Well, if there’s one thing I can say in praise of this episode, it’s that it took me completely by surprise. With the death of Mr. Tickle, I figured that Nicola was going to somehow blunder her way into retaining power and score huge political points against the coalition government. Malcolm’s plans to oust her would be made redundant, at least temporarily, and we’d head into some epic showdown for the last three episodes.
Good on Thick Of It for completely subverting my expectations. Not only do Malcolm’s plans move forward, but they are completed. By the end of episode four, Nicola is out, destroyed by the revelation that she once considered supporting the same policy that drove Mr. Tickle to suicide and only changed her mind because of a conflict of interest with her husband. Dan Miller, he of the smarmy face and general competence, is in charge, although as Malcolm warns, it’s not like there isn’t work to do on him too. Since we heard Mannion and Stewart admitting last week that Miller is the leader they all fear, that’s done and dusted, right? Well, no, since we have three episodes left, I’m sure there’s much more to come, and we probably haven’t seen the last of poor Nicola. But I’m amazed at how quickly things are moving along.
We open with Malcolm ordering flowers for Nicola on the phone, with a card reading, “Sorry you had to go, but let's face it, you are a fucking waste of skin.” With that, he goes over to a hospital where Ollie is recovering from an appendectomy and kicks his plan into action. I like the device of having Ollie direct things from his hospital bed while Nicola and Helen panic on a train (where they are annoyed by a Sky News crew and the mountainously irritating John Duggan) and Malcolm maneuvers Ben Swain into the jaws of death. It made things feel more tense to have Ollie conducting all these clandestine affairs in a hospital gown while worrying about popping his stitches; it also felt like a worthy trial for him as he enters the next level of evil. As Malcolm’s postcard to him says at the end of the episode, “Congrats on your first confirmed kill.” He’s running with the big boys now, and he has the scars to prove it.
In an episode that, much like last week’s, is very action-packed and features a lot of shouting (poor Nicola melts down on an intercity train as she realizes it’s collapsing all around her), the funny had to come from somewhere, and who better than Ben Swain, who is convinced by both sides that he’s crucial to the future of the party (when, in fact, he’s disdained by everyone). His resignation threat triggers the leadership crisis, but when Nicola offers to bring him back as Chancellor (the number two position in British government, in charge of the economy), he forces the same deal from Dan Miller, thinking himself a wheeler-dealer when, of course, Dan is happy to throw him under the bus once he’s in charge.
Ben’s hubris has always been a joy, and since I have some sympathy for Nicola’s character, it’s nice to watch the downfall of someone you have absolutely no compassion for to help balance things out. His jockeying for power is also a nice way to reveal larger problems within the opposition party, and it suggests how Nicola was put in charge in the first place. Ben’s demand to be Chancellor is met with private disgust by everyone—Malcolm, Nicola, Ollie, Glenn, Dan. But Nicola still caves and offers to promote him, which seems to shock even the unshockable Ollie, whose jadedness is overwhelmed at the horrifying concept of Ben being in charge of the nation’s economy. As Malcolm jokes when Ben says he has a degree in history of art, “So, you're confident that you'll be able to lead this country out of one of the darkest periods in its art history?”
Ben, of course, is dynamited at the same time as Nicola, unsurprisingly, as he served as her junior minister at DOSAC (also, no one likes him). Nicola tries briefly to save herself, pleading with Ollie to come on as her adviser, but he tells her (with a note of sympathy in his voice) that he can’t, it’d be “career cancer.” “This is it,” he adds. “Is it? Right,” Nicola says, and, well, Rebecca Front does a good job, as she’s always done. You don’t have the feeling that Nicola should be in charge of the party, but you also can’t help but feel a twinge of anger at Helen when Nicola says, “I really thought I could be Prime Minister,” and Helen replies, “Did you?” incredulously.
So what comes next? I love how unpredictable this show can be. I know that for the next three episodes we’ll be flitting between both parties, both in a state of near-collapse, although the opposition will presumably coalesce around Dan with Malcolm right behind him. But my predictions are at this point largely useless. I’m just excited to see what Iannucci and company cook up for us.
- Steve Fleming gets a reference; his public condemnation starts the ball rolling against Nicola. “Fleming's fired the starting pistol, so we can all start firing out actual pistols into her fucking fat unelectable and smug head,” Malcolm says.
- John Duggan also is a great source of laughs the whole episode. He likes that you can get drinks on a train at any time of day. “Like a casino, or Cardiff. That's not racist, I could have said Glasgow, or Dublin.”
- Ben wants to be the real foreign secretary. “That isn't code for Northern Ireland? I'm not fucking going there.”
- He tweets his resignation to 612 followers. “Well let's hope it gets retweeted, otherwise you might as well whisper it to a dead tramp,” Malcolm snarks.
- Malcolm enjoys launching political coups with his smartphone. “These phones are amazing, aren't they? I've got an app that lets me throw grenades into people's dreams.”
- He exults in the end of Nicola. “This is the end of a chapter of a very small book that no one enjoyed reading.”