Inside No. 9 S6E5: How Do You Plead

by thethreepennyguignol

After last week’s superb outing, I have to admit, I was coming into this particular Inside No. 9 episode with high expectations.

And let’s be real: How Do You Plead is still a really great episode of TV. Following a nurse (Reece Shearsmith) called in to care for his elderly patient, a dying ex-barrister (Derek Jacobi), the older man reveals a dark secret he’s kept for the entirety of his soaring professional career – and just how he intends to make it right before he goes.

For one, it’s such a treat to see Derek Jacobi doing anything, ever: if you haven’t had a chance to watch him in the exquisitely brilliant I, Claudius yet, consider this my forceful encouragement to do just that (and also to check him out in Vicious, his sitcom with Ian McKellan, and that one episode of Frasier he guest-stars in, for good measure). He’s one of the UK’s greatest still-living actors, and to see him just for half an hour embodying this character – crotchety, witty, manipulative, terrified, all at once – is a delight, especially with an on-form Shearsmith to bounce off of.

The direction, lighting, sound design, score, all of it is just perfect this week; the setting, on the ninth floor of a 20s-style apartment block, gives this episode the feel of a Thomas Ligotti short, the closed-off rooms serving for a claustrophobic and atmospheric backdrop. But, as the story unfolds, revealing itself to be an adaptation of the Faust fable (oh, read Mrs Faust by Carol Ann Duffy if you haven’t already. In fact, read it again even if you have), I have to admit, they lost me a little.

I suppose because what I come to Inside No. 9 for is the unexpected. This season has been built around great twists, and by the very nature of adapting a story as well-known as this one, the show loses some of that bite for me. It’s not a bad adaptation, at all – Steve Pemberton’s version of Mephistopheles is a delightful addition to the third act, slithering in from the lift and posed with two devil horns for almost his entire presence in the episode – but it’s one that just feels…obvious. By very nature of the fact that it relies on the audience to know how this story goes to make sense of it – the meta-textuality of it is front and centre here, and that means that we have to know what’s coming for it to work. The same thing that somewhat strips it of its surprise.

Even though the episode does end with a slight twist – Shearsmith’s nurse is actually the more evil of the two, and thus, Jacobi’s attempts to finagle his way out of his contract by sacrificing him fail – but it’s not enough to really give this the fresh, shocking feeling that so much of this season has had so far. It’s still a really solid episode for the show’s sixth season, but it’s lacking some of the bite that I’m looking for when I come to Inside No. 9.

If you enjoyed this article and want to see more stuff like it, check out my other blog, No But Listen, as well as my fiction work! You can also support me on Patreon to help keep this blog running and keep my very demanding little cat in treaties, and me out of her clutches for another month yet.

(header image via Chortle)