Review: Inside No.9 – Season 8, Episode 4 – “Love is a Stranger”

A serial killer on the prowl discards a body on a wasteland in Kettering. These chilling revelations filter through a radio as Vicky (Claire Rushbrook) prepares for a date. Someone at her door, in black leather gloves, rings the intercom for her door. Number 9. Vicky meets Edgar (Matthew Horne), a landscape gardener. Palm Date is a virtual speed dating platform designed to help singletons meet others searching for love. Vicky was once a carer. She’s passionate about gardening and volunteering, describing herself as “footloose and fancy free.” She has a brother in Canada, likely estranged. He’s lived in Canada for six years, and she says, oddly, that she intends to reunite with him once he’s settled overseas.

At this point, the conversation dies. Edgar says he plays golf, he’s a fan of Dire Straits and Simply Red, but the romance has died, and Edgar’s keen to leave. Quickly, we cut away from the speed dating as Vicky welcomes the stranger into her home. Then we cut back to the second round of speed dating. Vicky meets Norman (Reese Shearsmith), an over-scrupulous man with a radically thinning hairline and a recently-fitted pacemaker. He’s abrupt, rude, seeking companionship to replace his dearly-departed mother, and there’s no chemistry between them. He’s firing off questions about her “domestic expectations” and her name and age, despite her reluctance to answer.

The third round is Manny (Steve Pemberton). He’s a down-to-earth man with a sense of humour that keeps you on your toes, conversationally speaking, and he’s a bit of a flirt. Plus, he runs a phone line to help people solve – of all things – Rubik’s cubes. Vicky falsely informs Manny that she’s worked as a landscape gardener – whose work you’d likely find on the Chelsea Flower Show. If this sounds familiar, it’d be because Edgar, her first online date, told her this ten minutes ago. She then admits she’d lied, putting it down to a lack of confidence. The conversation is flowing, Vicky’s drinking and the two are laughing. It all goes pear-shaped the moment Manny’s wife, Polly (Menyee Lai), walks in and confronts Vicky over the screen. That’s over.

Vicky - Inside No.9.
Vicky – Inside No.9. (Pic: BBC/James Stack).

The episode cuts away again as Vicky welcomes in the stranger. He gives her a bottle of wine. She pours. The fourth online encounter is with a woman, Lesley (Frances Barber). She’s the conspiratorial type, keen to share the details of any gossip she comes into earshot with, and notes that the Lonely Hearts Killer stalking Kettering removes the wedding ring finger from each of their victims. Once again, Vicky is passing off quotes from her earlier dates to bolster her self-esteem, which is shattered by Lesley’s remark that describing yourself as “footloose and fancy-free” is another phrase for living an empty, lonely life.

Increasingly frustrated, Vicky admits that after her father left at a young age, she was moved to care for her mother and watched her life pass her by. Lesley, a sales representative attempting to pitch a brand-new health supplement in the UK, has cruelly targeted women who fall into a certain age demographic, which angers Vicky, and she ends the call. The fifth and final encounter is Jai (Asim Chaudhry), a down-on-his-luck man in his thirties with a facial disfigurement who hides behind an emoticon filter of.a rabbit, suggesting his children (fabricated) altered his computer screen as a prank. After a rocky start, Jai and Vicky hit it off and later have dinner. Jai is revealed as the stranger purposefully left off-screen, and something’s not quite right. He makes a left-field remark about Vicky’s dress, having seen three other people wear it in the last week. If he’s coming too strong, it’s made worse by the mouse necklace he gives Vicky.

Alarm bells are ringing. Vicky is on edge. After making an embarrassing pass at her, the date falls apart. Jai is a hopeless romantic with few social skills to navigate him through an evening with a woman, and everything goes to pot fast. That’s until he finds a glass jar of severed wedding fingers, and a dodgy date is the least of his worries. A club hammer to the head, however, just might be. Vicky – better known as the Lonely Hearts Killer, murders Jai in the kitchen.

Norman - Inside No.9.
Norman – Inside No.9. (Pic: BBC/James Stack).

Led by Claire Rushbrook’s chilling performance as the lonely, sinister single spinster-turned-serial killer in a devilishly dark denouement, Episode 4 is a marvellous watch, a perfect introduction for any newcomers to Inside No. 9. For those who’ve been following the latest series, make sure to take a look at FlickLuster’s review for “Paraskevidekatriaphobia.”

Matt Bailey

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