The Thick Of It series 4 episode 5 review

Review Louisa Mellor
13 Oct 2012 - 22:00

It's all kicking off in Whitehall. The series 4 game-plan becomes beautifully clear in this eventful episode of The Thick Of It...

This review contains spoilers.

Do you remember those big Art Attacks Neil Buchanan would do on his CITV show in the nineties? The camera would follow him around a playing field laying out patterns of socks, or ten pound notes, or traffic cones, busily positioning them into puzzling lines until the overhead shot finally revealed the image he’d created. That was tonight’s episode of The Thick Of It. (Someone more cultured would likely come up with a classier analogy, but sod it, Art Attack was ace.)

For five episodes, Armando Iannucci and co. have been laying out the whip-smart script equivalent of Neil Buchanan’s socks, and only now has each entertaining plot-line coalesced into the big picture. What was the end-goal? A Leveson-style inquiry and a glorious moment of schadenfreude for the British viewing public.

Episode five in the series picked up exactly where the previous had left off, with a freshly resigned Nicola Murray - the jittery mother at the political wedding - making an inelegant getaway from the Houses of Parliament. Having settled into the routine of switching from Coalition to Opposition and back again over the previous four episodes, moving from Malcolm’s celebrating troops to the commiserating DoSAC lot in the same few minutes was initially disorientating, but everything soon slotted together.

Mannion was spinning, having sailed pompously over the deadline for a dignified exit by resignation, so attempted to divert the oncoming shitstorm. Fergus and Adam were seeking to distance themselves from their Senior Minister’s death throes, while Glenn was hoping last week’s betrayal would have bought him passage back into Malcolm Tucker’s good books. Not that Malcolm has any good books, just shelf upon shelf of angry, brutally swear-y ones.

With every man, woman and dog engaged in the key political activity of panicky arse-covering, the episode’s opening was enjoyably chaotic, like a ‘Best Of’ series five compilation. All pretence of civility between Pearson and Mannion had vanished as the party’s chief of communications prattled on about blame gardens and peeling onions, but that was nothing compared to the scorn Malcolm (a brilliantly nasty Capaldi) spat at the ousted Nicola (a brilliantly wounded Front). 

If there has to be a criticism, it's that after finding enough sustenance in half the cast at a time for the past month, then the episode felt overcrowded for its run-time. Though Chris Addison’s Ollie was a crucial part of last week’s 'bombing', Reeder, love him though we do, was left with not much to do here, apart from look a bit peaky and witness it all falling apart.

And fall apart it did, in spectacular fashion. The Lib Dems (anyone else bristle with real-life betrayal at Robyn’s joke about real versus political promises?), who showed precisely how much they cared about the electorate in their cavalier treatment of the visiting young carers, hoist everyone with their own leak-petard. Designed to curry political favour, Fergus and Adam's plan backfired on an enormous scale, and just may put an end to government process as we know it (well, in the magic mirror of The Thick Of It at any rate).

The culture of leaking is the perfect corollary for phone hacking, a sort of mirror image practice, one just as accepted and commonplace in Whitehall as listening in to celebrity voicemail once was in Wapping. "You might as well launch an inquiry into gravity", as Pearson puts it. One small inquiry, launched under duress, widened to implicate the accuser, and then made wider still ended up becoming a black hole that could swallow them all – Tucker, Murray, Mannion, Fergus, Glen, Terri... the whole dreadful shebang.

Next week’s sixty-minute special covers the Goolding Inquiry and promises to be exquisitely watchable torture for The Thick Of It’s self-serving, careerist politicos. Brilliant stuff. Save me a front row seat.

Read Louisa’s review of episode four, here.

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