This is it, folks. If you loved seeing Malcolm get back to his scheming and manipulating in episode two, you will be absolutely ecstatic watching this episode. Malcolm is back to his old ways, controlling things from behind-the-scenes and getting other people to do his bidding. Today is the day when Nicola Murray must experience her downfall and watching it happen inspires a mixture of awe and overwhelming pity that only The Thick of It can create.
At the start of the episode, Malcolm is on the phone with Sam, his secretary, telling her to have some flowers sent to Nicola, with an accompanying “sorry you had to go” note. Right off the bat, we know that this is the day Malcolm was talking about back in episode two – Nicola’s downfall has to happen now. Malcolm is on his way to the hospital and it becomes clear that he is going to visit Ollie, who is having his appendix out. But Malcolm isn’t simply coming to cheer up a co-worker; really, when has Malcolm ever wanted to cheer anyone up?
No, Malcolm is coming to see Ollie because he needs his help. Malcolm tells Ollie they can now start the process of getting rid of Nicola. Throughout this episode, she is on a train to Bradford for her “Here to Hear” tour and Malcolm seems to think this is the perfect time to stage the coup. He tells Ollie that he needs him to “explode a bomb” for him.
Meanwhile, Nicola is looking quite forlorn and out of sorts in her office. Malcolm comes to see her, saying that she should make a statement regarding the situation with Mr. Tickle and his sudden death, using the moment to attack Peter Mannion and the government. Nicola, wanting instead to push forward with positivity, tells Malcolm she doesn’t want to exploit the situation. Though she may not be seen as fit to run the party, I think Nicola should be given some credit for not wanting to use the untimely death of a man to gain political capital.
On the train, we have the reappearance of John Duggan, a press officer for the party. John Duggan appeared in an earlier episode that took place during a party conference. Unfortunately, he is just as insufferable as he was before. John brings with him some journalists from Sky News, who record a quick sound bite from Nicola about her “Here to Hear” tour. Back at the hospital, Ollie gives Glen a call and asks him to come have lunch at the hospital. Why would Ollie need to speak with Glen? Surely he doesn’t want to reminisce about old times.
Back at Opposition headquarters, Malcolm has a talk with Ben whom he calls the “hairless Hagrid’”– and tells him he needs to resign as a push to get Nicola out. In return, Malcolm offers Ben the position of Foreign Secretary when he returns to politics.
Helen receives a message about Ben Swain’s resignation and she and Nicola need to appear nonplussed in front of the still-present journalists. As soon as they’re able to sneak away, though, they’re in full-on panic mode.
Meanwhile, something quite important is going on at the hospital. Ollie and Glen are chatting and I have to admit it’s nice to see them together again, bickering and joking. They come around to the Tickle situation and Ollie gets straight down to business. He needs Glen to dig up some old emails that show Nicola supporting the same policy that Mannion has just supported; the policy that got Mr. Tickle evicted from his home. Obviously, those emails would be disastrous for Nicola.
While Glen is there, Ollie receives a call from Helen about Ben’s resignation. Ollie calls Ben and Ben tells him that if he were to stay on, he would want the position of Chancellor in return. With this news in hand, Ollie calls Helen. Surprisingly, Helen and Nicola give the thumbs-up on Ben’s demands. As soon as the news is relayed to Ben, Ollie gives Malcolm a call and fills him in on everything that’s flying back and forth.
Having the position of Chancellor offered to him makes Ben quite unbearable to be around. Dan Miller has a discussion with him and Ben uses his offer from Nicola as leverage, wanting something as good or better from Dan if he were to resign and then rejoin under Dan’s leadership. Dan seems to be taking his demands seriously, but as soon as Ben leaves the room Dan tells Malcolm he doesn’t want Ben in his cabinet. He says that Ben is now Malcolm’s problem, implying that this is a test to see if Malcolm should be kept around when Dan takes the reins.
Malcolm calls Nicola to tell her there’s nothing he can do about Ben; he’s going to resign no matter what. As he’s talking to her, Malcolm receives word that Ollie got Glen to cough up the implicating emails. With that bit of news in his back pocket, Malcolm tells Nicola she needs to call an inquiry into the Tickle issue. What Nicola doesn’t yet realize is that she is effectively launching an inquiry into herself. Malcolm has her right where he wants her.
Out on the lawn, Malcolm coaches Ben before he goes in front of the cameras to announce his resignation. Just before he goes on, Malcolm tells Ben that he, too, is implicated in those emails that show Nicola’s support of the damning policy. When he returns, Ben will not be allowed a “front bench” position; in other words, he won’t be in Dan’s cabinet. Malcolm has successfully proved his worthiness to Dan.
Back on the train, Nicola recalls her fleeting support of the policy and the emails that could expose this lapse in judgment. She calls Ollie, searching for a friend, but he isn’t willing to jump on her sinking ship. In that moment, we see how alone Nicola really is and although Malcolm’s machinations are fun to watch, we’re reminded how they can hurt people.
The episode closes with scenes that switch between Nicola giving her resignation speech and Malcolm directing people to clear out her office. Ollie receives a note from Malcolm that reads, “Congratulations on your first confirmed kill.” Clearly, he has become more useful to Malcolm all of a sudden. Dan Miller enters Nicola’s empty office and Malcolm sings his praises. But just before the episode ends, he murmurs, “˜we have got some work to do with you.’ Perhaps Dan is not as ready as he thinks he is for the leadership.
To viewers, Malcolm appears to be on top of the world in this moment. He’s gotten rid of Nicola, just as he had planned to do, and Dan Miller is swooping in to take control. But will Dan Miller’s reign be beneficial to Malcolm? It’s already been hinted at that Malcolm is seen as the “˜old guard’ and characters have wondered aloud why he’s still in the party. Perhaps Dan Miller will be the one to finally get rid of him. We’ll have to wait and see – The Thick of It returns in two weeks with a full-scale inquiry!
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.