As the first episode of Inside Men ended last week, it became clear that John Coniston, the series’ milquetoast protagonist, was about to go rogue. After catching two of his employees in a not especially well thought-out plan to steal £50,000 from the company coffers, John didn’t bring the hammer down on them. Instead, he proposed they “take the lot.” The scheme comes into sharper focus in episode two, but the most dramatic development of the night is John’s continuing transformation from mild-mannered company man to ruthless criminal. There are a few moments when it feels like Tony Basgallop is moving a touch too quickly with the character development (case in point: John’s scuffle in the locker room), but Steven Mackintosh is, somehow, never less than 100 percent convincing.
One of the more interesting aspects of Inside Men is the way it simultaneously moves along two different narrative timelines, cutting back and forth between the aftermath of the heist and the months leading up to it. It’s a device that could easily be gimmicky, but Inside Men uses the nonlinear storytelling wisely—that is, to illuminate the characters and to add a touch of tension to the narrative. Just how did they get from here to there?
Tonight is mostly about John’s journey. The story picks up again in March, about a month from where we last left off. John, Marcus, and Chris have been meeting in shadowy parking lots to talk about their plot, but there hasn’t been much in the way of action. John uses his knowledge of the corporate side of the business to suggest a date for the heist—September—after another branch of the counting house has closed. He also argues that, as three inside men, they need help from the outside. You get the sense that, without John there to force the wheels into motion, Chris and Marcus would have gladly spent the next six months in parked cars, shooting the shit.
This causes some tension with Marcus, who, despite being the true schemer of the group is also a bit of a schlemiel. He reaches out to Kalpesh, an Indian gangster who’s acquainted with Gina’s brother (the details are scarce; best not to think about it), and asks if he might be able to provide some manpower for the heist. Marcus hands over £40,000 to Kalpesh, as a way of showing he means business. It’s a dumb move, since without that money—stolen from the counting house—they will eventually be found out. Frustrated by Marcus’s haplessness, John once again takes the lead. During a sit-down with Kalpesh, he explains the necessity of getting the money back, and calmly asserts his leadership position. Most startling of all, John also reveals the details of the heist he envisions: Chris will man the doors while Marcus will hold a gun to his wife’s head. Astonished, Chris asks, “Where did that come from?” John replies, “You don’t know anything about me.”
And it’s true: We don’t. John’s backstory is still rather sketchy. We know John has an adopted daughter, and Marcus crudely suggests it’s because he wasn’t “man enough” to sire one on his own. We also know he likes pub trivia and he’s got a stutter, but that’s about it. The mystery is working for now, but for such a dramatic transformation to work, the emotional motivation needs to be sharper. Mackintosh’s performance is riveting and totally convincing, even when the material isn’t. The scene with Kalpesh is particularly striking, the way he coolly asserts his role as leader and refuses to be bullied.
John’s extracurricular persona is quite a contrast to the way he continues to carry himself at the office. When Gordon, his cad of a boss, puts him up for a promotion that would mean relocating to Liverpool, John trains for the interview but ends up choking spectacularly. The implication is that he threw it intentionally, that he’d tasted the thrill of living above the law and could no longer face life as a middle-management schmo.
While John’s arc dominates this episode, we also learn some more about what’s driving Chris and Marcus. Chris has a baby on the way, something that he’s incredibly excited about despite—or perhaps because of—his own dysfunctional family. He wants a nice, average family life, which is why he urges his co-conspirators to stick to a plan that won’t require him to go into hiding. Meanwhile Marcus is just trying to prove himself to his lady love, Gina. She may look like a floozy, but it turns out Gina is pretty fast on the uptake (the same might be said for Kierston Wareing, who brings a surprising amount of intelligence to her role; given her looks, you expect her to play a ditzy gun moll). Before long, she figures out what Marcus is up to and insists he run everything by her. “I’m not going to let you screw this up,” she says. It sounds like she means it. Will Gina be the Yoko Ono of Inside Men? We’ll have to wait and see.