Inside No. 9 S8E3: Paraskevidekatriaphobia

by thethreepennyguignol

This episode of Inside No. 9 captures a true horror beyond the comprehension of most of the right-thinking population: being surrounded by people involved in amateur dramatics.

Well, no, actually, it doesn’t, but it was enough to bring back my own rampant low-level luvvy dickery from my days in less-than-professional dramatiques. Aside from that, though, Paraskevidekatriaphobia is a gloriously twisted comedy about anxiety, compulsion, and superstition, and does it bloody brilliantly to boot.

The episode (yeah, good luck trying to get me to type that title out twice) revolves around Gareth (Shearsmith), who plans an eventful Friday at home staying out of trouble after a traumatic event decades earlier left him terrified of Friday the 13th (but if he had taken the time to watch Jason X, surely he’d feel differently. Best movie of the franchise!). Things soon spiral out of control, though, as a collection of unlikely unfoldings trigger every superstition in common parlance, forcing Gareth to face up to his fears in an unexpected way.

Now, as I’ve written about before, I have OCD, so this episode’s focus on anxiety and compulsion really hit home for me: I think a show like Inside No. 9 is actually really well-placed to explore this kind of compulsive behaviour, because it really is ridiculous on a level that requires this kind of wild escalation to convey it’s impact. Maybe it seems bordering on a mockery to some people, but, as someone who’s been there, this is, to an extent, how it feels to be completely consumed by compulsion – no matter how much you might know it’s ridiculous, there’s a part of you driven to obey the bizarre demands of your brain. I might not have chased a black cat around the house with a beanbag (a white one with a spray bottle after he bit me, maybe), but I’ve definitely done stuff as objectively ridiculous as that as part of my compulsive behaviour.

And what it builds to – the reveal of the trauma that led to this anxiety – is actually really well-executed and impactful. The way Shearsmith plays the moment he chooses to smash the mirror, and let go of his anxiety about the day for good – a brief flash of his dead classmates in the shards, before things slip back into reality – is powerful in how understated it is. Of course, the episode doesn’t end quite so happily as that, with the usual snarly twist in the tale, but at this point, I think I’d be more surprised by the show not ending on a slightly mean note, you know?

Paraskevidekatriaphobia is also one of the funniest episodes in a while – Steve Pemberton getting to ham it up as someone, well, hamming it up is undeniably fun (his po-faced remark about how much he shall miss his character genuinely made me laugh out loud, and I’m pretty sure I said the same thing about playing Pink Lady #6 in my high school production of Grease) and the over-the-top luvviness of the amateur dramatics society involved in Gareth’s exposure therapy is an obvious joke, but played just right to make it genuinely entertaining. Watching It’s well-placed in the episode, lulling you into that false sense of security with a few good gags before it lands the final punch with a cruelly fitting ending.

Paraskevidekatriaphobia is another really great episode this season, a careful and effective balance of wit, absurdity, silliness, and those quieter, more human moments that bring the show to life.

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 Den of Geek)