Here we are at the end of The Thick of It, the final episode that will ever include this dysfunctional band of politicians and civil servants. Much has been written about this final episode, including a lovely blog post by Chris Addison, who plays Ollie Reeder in the show. This show has meant a lot to me over the past year or so, and has meant a lot to other fans for even longer. This episode was a tough one for me to watch because I never like my favorite shows to come to an end – who does? But all in all, I think it ended the way it should have and they’re making the right decision about leaving when they’re at the top of their game. Let’s take a look at what happened in this, the final episode of The Thick of It.
This episode begins – as so many of them did – with DoSAC trying to keep the lid on a bucket of shit. A police arrest backlog is the story of the day and Terri is attempting to firefight the problem. DoSAC and the Home Office are in a tug-of-war regarding this issue. Phil says that, since the Inquiry, DoSAC has been looking weak and the Home Office is piling this crisis on them to possibly subsume their department.
In addition to the police arrest backlog, there is a policy called “Think Socially” that’s set to be launched by Fergus. The only problem is Fergus doesn’t know about the policy he’s about to launch. Peter and Fergus haven’t been communicating properly since the Inquiry, so they’ve devised a two-stamp system to get their approval on policies. However, as Terri explains to Emma, there have been times when Fergus is unreachable and things need to be stamped. So Terri has been stamping policies on behalf of Fergus.
Dan Miller is now king of Malcolm’s party and Ollie seems to be running the show. They’re also dealing with the arrest backlog and brainstorming on how best to use it for political advantage. Malcolm makes one of his usual colorful remarks and neither Dan nor Ollie even reacts to it. It’s a chilling moment when set alongside that first scene of the first episode of The Thick of It where we can clearly see Malcolm is a powerhouse. Malcolm’s push to get Dan into power was a bit surprising to me because Dan has never really liked or worked with Malcolm very much. But it’s a good way of showing just how much Malcolm cares about the success of the party. He knows Dan will be a good leader and I think he also knew Dan would probably push him out in the end.
Malcolm gets a call from someone who informs him they’re going to pursue charges of perjury regarding the testimony he gave at the Inquiry. Malcolm seems annoyed, but also sort of resigned to what’s going to happen to him. Malcolm asks for a quiet police station with lots of entrances and exits, and also tells Sam to get a hold of his solicitor (lawyer).
Ollie confronts Malcolm, telling him that perhaps he should take some time off from work because of his mess. Malcolm pushes that aside and tells Ollie that Dan should go to a police station to see this backlog issue in action. It’s his final act as Dan’s Director of Communications and – as so many of his acts did – it serves a dual purpose. Dan will be out in public looking concerned about the arrest backlog, and it will move press attention to Dan rather than toward Malcolm’s arrest.
Back at DoSAC, they are treated to a visit from Mary, who works at the Home Office, and she is clearly gunning for the department. She says DoSAC should back away from the arrest backlog and just let the Home Office do its job.
Far away from all of this action, Nicola and Helen are on their way to an interview with the Daily Mirror. Neither of them seems overly pleased to be with the other, but they appear to be stuck together since Nicola is out of power and Helen has nowhere else to go.
Back at the Opposition headquarters, Malcolm tells Ollie that he is about to go and get himself arrested. Ollie is shocked and complains about Malcolm’s timing, saying the Director of Communications can’t get arrested at the same time the leader of the party is out investigating the arrest backlog. Malcolm tells Ollie that this is the kind of thing he’ll have to deal with if he wants to take his place. Indeed, as we may have suspected from day one of this new season, Malcolm has been grooming Ollie to become the new Director of Communications.
Malcolm tells Ollie that this job will eat him alive and that he’d better be prepared. Ollie says that politics has changed and that he won’t need to be like Malcolm now. And then Malcolm launches into the most amazingly written and beautifully acted speech about how Ollie doesn’t know anything about him. How could he, when Malcolm Tucker “left the building” long ago? He says Malcolm Tucker doesn’t exist anymore, he’s just a husk occupied by this job that he’s given everything to. But he says, though he may not have much else, he can at least fashion his own exit from politics and leave with his “head held fucking high.”
On a far lighter note, Nicola realizes that her interview at the Daily Mirror is going to be conducted by the man in the pork chop costume whom she’s been plagued by all season. If that was something quietly orchestrated by Malcolm, I’d be quite happy to hear it.
DoSAC is in overdrive and it seems that Mary’s harsh words spurred them into action to prove their worthiness. They’ve worked hard to get the Lewisham police station – where Dan Miller is visiting – to be working efficiently. As they’re working, Terri casually drops the news that Malcolm is going to be arrested. Instantly, focus shifts and they scramble to find out where Malcolm has gone.
