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We love the cleverness and dark wit of Inside No.9 and the sharp writing and precise delivery of Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith. Everything they create has so much depth, and oftentimes a half-hour episode prompts another hour’s discussion of theories and moral questions.


WARNING: Spoilers from the start! If you haven’t watched the episode we’re talking about, it’s Inside No.9 Series 1 Episode 3 “Tom and Gerri”


Story setup

The episode revolves around Tom, an uninspired writer working as a listless primary school teacher to pay the bills. He appears to live with his girlfriend Gerri, a struggling actress. After walking her to the tube station for her first day of work in five months, Tom returns home and receives a phone call from a stranger claiming to have his wallet. Upon letting the stranger up to his flat, Tom recognises him as the homeless man he and Gerri were looking at from their window earlier that morning. The homeless man meekly introduces himself as ‘Migg’, and spells it out. Tom awkwardly tries to give him a cash reward at the door which Migg receives gratefully and proceeds to find ways to get Tom to invite him in and befriend him, with sinister intent. Gerri and Migg never appear to each other in the same scene, and while she is aware and disgruntled that he is staying over, Migg never shows awareness of her presence.

Tom is obsessed with a book called Pulp by Charles Bukowski, a story about a private detective named Belane, who is ‘unemployed more often than not, with a cynical attitude towards life which is exacerbated by his excessive drinking,’ mirrored in Tom’s downward spiral into depression. In the book, Belane is hired to find an author and someone called the ‘Red Sparrow’. There are two other characters in the book – Lady Death, an obvious metaphor for death, who hires Belane, and the ‘Red Sparrow’, a symbol of the author’s impending death. Belane becomes more and more enveloped by the Sparrow. 

When Migg finally gets invited in for a drink (revealing a foot wrapped in a bloody bandage when removing his shoe, which could suggest he’s been in an accident), he immediately mentions having had a personal relationship with Charles Bukowski and wanting to read this very book, which impresses Tom and gains his trust.

Interesting point to consider:

‘Migg’ is a word defined as to force alcohol or an illicit substance upon someone who is intoxicated or under the influence with the intent of taking advantage of that person, whether financially, emotionally, or sexually. As a writer and teacher, with presumably a decent vocabulary of sorts, Tom had a chance to clock it when Migg repeats and spells his own name at the front door – (he literally spells out what he is about to do to ruin Tom) – but Tom misses the clue and probably doesn’t think ‘migg’ is a real word (his vocabulary is challenged in the Scrabble game, again giving the audience another moment to second-guess Tom). Ironically, when the two play Scrabble, Migg tells Tom that his word is not a real word – adding to the notion that we cannot trust Tom’s judgement or attention span for noticing things that you might expect a writer/teacher to pick up. This is also a hint to make the audience think back to that time when you heard Migg’s name spelled out and questioned yourself thinking it was unusual or perhaps, not a real name. Migg beats Tom with the childish term ‘la’, as in ‘do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do’, an even more telling sign that Tom is giving up on his job and his passion. Migg encourages Tom to drink more, to call in sick for work and quit his teaching job, and eventually to simply just exist. 

A deep character arc whose every word is deliberate

The writers spend the majority of the episode making us question whether or not Migg is real, or a symbol of descent into addiction and depression. They’ve given us a cryptic clue in his name, but even if we got that, we’re still made to wonder if he’s someone Tom made up because Gerri is aware of him and keeps asking for him to leave.

Migg asks Tom who Gerri is after hearing him mention her – insinuating she is a man first, he remarks on ‘Tom and Gerri’ being an ironic pair of names due to the classic cartoon. Tom briefly mentions that her last boyfriend was named Ben, which amuses him and prompts him to go to the shop to get ice-cream. Migg reacts to this a little uncomfortably, and as soon as Tom leaves, starts rifling through his personal drawers. He steals keys, deletes a supportive answer phone message from concerned coworker Stevie, reads and hides his post, then relaxes on the sofa with a drink, surveying his new space. Assimilation and control of Tom’s life has begun. We’re still not sure if the whole character of Migg is a metaphor for how drinking controls alcoholics.

Migg glares at Tom saying ‘you have no right to judge me’ with complete cold venom, that can only be indicative of someone with a deep-set problem, not simply a homeless man looking for a kind samaritan or a con-man stumbling on a lucky break. This stranger, whether homeless or acting, is out to specifically destroy Tom. This suggests the stranger knows or knows of Tom, and has done some due-diligence. This behaviour is quite out of character for what we know about Migg at this stage, but completely in character for a scorned ex seeking revenge. 

Let’s say the subtle but huge plot point being alluded to by Migg’s small reactions here is that Migg is actually Gerri’s ex Ben.  We know Migg’s name is deliberate. Inside No.9 rarely ever includes words in their scripts that aren’t clues to the plot – there’d be no need to mention this character just for a pun about ice-cream. Tom corrects Migg saying the assumed man is actually his girlfriend, Migg says ‘oh yes – the mad actress’, causing Tom to stop short – how could Migg know she is an actress? For a second he almost suspects Migg of previously knowing something about her, but then returns to ignorance. Migg could be Ben, a man who lost his love and then his home, because of Tom, and is now trying to take everything Tom took from him – his girlfriend, his home, his future. 

