Spoilers ahead for this review of Inside No.9. The third episode of their seventh series takes place inside an ordinary suburban house – and there’s far more to the picture than you first think. We open with Katrina (Sophie Okonedo), a veteran detective nicknamed Nine Lives Kat. Riddled by nightmares of a missing boy, Katrina eats Coco Pops with vodka and has a cat called Kitney Spears (the last one, David Meowie died). Currently, she’s off the case. She’s not doing good.
Steve Pemberton’s character, despite the suave suit and strong chemistry with Katrina, is not a detective. We’ll later learn his name is Ezra Jones. He updates her on the case as they investigate five suspects – two with connections to the family. Kat’s prime suspect is the stepfather, ordering a press conference later in the day.
We further learn after Pemberton leaves that Kat has a daughter. She recounts a story about her daughter’s milk teeth. After they’d fallen out, Kat would keep them in a Tic Tac box and leave them in the bathroom. From time to time, Kat would empty them into her hand and squeeze them until she could feel her blood in her hand. She opens a cabinet after hearing a rattling noise – and then wakes up from a nightmare.
The investigation into the missing boy continues before once again she wakes up – and finds herself lying in bed next to Shearsmith’s as yet unnamed character. Downstairs, she speaks to Ezra. It’s been several months since their last conversation, despite Kat believing it was only two days ago. Pemberton has even taken down her investigation board but kept notes on the case.
Outraged, Kat believes she was coming close to making a breakthrough. Shearsmith enters the living room to reveal that she’s a colleague of Kat’s with a love/hate relationship. This is DI Barnabus Bull. At this stage of the story, Shearsmith makes an interesting point. He explains that all thinking is subconscious since consciousness is an awareness of thoughts. After Ezra and Bull leave the room, Kat finds a photo of the missing boy with Ezra in his wallet.
Later, Pemberton’s detective appears in her kitchen as Kat begins to question how he manages to get into her house without a key continually. In the living room, they find Bull with case paperwork strewn around the floor. After demanding that they leave, Ezra reveals to Kat that it isn’t her house. Kat is a fictional construct designed to help Ezra, a short-story novelist, and screenwriter, with a new series of detective books. So not a detective after all.
Stuck in the early development stages, he came up with the title Nine Lives Kat, constructed an abduction story, using his real son Ashley for inspiration as the missing boy, and created Katrina’s character from his imagination. He later creates Barnabus Bull and pairs him with Kat in a bid to find a new creative angle for the character. However, Katrina remains one-dimensional. She has no surname. She’s a divorced single mum with a dependency on drugs and alcohol, considered a cliche. Better yet, Kat refers to being a walking cliche as she eats Coco Pops with vodka during the first act of the story.
Pemberton then describes her comments as his critical voice before storing the idea of her character away in his bottom drawer (a writer’s go-to place reserved for ideas stuck in development hell) and occasionally brings her out if he’s lacking inspiration. It further explains why her house is empty, and the only items in her kitchen are a box of Coco Pops, a bottle of vodka, and a single spoon.
We later cut to Ezra writing a synopsis for his new book. After Barnabus Bull feeds Ezra ideas to resolve a plot hole involving a basement floor, his wife Philippa returns from shopping. While out, her phone went missing, suspected stolen. Moments later, they discover a bigger problem, their son Ashley is missing. A text message sent from Philippa’s stolen phone to Ezra suggests foul play. Suddenly, Ezra wakes up. Downstairs, he and Philippa meet a family liaison officer, Matilda Gordon (Siobhan Redmond), as the search for Ashley continues.
The line between Ezra’s internal thought processes and reality begins to blur. The fictionalised abduction case from his mind is becoming frighteningly real and a neat diversion to keep you guessing before the final act. Gordon finds a collection of milk teeth in a Tic Tac bottle and questions Ezra on their significance. He dismisses them as background research for a story, as Gordon asks to read his notes on the idea. The notes, however, are missing. He asks Barnabus if he knows where they are before Gordon points out that Barnabus is a fictional character. The episode’s final act begins to take shape as it’s revealed that Ezra is a figment of Matilda Gordon’s imagination – the actual writer. Everything else is a construct as Gordon pursues answers for the ending to her book.
Ezra meets Kat in the kitchen as she reads the ending to the latest Barnabus Bull book. Characters, ideas, and the mysteries of the creative mind compete for supremacy in a writer’s pursuit of clarity and answers as they reach the end of a book. The episode’s final five minutes are perhaps the perfect way to illustrate these most chaotic brainstorming sessions. Anything and everything is possible as the writer struggles to execute the perfect ending, and for Gordon, the fictional constructs in her head begin to collide.
Kat alludes to the idea that Ezra is the shifty stepfather and prime suspect in the abduction case. Did he hide Philippa’s phone in his drawer, or is he being framed?. Did Kat kill Barnabus Bull and stow him away in an airing cupboard, or has Kat started a lesbian relationship with Philippa as they embrace in a kiss?
Finally, as Ezra realises that he too is a fictional construct, Gordon places a folder of his character into a drawer and closes it. “Nine Lives Kat” is a sharply written, comedic exploration of a writer’s internal thought process, and one Pemberton and Shearsmith expertly present as a police investigation into an abduction. They hone in on the idea of subconscious thinking, in that ultimately, consciousness is an awareness of thoughts. The two find a means to build a story around the concept, and it is genius.
At another point, Pemberton cites that while writing takes place in one’s head, writers tend to make their work a reality. Characters come to life as figments of their imagination, and for many, it’s a technique to overcome writer’s block and find meaning in the chaos. It’s wonderfully witty and frustratingly clever.
It’s Inside No.9 at its utter, complete best and proves that even after seven series, Pemberton and Shearsmith will always find another great story to tell. For more Inside No.9 content, take a look at last week’s review for “Mr. King”. What did you think of Inside No.9? Give us your thoughts in the comment section below!