This week’s episode of The Thick of It made me feel like the characters’ universe had just exploded. The episode was full of action and drama, along with that trademark acerbic wit that we all know and love. All our beloved players in this story – even Malcolm Tucker himself – seemed to be plummeting in a downward spiral in the form of a reality check. This may be the moment when everything about these characters and their culture that made you squirm will come back to bite them. Let’s take a look at what happened in Series 4, Episode 5.
The episode picks up right where last week left off, with Nicola and Helen fleeing from journalists after Nicola made her resignation statement. At DoSAC, Stewart has been launched into overdrive, instructing his minions how to deal with Nicola’s departure. Peter, on the other hand, suggests that he should resign because he’s going to come off badly in this inquiry. Phil and Emma tell him that he can’t, and that he missed that ideal resigning point, which was basically as soon as he got the job. Emma suggests they widen the scope of the inquiry to implicate Nicola even more. She suggests they call for PFI contracts to be called into question so as to bring Nicola’s husband’s PFI involvement into the mix.
It’s interesting to note that, with the inquiry approaching, Peter is even more apathetic toward his job and even less inclined to deal with Stewart’s bullshit. As he asks Terri to call for a widening of the inquiry, he outright tells Stewart off as he never has before. Meanwhile, Glen is trying to get ahold of Ollie to tell him he wants to come back to their side.
Nicola and Helen return to Opposition HQ because Nicola seems to think there are people there who’d like to say goodbye. What is there is Malcolm telling everyone to assume expressions of solemn respect when Nicola comes in, “like blokes modeling underpants.”
On her way up to the office, Nicola learns about Peter’s strategy of widening the inquiry to include PFI and she panics. She’s literally caught between the street and her office, mired in indecision about how to enter and what to speak with Dan about. She asks Helen if this is why they got rid of her and Helen says no, then quietly follows up with, “There were other reasons.”
When she enters at last, everyone gives Nicola a rather half-hearted round of applause. After giving a very brief speech, she goes to talk to Dan in her former office. There is already a string of letters above the desk that read, “It’s Miller Time.” Nicola asks Dan to call off the inquiry, saying that it’s obsolete now. Dan clearly wants to move forward with it, though, saying it would be a clean break from the past. Just as Nicola says some of the electorate actually liked her, Malcolm swoops in and takes over.
Malcolm in this episode is the harshest I think we’ve ever seen him. He just unleashes on Nicola, in a vicious and terrifying tone, telling her why it’s good that she’s gone. He tells her that calling the inquiry was the best thing she ever did because it will “fuck the government and fuck [her],” finishing his tirade with a horrible, triumphant smirk. Nicola doesn’t seem overly hurt. After all, she’s had to deal with Malcolm’s tirades for years now. She almost seems a bit smug, as though she has something that could bring Malcolm down. But, knowing Nicola, she is probably bluffing.
In the stairwell, on her way out, Nicola breaks down again and you can’t help but feel sorry for her. She’s been kicked to the curb and moans that all she wants is a break. Helen says they should both think about their trajectories, career-wise and Nicola laughs, saying she doesn’t want to keep Helen on. It’s hard to say whether Helen looks relieved or a bit hurt.
Back at DoSAC, Adam has found a quote that will distance Fergus from the inquiry. It’s clear that these Coalition partners are hoping to save their own skin. They both ask Glen to leak the quote and he just seems so pathetic. It seems the only thing he’s good for these days is leaking information.
Malcolm calls Ollie and, though he’s still in the hospital, tells him to “scoop his guts into a wheelbarrow” and come into the office. When he arrives, Malcolm gives Ollie an incriminating photograph (we don’t see it, but Ollie seems sufficiently disgusted) to give to “Fatty” – someone in the party who’s been mentioned but never seen – to squelch his leadership bid against Dan. Once again, Malcolm seems to be on top of the world pulling everyone’s puppet strings, and loving it.
Elsewhere, Stewart has his whiteboard of madness out again and is strategizing with Peter, Emma, and Phil. Peter learns that Tickel’s medical records were wrongly leaked and seems rather outraged at not being told that. Suddenly Emma receives word that the email Fergus leaked was actually a string of emails, which included them all making jokes about Tickel and his name.
Back at Opposition, Ollie hears that Glen is in the building. When he informs Malcolm of this, Malcolm is dismissive, likening himself to the Queen and Glen to a cockroach who has entered the palace. Glen is begging to return to the party and Ollie tries his best to politely extract him from the building. But he’s not quick enough and when Malcolm shows up, he is utterly brutal in his takedown of Glen, calling him a traitor for leaving the party and throwing harsh insults at him.
Peter calls Phil and Emma into a meeting, saying that he’s not going to resign over this and that one of them has to go. He makes them each justify their positions and explain why they shouldn’t be the one who is sacked. Here we see the extent of Phil’s devotion to Peter and his job as he says he has nothing else in his life and that he hasn’t had sex in five years.
Adam and Fergus are feeling quite triumphant about their leaked email, until they learn that Glen sent out the entire thread of emails. Was that a malicious act on Glen’s part or simply ignorance about how email chains work? They come down on Glen for this blunder and Glen appears to be near tears. Tensions are running high and everyone is being far more harsh to each other than we’ve ever seen.
On the news, it’s announced that the PM has called an inquiry into the culture of leaking as a whole. Obviously, this is a disaster for all parties concerned in this matter. Everyone in this government has leaked something at one time or another, either of their own volition or at Malcolm’s urging. Stewart is absolutely irate, calling Peter “leak zero” because he’s where it all started. Malcolm appears genuinely concerned about the inquiry. He says that leaking is a fundamental component of their government and how it works. When Malcolm tells Ollie he’d better keep his head down, Ollie sarcastically says that surely there are no skeletons in Malcolm’s closet. Oh, how I wonder.
In the trailer for next week’s episode, we see everyone – and I mean everyone – stepping up to the stand and swearing to tell the whole truth. Even Malcolm raises his right hand and I, for one, can’t wait to see how the Master of Spin fares in this inquiry into leaking.
Season four of The Thick of It will be broadcast on BBC2 at 9:30 on Saturdays, and then on Hulu the following day for American viewers. It can also be seen online on the BBC’s iPlayer.