The Thick Of It: “Series Four, Episode Two”
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The Thick Of It: “Series Four, Episode Two”

Ahh. Feel that? That’s the warm, satisfying feeling of hearing Malcolm Tucker’s abuse echoing through the halls of government again. Sure, his party is now in opposition, and sure, Nicola Murray has somehow found herself in charge, but as different as things are, Malcolm has stayed the same, telling his assistant (she’s stuck with him!) that he had a quiet night in. “Just a bottle of pinot and Twitter-abusing the cast of Glee.”

Along with Malcolm, we’ve got Ollie, looking a little older and wiser (his hair is slicked back and his suits fit better) but behaving the same. Blinky Ben Swain is also bumping around, his usual ornery, foolish self, and Nicola has a friendly new adviser called Helen Hatley (Rebecca Gethings) who is still acclimatizing to her PR problems. The Thick Of It’s writers have made it clear in interviews that they’re satirizing the shocking rise of Ed Miliband to the leadership of the Labor Party. While Miliband adjusted to the position after two years in office, his initial months were shaky at best, and Nicola is equally shell-shocked by her new job, relying on Helen to boost her confidence while Malcolm scatters the press and tries to rule with terror.

But, as we can see, the game has changed quite a bit for ol’ Tucker. When he had the ear of the Prime Minister, he was an unbeatable force, since he could threaten politician and journalist alike with all kinds of evil retribution. He’s not entirely sapped of his power, but there’s a sense that he’s slightly adrift, or at least bored after a year of partisan skirmishing that took his party nowhere. Nicola, who spends most of the episode practicing her walk for the Remembrance Day wreath ceremony and brainstorming nonsensical blue-sky ideas about the silent majority, has clearly shown little improvement in her time in office.

Since we’re not in DOSAC for the first time (even Mannion’s plotlines in the last season largely centered around social policies), the show is actually dealing with people in a position of real power rather than stuck at a backwater agency trying to make themselves heard. Of course, the joke is that Nicola et al. are particularly powerless since the other two parties are in coalition government and she’s being roundly ignored. At a cabinet meeting, while Nicola waffles on the “silent bat-people” who do good in the country to no attention every day, Malcolm carries on a conversation with Dan Miller behind her back.

Unsurprisingly, one of the key storylines this year will be the intra-party scheming to get Nicola out of office and replace her with the far more competent Dan. Why Dan didn’t take power in the first place is an unexplained mystery, but, as I’m sure the writers would point out, Gordon Brown wasn’t replaced by his expected successor David Miliband (brother to Ed), to everyone’s surprise. Anyway, Dan’s serving as Nicola’s deputy and seems as slick as ever, following Malcolm’s advice to lay low and let her implode so that he can step in without any accusation of untoward plotting.

Now, I can’t imagine how this show could continue with Dan Miller in power, since he’s just not that interesting, by design. He’s somewhat charming, somewhat smarmy, essentially knows what he’s doing—the consummate politician, and one from which you can only mine so much humor. So I hope Malcolm’s machinations lead somewhere a little more interesting. But right now, as Malcolm himself notes, he’s mostly causing trouble just because he’s been so bored. Sure, he’s dismayed with Nicola’s lack of fire in the belly, but he’s also no fan of Dan Miller’s.

Malcolm’s confrontation of Nicola (who he says has “an abandoned barn of a brain”) is one of the best scenes in the episode. His disapproval is hanging in the air, and when she declines to go on the attack (declining to join the cause of “Mr. Tickle,” who it seems will be a recurring trope this year) he tries to rev her up, gauge her belief that she can win. “Do you believe in you? Cause I can’t see any fucking fire in your eyes!” he screams. Nicola does her best (she’s hardly William Wallace when it comes to these things) but Malcolm has to be polite about it, muttering “fucking useless” immediately as he exits. As he puts it to Dan Miller later, “I spoke to Nicola earlier to gauge the fire in her belly, and now I’m standing in a cupboard with you.”

Even better is how he enlists Ollie to his cause—basically by yelling at him until he falls in line. It’s not like Ollie’s ever been a loyalist to anyone but himself, but he is certainly frightened of Malcolm Tucker, enough to clandestinely betray his boss. Malcolm, sitting by himself in a greasy spoon, should not appear inspiring to anyone, and he plainly admits that he doesn’t know if his plan will work, but he’s just so bored. Still, how could you not sign up with him after hearing his description of a certain famous film series:

“The one about the fucking hairdresser, the space hairdresser, and the cowboy. The guy, he’s got a tin-foil pal in a pedal bin. His father’s a robot and he’s fucking fucked his sister. Lego. They’re all made of fucking Lego.” “Star Wars.” “That’s the one.”

So, two episodes in, the table has been set. On the one side, there’s the coalition, straining under its essentially contradictory nature. On the other side, there’s the opposition, so beleaguered it’s thinking of changing horses rather than going after the weakened government. I suppose the question being posed by this season is, what happens when the utterly movable force meets the totally stoppable object? We shall see.

Stray observations:

  • Malcolm educates Ben on horse breeding. “Baby horses can walk from the womb. She’s 1-0 down to a pony.” “A pony isn’t a baby horse, it’s a foal, a fucking foal is a baby horse.” “Right, our guest tonight on I Don’t Give A Fuck About Baby Horses is me.”
  • The group struggles to name Britain’s silent majority. “All-British Supremes,” Ollie suggests. “That sounds like a racist tribute band.”
  • Malcolm covers his secret meeting with Dan by barking at Ben. “We’re lovers, deal with it!” Still, he doesn’t like Dan’s cloak-and-dagger attitude. “What the fuck is this, Tinker Tailor Soldier Cunt?”
  • Malcolm has to don glasses for the new breed of smartphone. “What is this tiny font, to match your subatomic thought?”

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