentially “Inside No. 9”. It feels remarkably similar to various episodes of the show, especially the season 3 hit, “The Riddle of the Sphinx”, often rightfully called one of the best episodes of the series. The episode returned to being impacted by some of the show’s biggest influences (after last week’s was inspired by Mike Leigh), including Hitchcock (especially Rope (1948)) and Christopher Nolan (especially The Prestige (2006)).
In very typical Inside No. 9 fashion, the episode has a variety of twists and turns, all of which are very successful. It is really remarkable that, despite the show going into it’s sixth year on the small screen, it still remains as shocking and surprising as it was when it first started. What is so brilliant about the script, though, is that it is very tightly written, and all the twists have all been very well set up, while still remaining surprising. The script also contains contains some well placed black humour and wit that fans have accustomed to.
Another element that the fans have become accustomed to is the central guest star that stars alongside Pemberton and Shearsmith. This season we have already had David Morrissey, Jenna Coleman and Debbie Rush, and in this episode, we have Fionn Whitehead. The young up and comer, who was really great in the 2017 war film, Dunkirk and Black Mirror interactive film, Bandersnatch, makes a great sparring partner to Shearsmith in this two-hander. Whitehead, who has already worked with Christopher Nolan, Charlie Brooker and now, Shearsmith and Pemberton, has definitely shown that he has a big future ahead of him. This episode also has some very welcome cameos from Jill Halfpenny as Shearsmith’s wife and Tom Goodman-Hill as a police detective.
As great as it was to see this episode returning to the show’s roots, it still feels like this series needs to perfect it’s more experimental episodes. Season 4’s “Once Removed”‘s pitch perfect gel of a real quality episode with an experimental format was the show at it’s very best, and this season still has yet to replicate that.
Despite that, this episode was still really terrific. The best of the season so far, this episode shows Inside No. 9 at it’s witty, twisty, turny, subversive and funny best.