Inside No. 9 S7E3: Nine Lives Kat

by thethreepennyguignol

Inside No. 9 does two things especially way: playing with genre and playing with form.

And that’s exactly what this week’s episode, Nine Lives Kat, lays out for the viewers in a really quite good half-hour that brings the show back to form after whatever that was. A mix of genre critique, meta-commentary, and needlessly fun writerly bullshit, it’s exactly the kind of enormously inventive and incisive take I’ve come to expect from Pemberton and Shearsmith’s brilliant efforts.

Scene opens on genre: Sophie Okonedo, about one Dashiell Hammett away from smoking a skinny cigarette under a streetlight in a big trench coat as the episode kicks off with some ridiculously entertaining noir indulgence. Noir as a genre is one that’s fundamentally built on straight-faced characters acting very, very silly, and that’s exactly what she’s here for – to glower, simmer, drink vodka out of her Coco Pops, and try to get to the bottom of this case, dammit. It’s clear Okonedo is having the best time playing in the sandbox of these tropes, tongue-in-cheek but not afraid to deliver the emotion and humanity where it matters – and to be honest, I would watch her do this entirely straight with none of the meta-commentary.

This story would have been a pretty damn good half-hour if it had just stuck to Okonedo giving us the full noir detective fantasy, but as it unfolds, and starts unpicking the truth behind her story, it starts on poking fun at the form, too. Instead of just deconstructing the tropes, Pemberton and Shearsmith, via the lens of Pemberton’s on-screen writer character, deconstruct exactly why those tropes have taken such root in the genre.

It’s a bold-ass move, having Pemberton’s writer interacting with the character that he created in Okonedo, but one that actually allows them to interrogate the why behind the go-to tropes as opposed to just the how. It might not be the most subtle thing in the world, a writer literally arguing with their own creation, but Inside No. 9’s playful tone and deep understanding of genre television allows them to ask some interesting questions that manage to land just short of heavy-handed. There’s an off-screen literacy and knowing about the world of writing for TV – creating content that sells as well as upholding a certain artistic idealism – that gives Nine Lives Kat some real depth, even if it all is rather masturbatory (and I say that as someone who actually writes about masturbation, so I would know).

And, of course, a final meta-meta-meta twist brings us back round to the start, in case you dared get too comfortable in all this commentary. It’s a slippery episode that constantly slithers right out of your hands and into another layer of critical commentary that you didn’t see coming, all wrapped around a brilliant performance from Sophie Okonedo and some great writing from Pemberton and Shearsmith.

If you liked this article and want to see more stuff like it, please check out the rest of my Inside No. 9 reviews. I’d also love it if you would check out my horrible short story collection, and, if you’d like to support my work, please consider supporting me on Patreon!

(header image via Comedy.co.uk)