And so when the episode ends, you’re left marvelling at all the little clues that have been littered throughout the half hour. Indeed, in a marvellous twist and turn of events, some of the clues may not be entirely clear on first viewing, and will require at least two more goes before everything falls into place. It’s a fair bet that before long, somebody enterprising on youtube will have released their own edit, to place events in a more logical sequence. But we’ve probably already said too much.
Alright, let’s back up a bit: it may feel like we’ve come into this review at the end – which indeed we have, because that’s how this episode works. It’s not the first time an episode of Inside No 9 has begun at the end – that would be season two’s Nana’s Party, but this smacks more of Harold Pinter’s 1978 play Betrayal, travelling down the narrative as it does backwards through time.
(but after that)
Which is not to say that the opening five minutes are incoherent – rather, it’s that we’re thrown in at the deep end and required to register a lot of information. This is clearly the aftermath of some terrible events. There are plenty of things and clues – like a rolled up carpet and an ornamental hare – that will reward repeated viewings. The second section of Once Removed concentrates on exactly what has happened and how (the why will wait a little longer)
(but after that)
Let’s be clear here: its not like each section directly corresponds with the period of time it discusses (the titles say ’10 minutes earlier’, whereas the sequences themselves are closer to five, allowing a bit of wriggle room as the writers move their chess pieces into place). And it’s not even until the third section that Steve Pemberton’s character (looking curiously like he’s cosplaying as Michael McIntyre) arrives. He’s a nervous estate agent banking on a quick sale, and is startled when the rug is pulled out from under his feet. There’s a great joke involving bubble wrap, which also underscores how densely an Inside No 9 script is written. On the face of it, Once Removed is a fun piece of macabre froth, albeit smarter than the average piece of television. However, it’s even smarter than that: there’s not a single line of dialogue – including the ones that might seem like throwaway frippery – that isn’t serving double duty. We say this a lot about Inside No 9, and it’s true as ever: screenwriting students would do well to study these scripts.
(but after that)
In the last two sections of the piece is where everything comes together – or falls apart, depending on how (and when) you look at it – because by this time the (oven) gloves are off. David Calder is wonderful as Percy, playing senility consummately well, but not overshadowing the fact that a lot of the role is there for laughs. There’s a joke that we saw a version of in the most recent series of The League Of Gentlemen (perhaps suggestive of how close to one another those two scripts were produced). Emilia Fox (who, for various reasons, we don’t see nearly enough of) manages inadvertently to pack menace into the seemingly innocuous line ‘I’d hate for you to miss that package’, but holding it all together is the portrait of a woman barely holding it together – Monica Dolan is excellent as May, and also responsible for a gorgeous closing sight gag that essentially turns the whole premise of this episode upside down. But to say more would be to say too much.
And that’s how we started. Shall we start again?