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TV Review: Inside No. 9 - To Have and To Hold

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Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton have proven themselves, time and time again, to be masterful writers of dark comedy. But while all of their projects contain a certain ode to horror, this latest episode of Inside No. 9 might just be their darkest yet.

After a jovial and unexpectedly light-hearted start to the fourth series of the anthology series, this week's episode, 'To Have and To Hold', is something of a shocker - slowly trailing towards a chilling twist and an even more startling conclusion. 

Careful, as always, to withhold the twists that lie in store and stagger the clues ahead, the duo open the episode with very little fuss. Where previous episodes have had more abstract, complex No. 9's, this week's '9' is (what certainly seems to be) an ordinary house, where a very ordinary couple reside.

Adrian (Steve Pemberton) and Harriet (Nicola Walker) have been married for 20 years, but they are anything but happy in their humdrum co-existence together. While the mild-mannered Adrian absorbs himself with jigsaw puzzles and his work as a wedding photographer, Harriet yearns for more of his attention and affection.

Placecards reciting the principle aspects of their wedding vows ("For better, for worse; for richer, for poorer"), appear throughout the episode as our exploration into their relationship delves deeper. We learn of their past struggles, including adultery and infertility, as they bicker about their current situation and a small glimmer of humour can be found in Harriet's all-too-tame attempts at role-play to spice things up.

But then comes the twist. Pemberton's mild-mannered performance suddenly shifts into something more sinister and, of all things, a Pot Noodle serves as the item of significance that reveals Adrian's sordid secret. As ever, Shearsmith and Pemberton do well to subvert our expectations, leaving small, unsuspecting clues in plain sight; laying down subtle foundations before the plot's creepy crescendo hits.

Without explicitly mentioning them (for the true horror of it stems from the shock of realising it firsthand), the themes and twists that the second half of the episode take on are decidedly risky. While other episodes have taken on gruesome turns or drolly funny twists, the climax of this episode is just dark, through and through. There is little room for humour in the second half - and rightly so, as it treads along dangerously sensitive territory.

There are small moments of humour - such as an off-hand distinction between hotel chains and the previously mentioned role play exercise (which starts off funny, continues down a cringey route and then finishes on a rather sad note)  - but that's not what stays with you once the episode is over. The ending is one of retribution, but the revelations that precede it still weigh heavy. 

Nicola Walker offers a subtle and carefully tuned performance as Harriet, while Pemberton, who is perhaps more associated with lighter, more upbeat roles, delves into the more disturbing recesses of his character superbly. Shearsmith and Miranda Hennessy also appear as a couple who have employed Adrian's photography services, but they really serve more as perfunctory onlookers than anything else. 

Overall, 'To Have and To Hold' is another interesting tale in what continues to be an astonishing and ever-surprising series.

Inside No. 9 airs on Tuesdays at 10pm on BBC Two.

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