Phew! I can't have been the only one biting my nails in the closing moments of this week's surprisingly emotional episode of Inside No. 9, which takes place at a serial killer-themed escape room. Or so we think.

CTRL ALT ESC is one of those episodes that really pulls the rug out from under us, revealing in the final act that this is no family day out, but rather a matter of literal life and death – but not in the way you might expect.

At the start of the episode, Jason (Steve Pemberton), Lynne (Katherine Kelly) and their daughters Millie (Kalli Tant) and Amy (Maddie Evans) receive a warning from technician Doug (Reece Shearsmith) that 'Doctor Death' could return to this supposed lair at some point during their experience.

That, combined with a passing commitment to the "authenticity" of the escape room, intentionally alludes to the most obvious scenario – that this is indeed the home of a stock slasher villain, ready to slice this nice family in twain.

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Fortunately, this is just one dark option avoided by writers Shearsmith and Pemberton, who opt to tug on the heartstrings rather than maximise the brutality as they did with Mulberry Close's disappointing twist.

Yes, this is not an escape room at all, but the fading mind of a comatose Jason, who is mere minutes away from having his life support machine switched off as a tearful Lynne, Millie and Amy bear witness.

Doctor Death is, in fact, his actual doctor (played by Peep Show's Angus Wright in an enjoyable surprise appearance), who doesn't appear to have bullied Jason's family into this decision, but nevertheless is portrayed in the most grotesque manner imaginable.

Perhaps a tad unfair, but it creates atmosphere and spooky vibes, which is important.

Jason in a dimly lit escape room with a mirror on the wall behind him
Steve Pemberton stars in Inside No. 9. BBC Studios/James Stack

Shearsmith and Pemberton's script, brought to life by director George Kane, boasts a breathless crescendo, with Doctor Death stepping in for the kill while Jason scrambles to find the single-digit patch code that will break him out of his personal hell.

Aided by a clue from Doug and his previously stated tip that mirrors are often used by escape room designers, he eventually spots the reflection of the 'EXIT' sign, on which only 'IX' are lit up – or, in roman numerals, '9'.

Hey, that's from the name of the show!

This being Inside No. 9, there was no telling which way Jason's fate would go, but I for one am pleased that we got the lighter of the two options. Far from being any kind of cop-out, it felt richly deserved.

After all, CTRL ALT ESC ranks as one of the more earnest episodes of the show, spending time establishing Jason's loving marriage to Lynne as well as the usual father-daughter friction between himself and his eldest, Millie.

Jason puts his arm around his daughter's shoulders in a dimly lit escape room environment
Steve Pemberton and Kalli Tant star in Inside No. 9. BBC Studios/James Stack

Their reconciliation proves to be a particularly affecting moment as he admits that, on a selfish level, he doesn't want her to go to university, but on a rational level he knows that it's the best thing for her.

It must be said that – his competitive streak aside (charades can get heated) – Jason seems like a genuinely wholesome guy, with a desire to be the best support he can for his family.

There would have been no pleasure at all in seeing him meet his maker; but the fate of Mulberry Close's Val (Vinette Robinson) also seemed rather cruel, so naturally I feared the worst this time around too.

Instead, there's genuine elation in seeing Shearsmith and Pemberton offer a rare kindness to their typically ill-fated characters, which is only heightened by the fact that we've had three particularly venomous twists in a row (see Boo to a Goose, The Trolley Problem and the aforementioned Mulberry Close).

Suffice to say, season 9 was due a happy ending – and this one is as good as it gets. I'd like to imagine a happy future for Jason and his family, in which they never have the misfortune of stepping Inside No. 9 again.

Inside No. 9 airs Wednesdays at 10pm on BBC Two. Catch up on BBC iPlayer.


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