As much as I love watching this show, I’m so glad we’re only getting seven episodes of The Thick Of It this year, because that means we’re diving right into crisis mode. There’s been one episode that had fun with the coalition concept, and another with Nicola Murray as leader, but that’s enough table-setting—it’s time for the shit to start hitting the fan, and the death of homeless protestor Mr. Tickle is our precipitating event. It’s been clear from minute one that Mr. Tickle would be the center of some sort of coalition-busting firestorm, but even so, his suicide was a nicely shocking moment to explode what is otherwise a relatively quiet episode.
I was worried we would get a whole half-hour of Stewart mockery as he leads Peter and some other poor souls to “mind camp,” a countryside retreat where he tries to expand his mind and make him the blue-sky thinker he wants him to be. Stewart’s a fun enough character when he’s frustrated, but it’s clear at this point that any attempt to change Peter’s curmudgeonly ways are futile and the humor of their back-and-forth has slightly diminishing returns. Plus, it’s being hinted that Stewart is on the outs with Prime Minister JB, so whether this exercise is at all meaningful is pretty questionable.
As it turns out, this will probably be the end of Stewart (maybe we’ll finally get the Fucker back in). His absence during the crucial breaking news moment, a tweeted picture of him and Peter on a children’s slide trying to get cellphone service, and the general fatigue with shiny happy coalition government means he no longer serves a real purpose. That’s dawning on him when he realizes Emma has an encrypted government phone linked to the PM and he doesn’t, but the real crisis moment is when the picture gets tweeted around and Stewart screams, throws a phone, and lies prone on the ground. War is coming, and Stewart is not a man of war.
In typical Thick Of It style, there’s a lot going on here and you’re just expected to keep up. Fergus tries to get ahead of Peter on some community bank policy being pitched by a sexy economist, and ends up committing billions in taxed funds when the news of Mr. Tickle hits the wires. Why his verbal commitment has sealed the government into such a financially costly arrangement is never fully explained, but I guess she could go to the press and accuse them of backsliding. Still doesn’t quite follow, but no matter, it’s supposed to underline that Fergus and the junior partners in the coalition are trying to get as far from their supposed buddies as possible while government begins to collapse around their ears.
While the “Mind Camp” is amusing enough (the brainstorming session has a few choice bonkers ideas), it’s the action back at the office that’s really compelling. Phil, supposedly in charge as Peter’s proxy, is berated on all sides for being the worthless geek that he is. He’s so ineffectual that it wouldn’t have made sense to actually have him running things, so I’m glad that gets quickly done away with. Glenn, actually into the idea of the community bank (which he is shut out of) and horrified at the death of Mr. Tickle, is disgusted by pretty much everybody and may finally be done trying to get in to Fergus and Adam’s good graces.
Funnily enough, this episode also features Terri springing into action and doing her job with minimal fuss and no real hints at her usual incompetence. Since the first episode was even more dismissive than usual towards her, it’s nice to see her be useful, returning to the sort of nagging mom mode of earlier seasons (her lingering attraction to Peter has not gone away, thankfully).
I’m mostly looking forward to next week’s edition and the fun Malcolm, Ollie, et al. will have with this shitstorm, although I assume that Malcolm’s plan to slowly nudge Dan Miller into office may be torpedoed by the rapidly developing crisis. After that, we’ll have everyone together and ping-pong between the two sides, which is the only thing really lacking from this season so far. I understand why Armando Iannucci and company are following this format, but my soul was crying out for Malcolm to start ranting and raving about Tickle topping himself. The Thick Of It is masterful with overlapping dialogue and a controlling plot that seems to be running away with itself, and it hasn’t gotten to display its full potential in this fourth season.
- Stewart says all must abandon their phones and watches. “This is like some weird inverted Dodge City,” Peter says. “Presumably we’re allowed to keep our six-shooters, I might want to blow my brains out.”
- Adam says Glenn is a modern-day Jeeves. “Only not modern-day. You’re like Jeeves. Only not as good.”
- Phil complains that his authority is not being respected. “Everyone’s ignoring me. It’s like the first year of university all over again. The whole of university.”
- Peter has to change out of his retreat clothes before appearing in front of the press. “You are not going to arrive looking like the manager of an organic wine bar.”
- Phil has three ties available for Peter: a rainbow tie, a black one, or his own. What’s on that? “Tintin moon rocks.”
- Phil laments his broken phone. “I was up to warlock general in DragonLogs! A year of my life, gone!”
- Peter watches the unfolding mayhem with amusement. “It’s moments like this that make you realize why Elvis shot so many TVs.”