With the recent news that Inside No 9 has been renewed for another two seasons, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith bow out season 5 with another deliciously dark and twisted tale. Everything from the title of the episode through to the juxtaposed dialogue ooze charisma and talent right the way through the 30 minutes, making for a very strong ending to this excellent season.
We begin episode 6 of Inside No 9 with narration mentioning tropes of police procedurals as we pan across and see a dead body in the back. “My story, is as old as time itself”, we’re told, as we jump back to Night One of a stakeout.
Two officers sit with coffee and try to pass the time by playing games. PC Thompson’s previous partner, Dobson, died recently and as they talk, he tells his new partner Varney he has to keep his dark thoughts at bay and has been an officer for 20 years. Through a game of Fortunately/Unfortunately, Varney learns more about Thompson’s dead partner and the events that caused his passing. It’s a tough conversation and one that ends on an ominous note.
Night Two sees the officers driving slowly through the graveyard before mentioning police tropes again – including the new assistant who ruffles the feathers of his grizzled superior and eventually earns his respect. This is, of course, a reflection of the current state of affairs between these two officers.
As Thompson heads outside the car for some air, Varney receives a call from HQ about the car park and dockside – a completely different location to the graveyard they currently find themselves in.
Thompson returns to the car and they drive up to the docks where he heads out alone to tail the suspect while Varney radios through for back-up. In doing so, he also finds a whole stack of documents stashed away in the dashboard surrounding Dobson’s death. Varney hears gunshots pierce the air and immediately heads out to investigate, despite being told not to approach by the Controller. More gunshots pierce the air as we fade to black.
Night Three sees Thompson in his car with Varney again as we hear what happened the night before. They managed to take down the suspect and found a record haul in the process. They sip chai lattes together and Thompson tells his partner he’s going to start counselling soon.
As they continue on, Varney asks questions about Dobson’s murder and the weapon. He convinces Thompson he’s not wearing a wire but suddenly a thud on the roof sends Varney out to investigate. When he returns, he sits in the backseat and reveals the truth – he’s a vampire. After stabbing and biting Thompson in the neck, he sits back and enjoys the taste of blood as his new partner, a recently turned Dobson, arrives to suck Thompson’s blood too.
The episode ends whence it began but with no context. The blood-soaked mouth of Varney is after he’s fed on Thompson.
With a very unexpected twist at the heart of this one, at first glance it would be easy to write this off as a random twist thrown in for the sake of it. However, when you dive a little deeper there’s a lot of clues that hold up to repeat watches. Even the name of the episode – stakeout – is a play on wooden stakes which are known in folklore to kill vampires.
Varney being a vampire also explains the dock incident and just why the two officers managed to thwart the suspect so easily. While the garlic in curry is something that’s outright mentioned in the episode, the subverting expectations to believe Thompson is the one on the edge of sanity and ready to strike his new partner is something that adds another layer to this and reinforces how clever the screenplay is for this episode.
It’s a great way to end season 5 and a strong contender for TV show of the year too. With more Inside No 9 to come in the future and 6 very strong episodes to sink your teeth into, BBC’s anthology series continues to be a high point on the TV roster – long may that continue!