The Thick Of It is a pretty hard-edged show, and it doesn’t spend too much time getting to know its characters. There are bits and pieces of information dropped in every so often, but these characters devote 99 percent of their lives to politics (well, except maybe Terri), so their political lives are all we really know. Still, there’s still the occasional chance for this show to have its cake and eat it too, and Glenn’s little meltdown at the end of “Spinners And Losers” is a perfect example.
It’s a genuinely raw, emotional moment—when Ollie gets the first call from Hugh, even though he’s been working on a plan to jump ship all night during this frenzied episode, Glenn feels like the last good thing in his life, his job, is finally beyond him. “I’m not a joke! I am a man, I am a man, you know! You know? THIS is my LIFE! I’m a human being and all this is MY LIFE! And it’s collapsing in front of me!” he shrieks as he takes apart a bit of the office, while Terri half-heartedly tries to calm him down. In the hands of a lesser show, it’d be an overblown climax to the hour of horse-trading antics leading up to it.
But here, Glenn’s life crisis is just another thing that happens—sure, it’s more serious to him, but everyone else brushes it off pretty quickly, and Ollie’s joking about it five minutes later. The pathos of the scene work far better as a result. If some grand point were being made about the winds of change and Glenn’s political twilight, it’d seem hammy, but “Spinners And Losers” manages to make it both dramatic and real.
It’s also a nicely grounded moment in a very wacky episode that goes so far as to suggest Ben Swain for the next leader of the party (and thus, prime minister) at one point. Sure, it’s a mock suggestion floated by Malcolm to get his way into Tom’s inner circle, but that people would even take it seriously as a mock suggestion is a stretch. Nonetheless, “Spinners And Losers” sells every crazy twist and turn, even as Angela Heaney and her boss Adam (Ben Willbond) react with confusion and disdain to the increasingly bonkers list of leadership candidates that float down the pike.
“Spinners And Losers” picks up right after the bombshell ending of “Rise Of The Nutters”—news of the prime minister’s resignation. Loyalists like Malcolm and cronies like Ollie have to quickly realign with Tom’s camp, which is already huddling and planning its next step, seeing if any other leadership candidates are going to rear their heads. Meanwhile, Jamie’s partisanship expresses itself in a more volatile way. First he tries out Cliff Lawton (the man Malcolm fires in the first episode) as a candidate, and when that’s an obvious non-starter, he proceeds to do the equivalent of firing wildly into the crowd by leaking rumors of Tom’s history of depression to the media.
This is all modeled on Gordon Brown’s ascension to power, which had occurred only days before this episode aired. Rumors of a potential challenger had swirled for months, but in the end no one was credible enough (or stupid enough) to try and disrupt Brown’s obvious coronation. Rumors that he had been prescribed antidepressants swirled around too, but with no proof to back them up, they eventually went away.
The antidepressant rumor is what drives everything here, though. Once Tom is “wobbling,” everyone scrambles to see if there’s any other viable candidate to replace him. Characters glimpsed during prior episodes are dragged in front of the camera: Geoff Holhurst, Claire Ballantine, even Ben, although by that point Malcolm is assured the story isn’t going to make it to the papers (who are correctly assuming Tom will be the next PM).
Of course, there’s an implication by the end of it that the real deal-making is going on in another room we can’t see—Dan Miller, the only other credible candidate, cuts a deal with Tom behind closed doors and announces his support for the rising MP. He’s fretted about at the beginning and the end of the episode, but in between, everyone gets distracted by everything else. There’s never even a solid implication that Tom knows about the antidepressant rumor.
So essentially, what we’re watching is Malcolm seamlessly pivoting from one administration to the other, usurping Tom’s press guy Nick (Martin Savage) while painting himself as an ally the whole time. With the continued absence of Hugh, Malcolm is undoubtedly our lead character—Ollie spends most of the time fluttering around Ben’s shoulders and feeding Angela stale rumors, Glenn is having his mid-life crisis, and Jamie seems to have legitimately lost his mind.
As usual, Malcolm’s not portrayed as a man with magical powers, nor someone with all the information at his fingertips. He’s as hungry for gossip as everyone else, evidenced best early on in his standoff with Nick over who’s going on morning television the next morning. But Malcolm’s skill is that he can think one move ahead of everyone else, which is all he needs when he’s surrounded by a bunch of headless chickens. The only thing he can’t anticipate is something crazy like Jamie trying to take the whole operation down, but since the fiery Scot’s rage is directed everywhere at once, Malcolm doesn’t have to bear the brunt of it.
Mixed in with all of his gamesmanship are the usual Thick Of It ingredients: rapidly formed and deteriorated alliances, lots of mistaken plans and tricks, a general sense that no one knows what’s going on. Everyone loses it in one way or another over the course of the night, be it Julius crumbling under Jamie’s biscuit assault, Ben’s meltdown at a cleaning lady, Ollie yelling “don’t you fucking push me, Uncle Bulgaria!” at Glenn or Adam’s genuine bafflement when Ben Swain’s name is mentioned to him and he doesn’t even know who he is. “Just tell me what the fucking news is and I’ll stick it on the front page,” he moans. “It’s not like we’re The Independent, I can’t just stick a headline saying ‘cruelty’ and then stick a picture of a dolphin or a whale underneath it.”
The only certainty is that Malcolm will be by Tom’s side. Everyone else seems to be varying levels of screwed—and the show was in a genuinely tight spot as it waited for Chris Langham’s trial to wrap up. Once it did, it had to come up with a whole new character, who we’ll meet next week. Of all the genuinely interesting developments, that might be the best one.
- Glenn suggests some old fogey for the leadership and gets mocked by all. “I believe Disraeli’s standing as well!”
- Ben’s an idiot, but he has a way with words sometimes. “The next move, my aged retainer, will be the next move.”
- Malcolm wants pages one to five of the papers to be devoted to him and Tom. “And I want page six to be… fucking Israel or some bullshit. Not a fucking DOSAC legacy-distracting cock-up!”
- The presence of the cleaners throughout the episode would be a good one even without the ultimate twist of Ben pissing one off. Jamie switching to polite mode when he bumps into one is priceless.
- Jamie wants Terri to keep a secret. “Normally you’re about as secure as a hymen in a South London comprehensive.”
- Jamie’s not pleased with Julius Nicholson’s little rebellion. “That baldy pussy! If he thinks he’s leaking now, wait ’til I’m done with him, he’ll look like Mel Gibson’s Jesus!”