Christy Smyth returns with round three of Black Mirror vs. Inside No. 9 to pit Crocodile against Once Removed. 

Black Mirror and Inside No. 9 are two of the best shows on television right now, and they are more alike than different. They are both anthology series’ and its safe say they’re both inspired by shows such as Rod Serling’s classic Twilight Zone. They’re both from the minds of British writers who found their names in comedy and they both frequently contain twist endings. They are both incredibly dark for the most part, but can be incredibly heartfelt at times.

The more you get to know these shows, the more you notice how much they differ. But that’s just the nature of the anthology series. The shows themselves change dramatically episode-to-episode. Still, they are so alike in quality that it makes for an interesting experiment to put them side by side and see how each tackles the anthology genre.

Spoiler alert.

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Crocodile

On the way back from a night of partying and drinking, Rob (Andrew Gower) hits a cyclist with his car. He convinces his friend and passenger, Mia (Andrea Riseborough) to help him cover up the death by disposing of the body in a lake.

Fifteen years later Rob meets Mia in a hotel room. She is successful, married, and has a son. He is recovering from a drinking problem. In an effort to make amends, Rob wants to write a letter to the widow of the man he killed but Mia, afraid of it being traced back to her, kills Rob to save herself.

This comes back to haunt her, as an investigator for an insurance company (Kiran Sonia Sawar) tracks Mia down in order to get her to use a ‘Recaller’. This is a device that can tap into her memories so as to verify how fast a self-driving pizza delivery truck was going when she saw it hit a pedestrian (an event that directly followed the murder of Rob).

This results in a string of more murders, Mia taking out any witnesses or people who could trace it all back to her, culminating in a devastatingly bleak ending.

If you’ve already read my last two reviews, you’ll know that it’s the ‘devastatingly bleak’ endings that I like the best. This one is no exception. It’s a truly horrifying and sinister revelation that caps off this week’s episode, so if that’s not your bag, stay away. Saying that, if horrifying and sinister aren’t your bag, maybe find another show altogether.

On the other hand, this ending comes only after what is an incredibly slow episode. I’m all for a slow-burner, but this one takes time in places where it doesn’t feel like it has to. So you better like lingering shots of a particularly snowy Iceland, lingering shots of people looking distressed, and lingering shots of pretty much anything that lingers. Otherwise, you’re easily distracted from what is very much a quiet and stripped back episode in comparison to what we’ve seen of series four so far.

There are other positives besides the ending, but they are few and far between. Riseborough’s physical performance is brilliant, with her not having that much dialogue to fall back on for large portions, and the original score (from Nine Inch Nails’ Atticus Ross) has its finer moments, but overall it left me feeling very strongly about the ending, and not much at all about anything else.

I want to be clear, though, I didn’t particularly dislike this episode. I didn’t particularly like it, either.

One more thing: Did anyone else find it hard to believe the ‘Recaller’ would work on a Guinea Pig? It seemed like it was sketchy enough with humans!

Once Removed

Charles and Natasha (Emilia Fox) are having an affair. He’s hired a hit-man to take out his wife, May (Monica Dolan), while he and Natasha plan to elope to Portugal, leaving her father (David Calder), who thinks he’s Andrew Lloyd Webber, in a care home. Of course, none of this goes to plan. It’s a classic Shearsmith & Pemberton story of mistaken identity, murder, and very silly gags. To top it all off, it’s all told in reverse.

If you’re having déjà-vu, it’s because Once Removed, like Crocodile, is about silencing witnesses, and the different ways in which they do this exemplify the key differences between the two shows in general. Crocodile was immensely bleak and took itself very seriously, while Once Removed, though based on a similarly bleak premise, never seems dark at all. It’s bloody and sinister at times, but it’s always comedic and light-hearted at its core. Of course, these things can’t be applied to every episode of either show, but it makes a point.

It’s great to see Shearsmith and Pemberton still experimenting with ways in which to tell their stories this far along. As good at it is, Black Mirror can get repetitive, and even during episodes that I like I sometimes find myself rolling my eyes at the usual Brooker shtick. Inside No. 9 has never had that problem.

However, I can’t help but feel like the reverse-narrative is wasted on this episode. The jokes are as silly as usual, but not as funny, the Andrew Lloyd Webber and West End jokes, in particular, feel either too easy or too forced.

There’s another big problem too. Either the actors aren’t given enough time to individually shine (perhaps a product of having a large cast in a short show, something Inside No. 9 has always been great at handling before) or the characters aren’t written well enough. I suspect the latter. Case in point, the aforementioned Lloyd Webber father, who evokes neither sympathy nor hilarity. Steve Pemberton comes through in his brief appearance as Hugo, the estate agent, but that’s about it.

Result

Crocodile is the winner here, but it’s no landslide victory. Both shows were slightly less than standard. The difference is, Crocodile had moments of brilliance amid the tiresome string of lingering landscape shots. Most importantly, it leaves an impression. Once Removed, though by no means a complete disaster, didn’t make me feel much of anything either way.

Next week: Metalhead vs. To Have and To Hold