Inside No. 9 locks onto the doorbell camera of a peaceful suburban street for its latest episode, Mulberry Close; a vantage point from which we see a case of neighbourly nosiness spiral dramatically out of control.


The story focuses on married couple Damon (Reece Shearsmith) and Val (Vinette Robinson) as they get settled into their new home, sustaining multiple incursions from their overbearing neighbours Sheila (Dorothy Atkinson), Ken (Steve Pemberton) and Larry (Adrian Scarborough).

After two chilling episodes in a row, we seem positioned for another when, in the dead of night, an individual wearing a creepy skeleton mask appears outside the house.

The image immediately sends a cold chill down the spine, evoking any number of classic horror nasties, particularly from the slasher and home invasion subgenre.

Yet, this eerie twist is quickly exposed as a misdirect, with the person under the mask being Damon himself, returning from a Halloween stag do having downed a few too many drinks. His wife isn't impressed, and the noise of someone – or something – tumbling down the stairs not long after implies an argument turned violent.

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However, it's fairly obvious that things are not as dark as they appear. In fact, an air of silliness sweeps in that has been absent from season 9 to date, as self-styled neighbourhood watchers Sheila, Ken and Larry attempt an investigative break-in that descends into utter farce.

As their confidence grows that Damon has done something unspeakable to his wife, the tone feels closer to Tom Hanks comedy The 'Burbs than to Hitchcock thriller Rear Window. Sure enough, the embattled husband is shown to be innocent when he makes a vulnerable call to Val, expressing his desire to have her back home.

When she does return late the following night, she explains to Larry – out looking for his missing dog – that a wine-stained futon was shoved down the stairs, rather than herself or her husband. A misunderstanding, nothing to worry about. But then they find his dog, dead in their recycling bin. Oh dear.

A startled Val rushes inside to call Damon for an explanation, but something in Larry seems to instantly snap as he proceeds to brutally murder her with a brick. Sigh. Where do I begin?

Larry standing outside his house, wearing a jacket and cap, while holding his dog – a relatively small terrier
Adrian Scarborough plays Larry in Inside No. 9. BBC Studios/James Stack

For starters, there had been nothing in the episode to suggest that Larry could be capable of such a shocking and sudden act of extreme violence – on the contrary, he had seemed rather timid and empathetic.

Perhaps that's a deliberate move to show how suspicion can be misplaced and that people who are disarmingly affable can be hiding an inner darkness. For what it's worth, the episode does make multiple references to Netflix true crime documentaries, and few things play better on the service than a sensationalised suburban murder story.

But I can't help but feel that this twist is just a bit lazy, leaning into a trope so well worn that there's a special word to describe it. Have the writers heard of 'fridging' before, I wonder?

The term dates back to a controversial Green Lantern comic book, in which the titular hero discovered his girlfriend's dead body stuffed into a refrigerator by a sadistic foe. It's since been used to describe the frequent, unceremonious and typically brutal killing of a female character in the interest of male development.

It creates a storytelling landscape in which women are helpless victims to be disposed of when the time is right. That's not to say, as some like to unhelpfully extrapolate, that fictional female characters should never be killed off under any circumstances. But merely that they shouldn't exist only to be sacrificial lambs and are worthy of the same dignity afforded their male peers.

The characters of Inside No. 9's Mulberry Close huddle into the frame of the episode's doorbell camera
(L-R) Vinette Robinson, Reece Shearsmith, Adrian Scarborough, Steve Pemberton and Dorothy Atkinson. BBC Studios/James Stack

In this case, that dignity feels lacking. While Val comes across like a well-realised character in her relatively short amount of screen time – credit where it's due to Shearsmith and Pemberton's down-to-earth dialogue, and Robinson's natural delivery – this unpleasant end to her arc feels like little more than cheap shock value.

Fans like it when Inside No. 9 gets dark – heck, I've highly praised the last two episodes for doing so – but it only works if there's a narrative justification; a commentary to be made; an emotional payoff; an understandable character choice. The climax of Mulberry Close fails to meet any of these criteria.

We learn that it was actually Sheila who accidentally ran over Larry's dog, dumping the body in Damon's bin to get herself out of trouble, while adding more weight to their existing suspicions of him. It's a plan that perhaps could have worked – were it not for the doorbell camera footage we've been glued to.

We then discover that this footage forms the basis of a Netflix-style true crime documentary titled The Mulberry Close Murders, narrated by none other than Michael Ball (just as Sheila had enthusiastically pitched).

Again, there's an argument that Val's grim fate is in service to this last minute punchline, but I would argue that the satire is neither sharp nor novel enough to justify ending yet another story with a savaged female body.

Inside No. 9 is available to stream on BBC iPlayer. New episodes Wednesdays at 10pm on BBC Two.


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