Inside No. 9 – ‘Cold Comfort’

coldcomfortSeries 2, Episode 4


This episode is notable in that Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith directed it, as well as writing and starring it.

The setting for this episode is a call centre for a helpline for people to call if they have personal problems. The main character is a new volunteer Andy (Steve Pemberton), who has decided to join because he would have liked someone to talk to after his sister died, so wants to help others in similar situations. Andy is told at his induction by the supervisor George (Reece Shearsmith) that he can use the booth of Victoria, a volunteer who has recently left. He is also told that there are several types of calls that come through that aren’t using the service, such as automated PPI calls, and people who call simply for something to masturbate to. Sometimes even the genuine calls have their problems. One call Andy gets is very long, and he is desperate for a piss so he has to do it in a plastic water cooler cup.

Other volunteers at the call centre include Liz (Jane Horrocks), who seems very friendly, is very chatty and believes that the callers need someone who is like a friend. But she’s also a bit of a gossip who doesn’t seem to care much about confidentiality. She is very bitchy about another volunteer Joanne (Nikki Amuka-Bird), but is nice to her face. Liz and Joanne have a mutual dislike for one another, possibly because their personalities and attitudes to the job are polar opposites. Joanne tells Andy that the best way to cope with it is to put up barriers, be objective and not get emotionally involved with the callers.

After a while Andy gets a call from Chloe, a suicidal 16 year old girl. She tells Andy that she hates her mum, she really hates her stepdad and she thinks her life has been a failure. She tells Andy she has taken some tablets. Andy tells her to ring an ambulance, but Chloe says she doesn’t want to do that, or Andy to do that, and asks him to sing to her before she dies, namely ‘Shine’ by Take That. After Chloe stops talking, Andy is upset, as he’s heard the last moments of someone who has committed suicide. Before he can get his head round the Chloe call, there is another one (and it’s implied the Chloe call reminded him of his own sister’s death, because during this next call he’s seen looking at a photo he’d brought with him on his first day) . This call is from an old woman, who is sad because one of her cats has died. Andy is unsympathetic and insensitive to this, telling her she can just get another cat. The old woman is angry with him for how dismissive he is of her, and he hangs up on her.

The next day Liz is talking to a caller about bridesmaid’s dresses. George is convinced that this isn’t a real call, but Liz using the line chatting to someone she knows. He angrily wrestles the phone from Liz and slams it down.

The day after, Liz tells Andy that she has reported George to head office, but she doesn’t expect anything to come of it as she thinks they’ll be more concerned with maintaining a positive image than anything. During the conversation, she lets it slip that one of her callers was a man who’s mother had killed herself after one of her cats died. After asking the name of the cat, Andy is horrified because it was the same old woman who had called him.

The next day, Andy is doing the induction of a new volunteer and is listening in to see how he handles a call, he finds out that the caller is Chloe. Not only is she alive, but her call is word for word the same call as she gave him, including the claim to have just taken some tablets. Andy takes over the call and shouts at Chloe for her what she’s done and the consequences of it, and hangs up.

A couple of days later, we find out that Liz has been “politely told to move on”, in her words. But she’s brought a bottle of wine in on her last day so they can have a party of sorts, and she gives Andy her number so he can ring her if he wants. She then gets a caller who asks for Andy, so she transfers it to him. It’s Chloe again. Andy is angry with her, and hangs up. He immediately gets another call, and he shouts down the phone assuming it’s Chloe, but it was a genuine call from a man, who decides not to continue it after Andy’s reaction. Then the phone rings again, and it is Chloe this time. Andy tells her an old woman died because of her, but Chloe replies that it was Andy’s fault, and that she knows exactly what he said to her, and threatens to come round to the call centre in person.

At 11.20 pm that night, Andy goes into George’s office and sees Joanne come in. He calls one of the phones and accuses her of being Chloe, as it must be someone who worked there. Joanne says she doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and came back because she’d forgotten her bag. Joanne goes into George’s office, where Andy is going through the time codes to look at what people were doing at the times Chloe was calling. Joanne was listening to another caller, Liz wasn’t even on the phone and about to leave after the end of her shift. It turns out that “Chloe” was none other than George! When this is discovered, George himself is spotted running away down the corridor on one of the security cameras.

The next morning, Andy and Joanne discuss what they have found out. They’ve also discovered that George has been doing it for years, and it was that which caused Victoria to leave in the first place. Andy then gets a call from George. He tells Andy that he’d spent nearly 3 decades listening to other people’s problems and wanted someone to listen to him. He then reveals that he contacted the son of the old lady who killed herself after calling Andy and told him where Andy worked. We then see a man introduced in the background as a new volunteer pull out a gun and aim it at Andy…

This one I didn’t guess the twist at all! It was a very creepy episode, with George coming off as a very sinister individual. There were hints of this side of his personality with how he lost his temper and attacked Liz, and how manipulative he must be when he manged to get her fired for the incident.

Almost the the whole episode was shown on split screen security cameras, which was a good idea as it meant there were lots of places to look. You could play detective yourself on first viewing, and on repeated viewings you could look for signs of what was to come. Many viewers suspected that Liz was secretly making “Chloe’s” calls, but it couldn’t have been her, because during the first “Chloe” call Liz was seen leaving her desk and walking out of the building. In the call she transferred she was shown listening in to the whole thing, but that is more likely to be because she’s nosy. Immediately after the first “Chloe” call, George is seen in his office taking his mobile phone and switching it off. Just before the second “Chloe” call we see him taking his phone out and dialing a number as he is leaving the building. Even after that, with all the data on there, the split screens, the dates/times, the callers, there is something new to notice on each viewing.

I liked the use of phone bleeps and that old dial-up connection sound in between scenes. The performances were decent on the whole, but I thought Jane Horrocks stood out as particularly good as Liz, and it was an interesting story . The ending with the gunman was a little disappointing though.  It felt like a bit of a last minute soap SHOCK!TWIST, and it sort of jarred with the the tone of the rest of the episode somehow. It might have been better to have more of an ambiguous ending. But overall, this was once again pretty good.

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