When you’re a fan of a long-running TV show, you’ll no doubt have expectations for its final episode. And if these expectations aren’t met, it’s only natural that you might be left feeling disappointed, underwhelmed, or even angry. But whereas in the past you would have shared your feelings with friends, family or work colleagues, nowadays you can share them with the whole world online, and discuss every detail to within an inch of its life.
Just under two years ago, Game of Thrones aired its final episode and was met with a swift online backlash. To date, nearly two million people have signed a petition to ‘remake the final season with competent writers.’ Obviously, such a re-do was never going to happen… but what if we lived in a reality where it did?
In the latest episode of Inside No. 9, Simon Says, Steve Pemberton plays Spencer Maguire, the creator of an epic fantasy TV show called The Ninth Circle which disappointed viewers with a widely panned finale. He argues that the ending was always going to be “deliberately low-key” or “diminuendo” (given it was so recent, any connection to the Line of Duty series 6 finale is purely coincidental), but it’s evident that the fans had something different in mind. Reece Shearsmith is obsessive fan Simon Smethurst, who witnesses Spencer in an altercation after an awards ceremony and uses this to blackmail his way into his hero’s life.
Specifically, Simon wants Spencer to make an alternative finale for The Ninth Circle, giving fans the ending they wanted with “characters doing things they should have done in the first place.” This includes bringing someone back from the dead and realising a romantic pairing of two (male, heterosexual) characters that the fandom had long been asking for. Spencer has mentally moved on from the show, which took up 12 years of his life, and was hoping to do “something a bit more Jimmy McGovern–y” next… but with Simon holding an incriminating video over him as leverage, what choice does he really have?
The episode does an excellent job of exploring the complicated relationship that TV show creators now have with fans in an increasingly online world, where they receive feedback on their work at a level never experienced before. On the one hand, the internet has given fans a place to unite with others who share their passion so they can pore over the tiniest details, discuss theories and share fan fiction, sometimes forming friendships in the process. On the other hand, as Spencer points out, something that started out as one person’s vision can grow to become “a property that everyone is invested in.” If you’re writing the finale of a show and it’s clear from online discourse that the fans have their hearts set on something different from what you had planned, should you bow to their demands? Or stick to your vision and risk going down in history as a show that ended ‘badly’?
Simon Says is as funny as it is interesting, and Shearsmith provides a lot of laughs without becoming a caricature as nerdy Simon. Initially assigning himself the job of Spencer’s PA, it isn’t long before he has wangled himself a co-writing credit on the new episode and launched an online poll to give himself the chance of an acting role in it. He also has a podcast (“of course you f***ing do” Spencer sighs) and uses this platform to gleefully announce – in a moment that will perhaps bring Papa Lazarou to mind for some – “it’s our show now” to his fellow fans. Lindsay Duncan puts in a fun guest appearance as Spencer’s agent, who it turns out has never actually seen his show (“all that Dungeons and Dragons stuff leaves me cold”) and is amusingly more pleased than he expected with his ‘decision’ to remake the finale.
Rather like Misdirection from last series, Simon Says has an initial twist that regular Inside No. 9 viewers will possibly expect. However, Shearsmith and Pemberton still know how to surprise us, so the story goes on to deliver further twists and turns that will keep even the most seasoned viewers on their toes. The result is a thrilling episode that ranks up there with the show’s very best.
Inside No.9 Continues Monday at 9.30pm on BBC Two
Contributed by Sophie Davies.