Malcolm, we learn, has gone to the Brentford police station. Unfortunately, this station is experiencing quite a backlog and he can’t get himself arrested. Remember that old adage about “not being able to get arrested in this town” as being equated with no longer being famous enough or important enough to be reported on? I think that’s quite poetically tragic right at this moment. Malcolm is leaving politics, he’ll no longer be the man in charge, and now he can’t get himself arrested the way he would like. The officer there tells Malcolm to go to Lewisham, but he can’t because Dan is there with a load of journalists.
Dan is, indeed, at Lewisham and is quite upset with Ollie because Lewisham’s station is running smoothly and there is no crisis to react to. Meanwhile, Malcolm is dodging press that have somehow discovered he’s at the Brentford station. It’s quite sad to see Malcolm running about, trying to find an exit that’s clear. But at least we get to see Peter Capaldi’s embarrassed, shuffly way of running one more time. At one point, Malcolm and his solicitor end up back by the bins and he says, “This is rubbish. This is literally rubbish.” It’s such a perfect moment because the line is hilarious and it’s delivered so well, but you know that Malcolm is just spiralling at this moment.
Eventually, Malcolm makes it into a cab that nearly pulls away and leaves him stranded with journalists everywhere. He calls Ollie and asks which police station is safe for him to have his dignified moment. Ollie actually hangs up on Malcolm in mid-sentence and that is a chilling moment because the torch has truly been passed. Malcolm is no longer any of Ollie’s concern; he has to manage Dan’s public image.
Over at DoSAC, Glen has been quietly wandering around, moving boxes, and generally being ignored. But when Terri pops in to see if he would like some tea, Glen admits that he’s going to turn himself in for committing perjury at the Inquiry. Terri tries to convince him otherwise, but Glen has his heart set on resigning for his mistake. Glen gets the attention of the whole, bustling office and makes the most fantastic resignation speech I’ve ever seen. He tells each and every one of them what he thinks of them. No one has deserved such an exit more than Glen, who was consistently pushed aside and belittled in this final season. Hooray for Glen!
But now it’s Malcolm’s turn to make his exit and he won’t be leaving the way he wanted to, as Glen did. He pulls up at another police station and the press are still everywhere. Malcolm emerges from the cab and has to bat the journalists away, just trying to get into the station. When he’s finished turning himself in, Malcolm and his solicitor stand together in front of the journalists and his solicitor makes a statement. Someone else is speaking for Malcolm Tucker and Malcolm simply looks on, haunted, as the cameras flash. Just before they leave, he says, “I want to say something,” and the crowd goes silent. Malcolm pauses, looks around, and then says, “Doesn’t matter.”
And it truly doesn’t matter, does it? Malcolm knows that his time in politics, his time at the head of the plague pit, is now finished. Time will roll forward, Ollie will take his place, and a new generation of smarmy politicians will rise to power. The party and the system that Malcolm gave his entire life and entire being to will not give him a standing ovation or a round of applause. He wanted nothing more than for the party he ran to be in power and to be successful and it won’t even wish him well. He knows that, at this point, he does not matter in the grand scheme of things.
The final shot we have of Malcolm Tucker, the enforcer and the bully we all somehow loved, is in the back of a cab looking lost and defeated. I know I say this a lot, but Peter Capaldi fucking nailed his performance in this final episode and he is the reason we loved Malcolm Tucker so much.
In the final scenes of The Thick of It, everyone makes statements about Malcolm’s departure from politics. Dan Miller is careful to cover his ass whether Malcolm is acquitted or found guilty, Nicola says that perhaps politics can now progress and have more integrity. And Ollie completely steps into Malcolm’s shoes, bantering with reporters and giving himself a pat on the back.
There is one more person to deal with – one more member of the old guard that has to be done away with. Mary barrels into DoSAC and tells Stewart that he’s been sacked. Stewart, like Glen, gets to tell them all what he thinks of them.
The episode finishes up in a very appropriate manner. Glen does not turn himself into the police and we are left to speculate that he probably goes off to be with his sister and her family. Nicola is caught in yet another bad press situation and we wonder whether she really will stay in politics. And at DoSAC, another crisis breaks and life goes on as it always does in that tiny, unimportant department. Peter Mannion, who has just said what a good day it turned out to be, delivers the final line: “What a shit day!”
As sad as I am to see the show go, I know that it was the right time. This past season, Malcolm has been quieter than we’ve ever seen him and the show really was about Malcolm. The show began with him shouting at Cliff Lawton and though I would have liked for it to end with him shouting at someone else, it was right to end the show when he left politics. After all, if the show was largely about Malcolm and Malcolm is no longer “in the thick of it,” then it’s time for a dignified exit.
Stay tuned next time as we return to recapping The Thick of It‘s retro episodes!