Well, folks, they told us that when he returned, Malcolm Tucker would be more subdued than we’d ever seen him before. They were not kidding. In this second episode of the new season of The Thick of It, we see Malcolm coping with the obscurity of working in the Opposition. His party is no longer in power but, as we will shortly see, he has a plan to return to those golden days. Where last week’s episode may have been a bit disappointing for long time fans of the show and of Malcolm, this week delivered in full force what we’d all been waiting for.
As the episode opens, there’s a very small scene that made fans I know quite happy. Malcolm was able to keep Sam on as his secretary. It’s a small thing, but it was thought she might have gone to work with the government, so it’s good to see her still in Malcolm’s corner. Ben Swain, who was previously the Junior Minister for DoSAC, corners Malcolm and says they need to talk.
Elsewhere, Nicola Murray, former Secretary of State for DoSAC and current Leader of the Opposition, is practicing how to walk at the Remembrance Sunday ceremony. Helen Hatley, her new chief adviser (since Glen has gone to work with the Lib-Dems), is there as well as good old Ollie. They both take it in turns to prep her on walking and appearing solemn at the occasion.
Ben complains about Nicola and her unsuitability for the leadership position. Malcolm tells him not to worry because he has a plan. He then sits in on a brainstorming session wherein Nicola, Helen, and Ollie are all attempting to give a name to the “ordinary voter” demographic they haven’t managed to connect with. As they all throw around silly ideas and political nattering, Malcolm is seen in the background looking frustrated and, frankly, in awe of the fact that they’re running the party. He’s especially annoyed as they come around to the idea of ordinary folks as superheroes, calling them, “quiet batpeople.”
After the meeting, Malcolm corners Ollie and expresses his annoyance at the job Nicola is doing. He confides in Ollie that Nicola will have to fall on her sword, but they have to set up a downfall for her.
On their way to the Shadow Cabinet meeting, Nicola cheerfully says, “Morning,” to someone on the street, who then fires back, “You’ll never get in.” It’s another small moment, but it shows us just how badly Nicola is doing as leader of the party. After some cajoling from Malcolm, Nicola reveals that she’s going to have the party agree with two of the government’s policies for the illusion of unity.
At the Shadow Cabinet meeting, we see that Dan Miller has returned. Nicola tries to sell her idea, but the Opposition is not having it. As she’s speaking, Dan leans behind Nicola and starts talking to Malcolm. It’s a clear sign that he does not back Nicola. Nicola then asks Malcolm to clarify for everyone what they were talking about in their earlier session. Malcolm snatches Helen’s notes and mentions the “quiet batpeople,” clearly hoping to humiliate Nicola.
On the way back from Shadow Cabinet, Nicola is accosted by a man in a pork chop costume, asking if she’ll be “chopped.” A horde of journalists follows and Malcolm tells Nicola to say,””˜no comment” and run through them. It appears to work, but then they find the press got a photo of Helen’s notes and highlighted the “quiet batpeople” suggestion. That ridiculous anecdote is now all over the papers and Nicola looks like a fool.
Another small but important moment occurs when Malcolm mentions their friend, Mr. Tickle. Mr. Tickle was brought up last week to Peter Mannion. We don’t yet know his whole story, but Mr. Tickle might be the thread that runs through all these episodes, leading up to the purported inquiry.
Malcolm has a heart-to-heart with Nicola, asking her if she believes in herself and if she really is hungry for power. He’s trying to get her ire up and see whether she’s suited for this job, but he probably already knows the answer. Malcolm appears to leave with his worry put aside, but he mutters, “fucking useless,” as he leaves, so he clearly still wants to bring Nicola down.
Next, as Ollie is walking down the street, he sees Malcolm sitting in a cafÃ© looking dejected. Malcolm is supposed to be shouting at Dan Miller for his insubordination, so Ollie goes in to see what’s up. Malcolm tells Ollie again that they need to be rid of Nicola, but now he sounds more serious about this plan. He’s thinking of the party and says they have no power in this position, saying, “We’re like a family in a Cuban slum.” He says that his plan is to gently dislodge her over the next eight months, which will lead to an opportune time for someone new to step in.
Afterward, Malcolm lies to Nicola about shouting at Dan and then goes to find Dan to have a little chat. Basically, Malcolm explains his plan again to Dan and asks if he’d like to be the one to step up in eight months. Malcolm says he will appear to be unwaveringly loyal until such time as Nicola has to “kick her own head in.”
Nicola then gives her policy speech detailing how they’re going to unite with the government and back two of their policies. During the speech, Ollie receives a text telling him the government is dropping the very policy Nicola is about to back. Malcolm says she needs to be stopped before she endorses the policy, that it’s too early for her to take a dive and this could be career suicide. They need to stop her, but they don’t have an agreed upon signal in place.
Malcolm, Ollie, and Helen go in to stand at the back of the room as Nicola slowly, but surely, strides toward her endorsement. Helen tries to give her a signal meaning “iceberg,” as in, “you’re about to hit an iceberg and cause our ship to sink.” But Nicola doesn’t correctly interpret the signal and simply barrels on, making the endorsement. The journalists hear that the government has dropped the policy and they ask Nicola about this. She answers their questions very inadequately, at levels of cringe-worthiness that equal Peter Mannion’s dealings with school children last week.
As the episode comes to a close, we see most of the principle characters watching Nicola’s performance at the Remembrance Sunday ceremony. Sadly, she’s flustered and forgets which foot to begin with as she walks, and ends up looking rather foolish.
All in all, this episode was fantastic. It’s good to see Malcolm scheming again and it’s just good to have him back in some new episodes. Though the Opposition is not doing well under Nicola, it appears from the teaser trailer that the government isn’t faring any better.
Season four of The Thick of It will be broadcast on BBC2 at 9:45 on Saturdays, and then on Hulu the following day for American viewers. It can also be seen online on the BBC’s iPlayer.