Inside No. 9 Series 7 Episode 1 Review: Merrily, Merrily

Until the fireworks signaled that beautiful switch in tone, it wasn’t Lawrence’s death we were led to expect. False trails and years of experience had primed us for a revenge attack on his former friends from him from the moment Mark Gatiss’ character joked about being “lured” there under false pretences. Remote location, deserted winter lake, desaturated landscape straight out of a gritty crime drama, and Christian Henson’s eerily emotional score? Gulp. But there was no such nastiness. Lawrence was there to pay unique tribute to his beloved wife from him with the two people to whom he’d once been closest. The three friends.

Or, unhappily for Lawrence, the four friends counting interloper Donna. Diane Morgan’s character functioned much like a human pedalo in that she was there to cheer everything up and leaven the tension with gags. Donna’s unselfconscious earthiness made her the perfect comedy foil for Lawrence’s irked shiftiness and Callum’s self-importance de ella. Thankfully, she wasn’t a caricature fishwife, but also given a couple of sweet, supportive moments with Darren, and ultimately came out on top with her angst-free account of her life. We were left rooting for Donna and Darren. Fingers crossed for Disneyland.

That’s if they all made it off that pedalo okay, which the ferryman assured Lawrence they had, and who are we to question a specter of the afterlife? Those who want to question it were perhaps given the option thanks to that chorus of ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’ dangling the suggestion that “life is but a dream”. Is Lawrence actually dead at the end or just dreaming of Charon, Styx and finding an obol in his mouth? That’s up to you, but when Inside No. 9 doesn’t limit itself to the dull material world, why should we?

The swerve in this story not being ‘HA! Murder!’ but ‘Oh, humanity’, Darren and Callum’s characters also gradually became more rounded as the episode went on (no mean feat in less than half an hour of storytelling, it’s always worth noting). Callum’s wry superiority softened in his confession of dissatisfaction in his high-achieving career. Gatiss was a great addition to this one, and not only for the meta joys of seeing a real-life university reunion inside a fictional one.

‘Dazza’ was skilfully shepherded by Pemberton from loudmouth berk to vulnerable sweetheart. His early pedalo/paedo gag was given a surprisingly emotional payoff with the revelation of the dyslexia that made him misread the meeting invitation in the first place. There was very good housekeeping all round, script-wise, with explanations provided for any potential complaint about the unlikeliness of Callum and Darren not knowing that Bonnie had died.

Shearsmith’s line delivery as Lawrence vowing not to ruin the ending – a line that could have meant so many awful things – was the episode’s dramatic high-point. When his secret plan turned out to be sad and sweet rather than deranged and violent, there’s the feeling of Inside No. 9 cleverly playing with his own reputation. Though it’s led fans there in the past, few go into one of these episodes expecting beauty. All the better to surprise us with.

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