Welcome to another recap of The Thick of It. In the fifth episode of season three, Nicola Murray finds herself on BBC Radio’s “Five Live” program alongside her opposite number, Peter Mannion. Radio host Richard Bacon, played by himself, facilitates the “debate” that quickly turns to politics as usual, mudslinging, and spreading the blame around. This is easily one of my favorite episodes in the entire series because of its quotable lines, extraordinary performances from everyone in the ensemble cast, and moments of utter comedy gold.
As the folks of DoSAC and the Opposition make their way to the radio station, the scene for the episode is set. Ollie has the night off on account of a “relationship crisis.” As Phil reveals, Emma is going to break up with Ollie tonight. They meet up with Richard Bacon and things don’t start off very well for Nicola. Richard doesn’t remember that they’ve met before, but he does remember Peter from a former event they both attended. Richard gives them the run-down for the night’s main topics: fat cat city bonuses and piercings. Everyone is crammed into one small green room and instantly begin to trade barbs.
Ollie and Emma, meanwhile, are having an equally trying evening. Ollie seems to be completely ignorant of the fact that Emma is getting ready to dump him. While Ollie prepares their dinner, Emma is preoccupied with a speech she’s writing for Peter and then turns on the “Five Live” interview just as Ollie wants to speak with her.
At Number 10, Malcolm is spending his birthday in his office listening to Nicola’s spot on “Five Live.” This is just another glimpse we get into the life he clearly doesn’t have. Sam brings him a birthday cake that has written on it, “Happy Birthday C**t.” Malcolm remarks, “this could be from anybody,” but it turns out to be from the Prime Minister himself.
In the green room at the BBC, Nicola and Peter are both rehearsing their talking points. Just as Peter and Phil are going over the “Common Sense Checklist,” Stewart calls to say that the checklist is out and they’ll need to attack the bankers and their bonuses instead. Peter says that he can’t do that because of the constituents he serves and the bankers he’s friends with and, presumably, relies on for support.
And they’re on the air! Nicola starts off a bit shaky, completely missing a signal from Terri and Glen, whereas Peter seems quite at home on the radio. As he’s listening to it and eating his birthday cake, Malcolm equates Nicola’s performance to “a clown running across a minefield.”
Emma is about to begin her break-up speech when she receives a call from Stewart asking her to head down to the radio station to rein Peter in as he ignores Stewart’s directions. Moments later, Malcolm has Glen call Ollie in to help Nicola. Their evening ruined, Emma and Ollie arrive at the radio station within minutes of each other and their impending break-up becomes a point of gossip amongst the group.
Just as Stewart tells Emma to get Peter on board with attacking the bankers, Glen obtains some information on the bonuses for Nicola to use. Terri brings this info into the studio for Nicola, but Peter nabs it instead and announces that the bankers’ bonuses have increased five-fold under Nicola’s government. At first, this statistic seems like a win for Peter, but Nicola fires back by asking Peter if he, personally, would like to see the bonuses abolished. Richard grabs this line of inquiry and presses Peter for an answer. Peter is, of course, backed into a corner because he doesn’t want to say anything against his banker friends.
Backstage, Phil breaks the news of Emma’s break-up plans to Ollie before Emma has a chance to tell Ollie herself. While they’re arguing, Phil and Emma completely miss the fact that Peter is getting into deeper and deeper water on the radio.
Things only get worse for Peter when a caller accuses him and his party of taking donations from a firm linked to sweatshop labor. Peter is flummoxed by this news, Malcolm is utterly gleeful, and the producer of “Five Live” is shocked at the huge story they just broke on the air. Malcolm and Stewart both hurry down to advise their respective ministers.
The debate between Nicola and Peter turns to the role of spin in politics and just as this topic is mentioned, Malcolm and Stewart appear. While Malcolm is gloating in front of Stewart about the huge blow they’ve taken, the producer receives a text from someone who says Nicola’s party also receives donations from the sweatshop-connected firm. Malcolm goes whole hog to get the producer not to releases that text. But it’s good for radio and a juicy bit of information, so she sends it through to Richard who reads it on the air. Malcolm goes on a completely mad rant at her and “Tim in fucking Ruislip” who sent in the text.
With news breaking left and right, Malcolm frantically takes Stewart aside. He says that no one talks about dodgy party donations because it tends to make everyone look bad on all sides. The two of them head into a tailspin argument over their respective parties’ scandals with dialogue that’s delivered at breakneck speed, resulting in a rather epic scene to behold.
In the end, Malcolm and Stewart decide to abandon the whole sorry bunch. After all, Malcolm considers Nicola to be quite a nuisance on a good day and Stewart reveals that his party is sending Peter out to pasture. They decide to release statements saying they’ll look into this donations scandal and blame the ministers for the mess.
As Nicola and Peter get caught in a debate about piercings, Malcolm takes Nicola’s car home to – presumably – enjoy what’s left of his birthday, and Stewart rides off on his bicycle. It’s interesting to see the spin doctors abandon their ministers for once and I think it shows that they’re only human. They can only deal with so much incompetence and Nicola and Peter supply them with quite a lot of that.
Overall, the episode is quick and tightly written and is an episode that I consider to be one of the best in the series.