Inside No. 9 Series 8 Episode 4 Review: Love Is a Stranger

TV

Warning: this review contains spoilers.

What was that film about the serial killer who wore their dead mum’s dress? It’ll come to me.

In ‘Love Is a Stranger’, Claire Rushbrook’s Vicky may have been a psycho but it was hard not to side with her – even after she landed that final hammer blow. Everything in the previous half hour had directed us towards sympathy, from the emotional piano music accompanying her online dating humiliations, to Rushbrook’s endearing, detailed performance that made Vicky the most recognisably human character in the half hour. 

Radiating loneliness, Vicky suffered knockbacks, rudeness, deception and hurtful criticism, but soldiered on in her search for The One. The One to knock on the head with a lump hammer and keep a mutilated memento of in a jar on her kitchen shelf, to be specific. It puts a different spin on her “a few potentials but nobody’s really jumped out at me” assessment when you realise what she was really auditioning them for.

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The twist that Vicky wasn’t a victim but the perpetrator of the killings was the obvious inversion, so much so that some Inside No. 9 fans will have discounted it early on as too simple. Certainly, anyone who prides themselves on predicting this show’s surprise punch-lines will have been cock-a-hoop with the speed at which they’ll have been able to jab a finger at the screen and nominate Vicky the murderer. Congratulations and a biscuit etc., to you.

The real cleverness of the episode was its whistlestop tour of online dating horrors that kept you a) guessing and b) wondering whether some serial killers might have a point. 

First came Matthew Horne’s smug, lewd Edgar, styled to look every inch a possible threat from his creepy fringe to his spiky décor. Then there was Reece Shearsmith’s martinet Norman, a man with an alarming deficit of manners (but good taste in hare statues). Next came adulterous Manny, an upbeat oddball played by Steve Pemberton, an actor who could give Fred the Homepride Flour mascot or Wallace from Wallace and Gromit serial killer vibes if called upon to do so. Frances Barber’s odious Lesley was the least likely candidate to be a murderous secret sicko but only because her horridness was already so openly on display.

Lesley wasn’t the least likely candidate as the Lonely Hearts Killer, of course. That was soft-spoken, hesitant Vicky, whose whole existence was steadily eroded by that gang of inconsiderate caricatures. Only when Asim Chaudhry’s shy Jai turned up with a facial difference that made him want to hide from the world, did it feel like another real person existed. He fell for Pick-Up Artist bullshit, though, and lost his advantage. 

He wasn’t the only one. It would have been easy to miss, but we witnessed Vicky welcome two separate dates to her No. 9 this episode (one at the five minute mark, one just after 13 minutes in), while wearing the same dead-mum dress. That shows us the timeline of this half-hour, directed by newcomer to the show Jesse Quinones, is trickier than the present day-plus-flashback arrangement it appeared to be. Could the wedding banded finger she’d kept for posterity while dumping the rest on wasteland outside Kettering even have belonged to Manny? It would give the trophy a moral significance, as punishment for his adultery attempt.

Which brings us to the question: had Jai dropped the “demonstrate higher value” and “negging” stuff, would Vicky even have killed him? Her grisly “swipe left” punchline makes her more of a morally corrective Dexter or Hannibal than your average slavering bludgeoner. After all, she did go to the trouble of making that lasagne. Her MO is killing nasty men who aren’t good enough for her. If Jai had only been himself, they could have enjoyed some garlic bread and nobody’s appendages would have had to end up in a jar. A lesson to online daters everywhere. 

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Inside No. 9 continues on Thursday the 18th of May at 10pm on BBC Two.

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