Although I previously said that I preferred the episodes of Inside No.9 that were a bit darker, this week’s episode, although more macabre than the previous two, turned out to be my least favourite of the series so far. But that sounds too negative, because the standard of the series has been so high that Once Removed was still thirty minutes of excellently written, brilliantly performed TV.
Once Removed begins with the ending, with a removal man arriving to help a very flustered woman and a strange man move house (or so it seems), only to find a house full of dead bodies and an old man coughing up blood. The episode gradually rewinds in ten minute increments to fill in the grisly story in reverse order, and allow the viewer to discover the chain of events that lead to this climax. It’s the sort of story that makes you want to go straight back to the beginning to watch it all again.
For the sake of my sanity, I’m going to explain the story in chronological order, rather than the order in which it appears on the show.
What eventually transpires is that a woman, Natasha (played by Emilia Fox), is having an affair with her neighbour’s husband, and the neighbour, May, is suspicious. Through some subterfuge with a digital recorder, May is able to find out over the phone from her husband that the pair have put a hit out on her, and so she sneakily removes a screw from the sign outside Natasha’s house, changing the house number from 6 to 9. So when the hitman arrives, played by Reece Shearsmith, instead of going to kill May he comes to Natasha’s house.
He kills Natasha, but then is interrupted by an estate agent, played by Steve Pemberton, coming to arrange a viewing of the house – so he has to get rid of him too. Then he discovers Natasha’s elderly father, who suffers from dementia and believes himself to be the composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. He is the source of much of the comedy in this episode, with plenty of puns on Lloyd Webber’s musicals. Exasperated by the discovery of yet another person who will have to be dispatched (“Not another one,” he grumbles), the hitman sets about lacing a cup of cocoa with poison and giving it to the old man. May returns to find the hitman still there, and it is at this point that the removal man arrives to find nervous May and a frustrated hitman in the middle of a scene of grisly chaos.
It’s easy to come up with an idea like telling a story backwards, and it’s another thing to pull it off, but Pemberton and Shearsmith do it with aplomb in this episode. I’m dying to watch it again just so I can see all the little details that appear in one scene and then pay off on the next rewind. It’s a bit like Memento, but with more jokes about Cats and Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat.
I can’t wait for next week, and I already wish this series was longer.