If you reached the end of tonight’s finale of Inside Men and thought to yourself, “Uh…what?” then rest assured you’re not the only one. This episode puts an unfortunate end to a series that started out with a great deal of potential. The conclusion is so hasty and so poorly explained, it's tempting to speculate some extreme explanation—severe last minute budget cuts, perhaps. Or maybe a production assistant lost 30 pages of the script at the copy shop? Whatever the case may be, it’s a major head-scratcher of a finale.
In the comments last week, a discussion emerged about the extreme brevity of Inside Men, even compared to other limited-run British series. Most of the time the more restrained British model of television is a good thing—American TV executives still don’t seem to understand the value of going out while you’re on top—but I think Inside Men provides a pretty vivid illustration of how another episode or two would have turned the series from pretty good to great.
The show’s main problem, as I see it, is John’s rather too hasty transformation from wimp to criminal mastermind. For most of the first three episodes, Steven Mackintosh’s performance was powerful enough to carry the viewer along, but tonight, the seams of this hastily constructed character start to come loose. At this point Tony Basgallop has given up showing and spends most of the episode telling us how John has changed. In no fewer than three scenes, John (or someone close to him) articulates in suspiciously precise terms the exact nature of his recent personality change. First, John tells his daughter that’s it’s sometimes acceptable to lie if it gets you where you want to. Later, Kirsty lies in bed with John and, in what appears to be a state of post-coital bliss, gushes about the strong assertive man he has been since the arrival of their daughter. “I’ll take one night with you over a lifetime with him,” she says. It’s meant as a compliment, but you have to wonder if any sane man would take it that way. And finally, just before John returns to the money to the counting house—about which more later—he explains to Chris why he got involved in the heist. “Being rich didn’t matter. Being cool didn’t matter,” he says. “I just knew I couldn’t go back to being him.” Mackintosh does an admirable job selling the rather too tidy transformation, but the fact remains telling us something repeatedly does not make it true.
The unconvincing character development combined with some cavernous plot holes makes for one big ol' mess of an ending. John packs up the caravan with boxes of cash, drops off Chris at home, and drives back to the counting house. Meanwhile, Gina and Marcus head off to parts unknown with a trunk full of dought. To call this ending “abrupt” is like saying Game Of Thrones contains the occasional nipple; it is a gross understatement. There’s almost no build-up to this resolution, and each of the three central characters is left with an unsatisfactorily resolved storyline. John heads back to the counting house, presumably to return to stolen money. The implication is that John doesn't care about the money (or his freedom), he only cares about not living the dull, dutiful life he once did. To use an English expression, this is total bollocks. “I have wasted so many years being scared,” he tells Chris. Get ready for a few more in prison!
Then there’s Chris, who doesn’t seem bothered when John tells him he was tempted to shoot him during the heist, and who gives up his share of the money because he’d rather just be a family man. This is perfectly reasonable, but what about all that stuff with the police? If Chris is an informant, then why is he able to sneak off to the warehouse without being followed or bugged? It almost feels as if Basgallop forgot entirely about the police subplot, except that Chris’ relationship with the police is possibly the only thing that enables Marcus to flee with Gina. This, too, is poorly explained. One minute Marcus is telling Gina they should take a few days to mull over their next move, and the next they’re fleeing the country. I supposed Marcus weighed the options and decided that, to paraphrase Chris, running forever with more money than he could ever spend was worth it. But knowing Marcus, “forever” probably won’t last very long. Remember, this is the guy who wanted to order masks from the Internet. He’ll be lucky if he makes it 20 miles outside Bristol.
It’s a frustrating conclusion, to say the least, made all the more disappointing because of the promise Inside Men has shown all along. Even this poorly conceived episode develops quite nicely until the last 10 minutes or so, where it suddenly unravels. When Gina and Marcus decide to get married, they ask Dita and Chris to be their witnesses, an indication of how close the two men have grown to be. Meanwhile, a date is set for the heist, but the plan is abandoned with Kirsty briefly goes missing. The tension continues to escalate as Rebecca, a shrewish employee brought in from another branch of the counting house, orders John to fire Chris. In a stroke of good fortune, Kalpesh chooses this exact moment to try the heist once again. We’re seeing the heist unfold for the second time, but now, in a clever visual flourish, each of the characters appears on camera without a disguise (but with reddened cheeks and matted hair to suggest the presence of a mask). It’s an inventive and surprisingly tactful way to clarify exactly what’s going on during the chaotic shootout, to convey each character’s mindset and motivation. Unfortunately, it just makes me wish the same care had been paid to the very ending.