Inside No. 9 S6E1: Wuthering Heist
So, it’s been a while since I’ve been recapping a show as it’s actually coming out – and, since the last one I took care of was The Stand, an even longer time since I’ve actually done that for one I liked. Honestly, just writing my silly little episode analyses on my silly little corner of the internet is one of my favourite things to do in the world, and I’ve been hunting for an excuse to jump on a show I enjoy to really get in and about things in a more in-depth way than just happy-tweeting about it all week long.
And Inside No. 9, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s genre-bending anthology lovechild, feels like just the ticket. I’ve been watching the show for years now – I think it’s amongst the best in British television in this century, and probably marks the most consistent high of either of their careers – but I’ve never written about it in more long-form articles because I’m just not quite sure how to approach a good anthology like this one. Usually, recapping and reviewing means analysing season-long arcs and making up terrible inside jokes about Betty Cooper’s brother in Riverdale, and I wasn’t sure that I’d have enough to say about single episodes like the ones that populate this show. But honestly, if there is a single standalone half-hour on TV every week that warrants an actual fully-fledged deep dive every single time, it’s the ones that Pemberton and Shearsmith create in Inside No. 9.
Which brings us to the very first episode of their sixth season, Wuthering Heist. Now, I think this is a really interesting place for the series to start, thematically speaking; underneath the Comedia Dell’Arte-cum-heist-flick premise, this is also an abjectly meta approach to the show. I mean, yes, that CoHeatDia-Dell’Arte plot is more than enough in its own right to make this half-hour worth watching; the use of masks is an inventive way to tie the two sides of the genres togeher, and the commitment to this deranged high-energy pun-tastic script finds a deliciously entertaining place between a classic comedy of errors and an action cool-guy’s sign-off line. One of the things that has always drawn me to Inside No. 9 is the sheer knowledge and grasp of each featured genre that PemberSmith (I can’t write out their names every time, I’m already annoyed by it) delve into in their episodes. I love the way that they clash tropes, try to fit opposing and sometimes seemingly contradictory genres into one another (Dead Line and last season’s brilliant vampire/cop chronicle The Stakeout spring to mind) to see where they overlap.
But beyond that, Wuthering Heist’s genre-clashing is set dressing to the real story here; Inside No. 9 has existed for long enough that people think they know what to expect, and that’s something that the show needs to work against with all its might. Meta narratives to the extent that Inside No. 9 does them here – Gemma Whelan (who is just so good in everything and especially in Upstart Crow, if you haven’t gotten around to it yet) looking directly at the lens to apologize for the hackiness of the plot, bemoaning that you can’t really expect much better by a sixth season, is about as bold as it comes, but in some ways, it feels like something the show really needs to open with this late in the game.
Because it’s sheer cockiness – an announcement that PemberSmith are well-aware of the kind of show that they make, and they know just how best to unfold that show, and they know too that we love it that way. They know the criticisms and the praises that fans have for it, they know the tropes that it has made for itself – the ones that it has bent into shape out of horror and sci-fi and mystery like a wire coat-hanger turned out of shape. It takes a lot of nerve and confidence in your audience to come out swinging like this, to have a character look down the camera and basically announce “yeah, you probably think you know what’s coming, but hey, do you know how we’re going to deliver it?”. The twist this episode is the very fact that the audience is waiting for a twist, and it’s handled so beautifully, artfully cleverly that I just can’t help but love it. It’s a love letter to the show at large and that show’s audience in particular. And, as the very audience it’s talking to, what can I do but respond in kind?
Wuthering Heist is a brilliant start to the season, and I’m so looking forward to having the chance to get into these episodes as they come out week-by-week (I’ll be trying to have this articles up by Wednesday after each new episode). I’m always very keen to hear what you made about this episode, and what you think of the show as a whole – what are you expecting this season? What are you hoping for? Drop me a comment below, or hit me up on Twitter and let’s talk about it there.
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(header image via British Comedy Guide)