This review contains spoilers.
4.6 The Inquiry
Who would have predicted that Malcolm Tucker’s most quotable line in an episode of The Thick Of It wouldn’t be a graphic disembowelling threat or a cruel nickname, but a rousing reprimand of a society and political class that’s exchanged morality for popularity? The Thick Of It’s audience has long been moved to air-punch along with Malcolm’s tirades, but can never have felt so justified, or such fellow-feeling, in the act.
Peter Capaldi this week – in an episode full of brilliantly nuanced, layered performances – was outstandingly good. He went from acid-tongued charmer to wicked manipulator to exhausted, disgusted human during his inquiry appearances. That last muttered “I’m finished” rang ominously true. Outed as a brutal bully and photographed in receipt of smuggled data, have we seen the political end of Tucker? Next week’s finale will tell.
If you came to this hour-long episode of The Thick Of It expecting to rub your hands at a comic skewering of the blundering ethical vacuums that populate the show (and in turn, the real-life public stage), then you’ll have been satisfied. The characters were all done to a turn – Joanna Scanlan’s Terri the other stand-out inside the inquiry’s pressure cooker -, exposed as blithering, pompous or idiotic, and perjuring themselves like it was going out of fashion.
But that’s not all the inquiry special was. It was also damned sophisticated drama, and a finely tuned irony extravaganza. We didn’t know it at the time, but every previous episode of The Thick Of It was training us to deal with this one, the moment that the usual format was inverted and we were left to infer what was happening behind-the-scenes rather than be shown.
You may not have laughed quite as much as usual, but sacrificing a few gags for such a well-composed, acutely-observed hour of telly was a more-than fair exchange. The writing was agile enough to lever in a few of Malcolm’s attacks at least, presented as witness evidence during Ollie Reeder’s wonderfully toe-curling segment, so as not to disappoint. (Incidentally, there were still at least three “fucks” this week, two in quoted evidence and one sotto voce entry from Nicola Murray.)
What Iannucci and co. presented us with was a sharply observed pastiche of the Chilcot and Leveson Inquiries, nailing their ersatz humility (Phil, like Rupert Murdoch, declaring himself humbled was priceless), implausible memory lapses, and even specific lexical choices. The imitation of detail was magnificently handled, going so far as to ape the non-grammatical but solemn-sounding use of “to” in those nonsensical “I do not recall to that” witness responses.
The series seems to be gearing up to an end-of-days conclusion in next week’s episode, which is heavily rumoured to be its last. If that’s the case, then bravo to all involved for taking the risk in bringing us this highly-evolved slice of comedy.
Yes, perhaps it would’ve been more of a giggle to have been backstage as usual, but what an admirable choice it was to tell the story in this way, and what a showcase it was for the writers and performers. The inquiry special may have proved right those who suggest this series of The Thick Of It has sacrificed laughs for plot, but it proved dead wrong anyone who suggests that by so doing, it’s lost its impact.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, here.
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