Inside No. 9 S8E2: Mother’s Ruin

by thethreepennyguignol

The last season of Inside No. 9, if I’m being honest, wasn’t my favourite.

I think that’s normal, for a show that’s been running as long as this one has, especially one as odd as this one: the specific brand of gleeful unpleasantness Inside No. 9 peddles isn’t an inexhaustible resource, and there were a couple of episodes last season that underlined that to me. There were still some excellent outings last season – Merrily, Merrily is one of my favourite episodes of the whole show – but things didn’t feel quite as snappy and polished as they once had. I still loved the show, because there’s nothing else quite like it, but I had a few doubts as to whether it could maintain the high level of quality it had been batting at for so many years.

But this episode, Mother’s Ruin, is such a perfect piece of Inside No. 9-ery as to wipe any doubts out of my mind at once. Following a pair of brothers (Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton) as they attempt to bring back their gangster mother from the dead to get her to share the truth of her hidden fortune, it’s a prime example of the expert tone-juggling that makes this show so utterly unique and totally watchable to me.

Some of my very favourite of Inside No. 9 pulls a pair of utterly disparate and sometimes even seemingly opposing genres out of a hat, and finds a way to bring them together: Mother’s Ruin plucks out “necromancy” and “East London legacy gangsters” from the ink-stained paper scraps this week, and God, the way Shearsmith and Pemberton find the middle ground between them is downright sublime.

A big part of that is the fact that the two of them just make such a polished double-act; the episode opens with just the two of them, and the way they’re able to lace the mundane through this absurdity until it almost looks like real life is second to none. Shearsmith pulling out a crumpled printout from the internet on how to bring his mother’s spirit back to the mortal world, Pemberton musing on how best to remove the stains from their ritual from the wood flooring – these scripts are so tight and so well-performed, they make the feat of turning these completely out-there stories into something that seems downright day-to-day.

And the guest stars this week, Anita Dobson and Phil Daniels, bring the criminal element to life perfectly. Again, it’s their mix of the bizarre, the horrible, and the abjectly normal that bring them to life: Dobson’s insistence on the importance of her Tarot reading and her avid Women Who Kill fandom as she cheerfully changes into her easy-clean murdering shawl is a genuine delight. Daniels is truly giving it his all here, clearly having perhaps more fun that strictly neccessary playing the murderous, adulterous thug hacking off legs and calling up spirits; the killer who enjoys the violence of their job a little too much isn’t a new trope, but there’s a certain mad glint here that elevates it to excellent entertainment.

But what keeps this episode from just being some genre playtime (though, frankly, I wouldn’t mind if it was only that) is the human story woven throughout. The brothers difficult relationship, their complex connections with their mother, their guilt and grief and ultimate care for each other underneath – it comes out in small moments scattered through the episode, but the depth they manage to convey within those moments weaves a deep history that grounds this story in something poignant and even a little melancholy . It’s always what’s elevated the show for me; there are so many episode of Inside No. 9 that manage to cut through all the glorious outrageousness and nastiness with something decidedly human.

Telling ridiculous stories is relatively easy; telling ridiculous stories that actually have real resonance is much harder. The fact that Inside No. 9 still knows how to pull that off has me primed and ready to fall in love with the rest of this season, and I can’t wait to deep-dive the other episodes (I hope, with you joining me for it) soon!

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 BBC)