Inside No. 9 S6E2: Simon Says
Can I just say one thing? God, I am so glad that we’re finally culturally ready to start roasting the utter fuck out of Game of Thrones again.
Okay, small side note before we get to this week’s episode, Simon Says, I must have my moment. There’s no doubt in my mind that this episode – revolving around a showrunner grappling with the universally-panned ending of his hit fantasy show – is some pointed jab in the direction of Game of Thrones and its legendarily dreadful closing season. And, as a dedicated disliker of the show for years now, there is something delightful about the fact that the way it fucked up is starting to become part of actual pop culture now. Yes, yes, let’s talk about how you couldn’t even fucking see most of the final major battle! Let’s talk about the misogyny! Let’s talk about Jon fucking Snow! Like all things, I was right about Game of Thrones in the end, and even reading the description for this week’s episode was enough to get me all buzzing with validation about that.
Anyway. That aside, this episode is not about the failings of Game of Thrones in particular, but more a meditation on fandom; after all, fandom is a place for obsessives to talk about their obsession, and there is a delightful horror to obsession if it’s played right. I think this acts as a really interesting counterpoint to last week’s episode – if that was a meta slap on the shoulder for an audience, this is a much sharper-elbowed reminder of the absurd lengths and entitlement that modern fandom culture has empowered in some of those famous Bad Fans. The Bad Fan this week being Shearsmith, intimating his way into the life of his idol, a one-time fantasy show writer played by Pemberton, and managing to scam, threaten, and impose his way into turning the fan-canon of the show into a real episode – no matter what it takes.
I’ve got a really soft spot for episodes of Inside No 9 that essentially function as double-handers for Pemberton and Shearsmith on-screen; the chemistry they share is just so good, and getting to really indulge in it feels like the show in its purest form. Of course, an obsessive fan needs to be matched with a decently arrogant creator to make the dynamic work and the two of them find a perfectly delicious balance between the various stages of their mutual disdain and disdainability; the dialogue is acerbic and dripping with in-jokes for fandom addicts, the kind of wit that you really just want the chance to savour. And perhaps a little nod to the fact that they well know the fate of genre shows like their’s which go off the deep end, as well.
Giullem Morales, too, director of this week’s episode, does such a fucking great job with the look of this outing: it’s entirely set inside the glossy, modern apartment of Pemberton’s writer, a wall lined with his awards’ trophies from better days for his career, and the way Morales moves the camera, the way he frames Pemberton and Shearsmith in relation to one another, and those shifts in focus between the two of them in a single shot as the power moves between each character just makes this even more claustrophobic and hyper-focused, much like the villainous Shearsmith and his giant wodge folder of fanfiction.
The horror here, like I said, is in the obsession: there’s an almost Macbeth-esque quality to this episode, to the bloody handprints on the wall, the pseudo-seduction that Shearsmith launches at his idol. But it’s not just the fan’s obsession that drives the horror – but, as the episode closes, Pemberton’s obsession with his own success, his realization of how richly exploitable the fan community is, and the delirious power that he holds over legions of fans willing to throw themselves at his feet for the merest hint of a chance in his precious show. He will finally share his creation with the fans, finally accept their place in its success, but only on his terms. Only when their obsession can be filtered through his lens and turned into his advantage.
Simon Says is a delightfully crafted episode of Inside No. 9, one that offers just as much of a stab at fandom as it does at creators willing to exploit their fans for some kind of profit; but even with the Implications stripped away (even with the very entertaining ribbing of Game of Thrones removed, which is sort of my favourite part of the episode), it’s just a well-crafted, tight little thriller that revels in the gleeful tragedy-of-errors that Inside No. 9 always seems to do just so well.
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(header image via BBC)