The cold hard truth: how a writer leaves clues in twenty-five minutes

In the beginning, Tom doesn’t have change of two twenties to give Migg something for returning his wallet and regrettably informs him that he intended to give him £30 not £40. This initially suggests to the audience his cynical personality, and he repeatedly remarks how warm he is and how cold it is outside during this first encounter with Migg, causing Migg to look uncomfortable as he is very aware of the cold in his situation. At face value Tom’s comments sound insensitive and tactless. But, when we look at this awkwardness with the knowledge from the final bombshell of the show when it is revealed that Gerri died in a car accident some time ago (possibly the five months she mentions she hasn’t had a job, from the opening scene), and she has been a hallucination all along. What if this is a metaphor for speed limits? The significance of ‘30 instead of 40’ suddenly becomes more poignant as choosing 30 could be the difference between safety and death.


Stevie comes over with the whip-round from work saying ‘it’s cash or body shop vouchers’ – could he mean vouchers for the car body shop to get a car fixed up, rather than soap? There are a lot of muscle cars around the house – behind their bed, on the kitchen table with biscuits in it. He obviously likes cars. Also, he keeps mentioning the cold. 

Later, Tom is sprawled on the couch in his duvet with the mess piling up, as the TV plays the theme from This Morning off screen – a direct reference to his situation of mourning and another subtle clue the director has chosen to the truth, as the audience doesn’t yet know anyone is dead. With hindsight, and the constant references to being cold, we can see he blames himself for Gerri’s death in some way, and doesn’t accept it’s actually true.

Symbolism, addiction and manipulation

We also know Tom is a heavy drinker, from the giant vase filled with corks in the background of his living room and the many bottles and cans strewn across every surface in the room. Could we be subtly being told that Tom caused the accident which killed Gerri, which is why he can’t let her go, and in doing so took away everything Ben cared about? This could explain that Ben creates the Migg persona to play the long game and drain from Tom everything in his life. Whether or not Tom is the cause of Gerri’s death, Migg definitely has some sort of personal vendetta against him to ruin him. In playing the long game, Migg – the metaphor for the Red Sparrow in Tom’s favourite book (which Migg has prior knowledge of in detail, possibly through either knowing Gerri, or diligent research). Migg embodies the character “enveloping” the private detective in the book as Migg envelopes Tom completely, takes over his flat lease, clothes, and life, all the while plying him with alcohol and cigarettes and encouraging him to stop working – or, ‘migging’ him.

This manipulation would have been perfectly executed, only if Migg had the foresight to consider that Tom’s mental state might have made him think Migg isn’t real. Or that he still talks to and takes advice from a hallucination of Gerri, telling him to move on and get rid of Migg. Gerri’s support allows Tom to drown Migg in the bathtub because he genuinely believes he is ending the terrible hallucination that has caused his descent into madness. It is not until Stevie arrives at the newly-cleaned up flat, reveals to Tom and the audience that Gerri died in a car accident some time ago, notices Migg’s drowned corpse, confirming that Gerri was the hallucination all along and Migg had been a real person.

Conclusion: Revenge, the long game and a comment on grief

Any suspicions we may have had throughout that Migg was never real, but a symbol of addiction and depression, are quashed now knowing he was a real person all along. We can look at the story with hindsight. To explore why he was so persistent and invasive, gradually taking more and more from Tom until they switch roles of rich and poor, clean and unkempt, confident and falling apart – it is safe to say the intruder chose the name Migg for its very precise meaning. So, if we got the meaning of the word ‘migg’, we are left wondering, who is he really and what were his motives? This alludes even more to him being Ben, the vengeful ex of Gerri, playing the long game to make Tom lose everything. Did Gerri leave Ben for Tom and break his heart? Was Tom partially responsible for Gerri’s accident? If it is Ben, while it’s clear he played the long game to exact his revenge, could we even go so far as to suggest he may have played a really long game and caused her accident in a calculated and jealous plot to destroy both of them? It’s not unfathomable, considering Migg’s reactions to some of Tom’s remarks, he flashes an uncontrolled streak in his behaviour which makes the audience trust him far less than we did when his kind eyes gave Tom back his wallet. 


Either way, it’s clear that Pemberton and Shearsmith want to stir up all these suspicions after dropping the final bombshell. Why was Migg there in the first place? The audience goes through a spectrum of feelings toward the two men, at first Tom comes across as tactless and entitled, while Migg is a contrast with his meek demeanour and apologetic eyes. As Migg gets cleaner and more kempt, he becomes more arrogant and entitled, while Tom loses more and more self esteem and eventually gives up. The two opposites are stark and the shift from one to the other is poetically undeniable, so it’s a shock to come to the final act right after Gerri tells Tom to get rid of Migg – the flat is cleaned up completely and he has neatened up his look. It feels like everything is ‘fine’; he has released himself from his turmoil, but not his grief – Gerri is there, as if nothing has happened, so we know he’s still seeing her and hasn’t believed her death. The suddenly spotless recovery of the flat feels suspiciously clinical. Despite the audience’s initial breather of relief from the downward spiral, there’s a sinister undertone that the chaotic-to-clinical juxtaposition of the two scenes, which hints that Tom’s mental health has descended past chaos, into the awful, sedated conclusion. He commits a real murder, and without realising it, frees himself of the depression Migg symbolised. The writers withhold the truth from the audience until the very last scene in which we see Migg’s drowned face in the bathtub, and Tom professes to Stevie that he isn’t real, confirming his mental state is completely out of control.