“Episode 3” S1 / E3
- B Community Grade
Inside Men is odd, especially for a show about a bank heist, in that it’s more about motive than action. With the exception of the blistering ten minutes that opened the series, Inside Men is a quiet, almost subdued affair. This week is the second-to-last episode, and while there is a slight uptick in the dramatic tension, particularly between Chris and the rest of the conspirators, what’s surprising is how the show resists bringing out all the narrative fireworks.
Most of the drama this week centers around Chris. His motivation for getting involved in the heist was to provide a better life for himself and Dita, and now that’s his motive for getting out. In many ways he’s the most level-headed of the three men, the one driven less by ego than a craving for stability. It’s not hard to see why: His mother is a serious handful, and by “handful,” I mean “raging alcoholic and/or drug addict.” This aspect of Chris’s life hasn’t been terribly well-developed, so when he returns home and is ambushed by his mom, who’s in some kind of booze-fueled state of psychosis and stabs him in the hand, it feels like here’s probably where writer Tony Basgallop put “catalyst for Chris’ change of heart TK” in his plot outline.
But hey—I’d be pissed if my mom stabbed me in the hand, too, so I can’t entirely blame the guy when he lets the old lady choke to death on her own vomit, just like [SPOILER ALERT] Walter White did with Pinkman’s junkie girlfriend. I’ve compared aspects of Inside Men to Breaking Bad in past reviews—primarily John’s transformation from milquetoast middle manager to ruthless criminal and the startlingly well-observed performance by Steven Mackintosh, which, like Bryan Cranston’s, makes a far-fetched transformation entirely believable. But here’s where I start to wonder a bit: When does inspiration turn to plagiarism? I actually have no idea if Tony Basgallop has even seen Breaking Bad. (I know that in certain corners of the internet—cough, cough—admitting to not having seen the show is tantamount to saying “I like to smell my own farts,” but I don't know if British TV nerds hold the show in the same esteem as their American counterparts. British TV nerds, feel free to weigh in on this subject.) So I have to assume that leaving-an-annoying-junkie-to-choke-and-die-on-her-own-vomit is just one of those stock narratives that all TV drama writers keep stored away for future use, the way sitcom writers do with the ol’ guy-who-has-to-juggle-two-girls-on-the-same-night.
In any case, Chris lets his mother die, he eagerly moves into her house with Dita. His motives might be transparent, but they’re also convincing. As terrible as Chris is to let his mother die, it’s also fairly easy to sympathize with his situation: All he ever wanted was a decent house to live in, and his crummy job was never going to earn him enough money to buy one. Strangely enough, John is the one perhaps best articulates Chris’ mindset when, during Riaz’s bogus job interview, he explains the mind-numbing tedium and soul-crushing irony of working as a poorly paid security guard surrounded by piles of cash. “By day three, you’ve realized the pay is barely enough to live on,” he says. From the way he makes it sound, Chris is some kind of martyr for sticking around as long as he has. Now that he’s got a modest place of his own, Chris doesn’t need to rob the counting house; if anything, he’s got all the more reason to play it safe. It’s a smart twist, in that the thing that drove him into the heist is the very thing that repels him from it.
The question now is whether the others let him. Of course, Marcus is all “no worries, mate” about it, but John is less tolerant, threatening Chris that he’ll turn him in for stealing the original £50,000. Things get even hairier for Chris when Riaz, one of Kalpesh’s goons, comes to work at the counting house. He’s only there for a few days, in order to “case the joint” (as they say), but Riaz also takes the opportunity to intimidate his new colleague, issuing none-too-subtle threats against Dita if Chris doesn’t come back into the fold. In a bind, Chris does the sane thing by going to the police. His confession is cut short, but when he shows up back at Kalpesh’s office, pretending to be back in on the heist, the implication is clear: He’s there as a police informant. (I do wonder, though, why Riaz or someone else didn’t trail Chris. Didn’t it cross their minds that he might go to the police?) Based on the “September” portions of the episode, it’s not clear just how involved Chris is with the police anymore, though it’s hard to imagine they wouldn’t be beating down his door in the wake of the heist. Let’s hope we get some clarity on this front next week.
Marcus is in the exact opposite situation: He desperately wants to be more involved in the heist, as does Gina. Of the two, she is undoubtedly the more accomplished criminal mind. When John gives Marcus the petty assignment of procuring a mask, he's thrilled. Poor Marcus. All the guy wants is to feel useful, but he can't even buy a mask without Gina's guidance. First she offers input on which disguise they should go for—an unexpected and darkly funny use of her skills as beautician—and then she wisely stops him from buying the masks online. (That’s something even I wouldn’t do: Clearly Marcus has never seen an episode of Law & Order.) Then she insists on getting a cut of the loot. She’s got a point: If it weren’t for her babysitting Marcus, the whole plot would probably go down the tubes. Gina is probably the most surprising character on this show, a bimbo with brains who’s assertive without being conniving, and supportive without being a wimp. In the post-heist portions of the episode, it’s suggested that Gina (with her flowery deodorant) is the one who holds up John’s wife and daughter, so it appears she’s going to become even more involved.
John doesn’t get much air time this week. Part of the reason he’s pushed to the sidelines is that that much of his storyline was edited out of the original UK episode of this show: I originally watched this on unedited screeners provided by BBC America, then rewatched live. The BBC version includes a minor subplot with John and secretary, Sandra — after lots of tension, he brings her into his office and has sex with her. The tryst is supposed to be a sign of his new-found manliness, so I’m curious as to why they cut it. Likability, maybe? Or maybe they figured it was overkill, since it’s already pretty clear from his eagerness to fire those guns that John is getting off on being a baddie.
Later, when Kirsty confronts him about his involvement in the heist and tells him it wasn’t worth risking his family, John replies, “I always knew it wouldn’t be, but that wasn’t the point of doing it.” Although he’s technically being honest, his words are deceptive. They’re meant to console Kirsty (“I knew it was risky, but I wanted to secure a better life for us all”) but we know that he’s really saying (“You don’t matter to me as much as my ego”). John is the inverse of Chris, a guy who looks to the heist as a way to escape his quiet life, not to secure it. As the episode draws to a close, John leaves his bland suburban home, slips away in the night to a secret location where no one can find him, and falls to sleep on an enormous pile of cash. Talk about living the dream.