Inside No. 9 S6E6: Last Night of the Proms
Is there anything more horrifying than a really bad party?
Inside No. 9 certainly doesn’t think so. Nana’s Party is probably the height of their second season, while Empty Orchestra is at the top of the pile for season three; throw in this season finale at the end of it, and we’re downright near a pattern.
Last Night of the Proms is a set-up ripe for the show to display all its inherent talents: one of my favourite things about Pemberton and Shearsmith’s writing is their ability to imbue characters we only spend a half-hour alongside with a genuine history and lived-in scratchiness, and that’s especially present at this particularly sharp-edged family gathering to celebrate the last night of the Proms. In this fractious, post-Brexit containment unit of Englanders, all the family tension comes bubbling to the surface, and the writing and performances are just an impeccable example of how to give characters history and depth with one another in the course of just a few lines – a derisive snort here, an eye-roll there, the snatching-away of a hand on the couch. Add on that built-in soundtrack via the titular proms, and you’ve got the perfect grounding from some delightfully histrionic family sniping.
But we already know the show can do that well. What I find interesting about this episode is the way it acts as a reflection of last week’s outing; where How Do You Plead uses morality and religious iconography to tell a story of the apparent devil, Last Night of the Proms uses the same things to unfold a story about what appears to be the second coming of Jesus.
Now, there’s a lot going on in this episode, and I’m not honestly convinced that all of it works – it’s a little overstuffed, and I wish we got to spend more time with the family in the simple act of their painfully strained conversation before things start to kick off – but I do enjoy the way that it plays with the morality of the Brexiteers and Remainers. It has little time for either, as good satire should – this is not an attempt to lionize one view over the other. Pemberton is the picture of the florid Brexiteer championing English rights and draped in Union Jacks, an entertaining take on the pro-Brexit stereotype, but it’s his counterpart that I found more interesting. Reece Shearsmith’s odious lead is the kind of anti-Brexiteer who seems to present his standing as less a practical application of political opinion but a chance to exercise moral superiority over the people around him; his dislike of the Little Englanders he so decries emerges more as a chance to swipe at his much-loathed family, and as soon as the Jesus stand-in, an immigrant with little English, turns up in the family home, he’s the first to jump to old-fashioned An Englishman’s home is his castle rhetoric to defend the horrible violence that befalls him soon afterwards. Like last week, Shearsmith is not what he seems when presented with an ancient arbiter of morality, which is a specific niche to carve out, but one I enjoy.
It makes for an interesting contrast, and weaving in a traditional religious symbol like Jesus’ sacrifice (down to the stigmata and the spear wound in his side) adds an extra layer of surrealist drama to the occasion. Using Jesus as the representation of the immigrant is not a new one in popular culture, but its execution here is relatively smart, less a reverent, worshipful admittance of faith than it is a play on suggestibility and the simplicity of religious symbolism (it reminds me, actually, of Liam Neeson’s brilliant turn in Rev. as Actually God, Maybe). It’s less explicit than last week in confirming the magical nature of the apparent Jesus, but that honestly serves the story better – ultimate evil being real is a lot less interesting than an ultimate good existing, you know?
Overall, I like this closer for the season – the music, the drama, the politics, all of it. It’s an enjoyable if overstuffed outing with maybe a few too many ideas to let it really soar, but enough interesting ones to at least give it a solid grounding. I’m sad to this season end (maybe it’s just because I’ve spent more time writing and therefore thinking about it, but I swear it’s been one of the better ones), but I would like to say this before I go: thanks for following along on my reviews of this season! I’ve had a lot of fun, and really enjoyed chatting with all of you on social media about your takes on season 6 of Inside No. 9.
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(header image via British Comedy Guide)