‘I’m finished anyway, you didn’t finish me’
Malcolm Tucker, 2012
There have never really been rules in place on The Thick Of It. When it first aired in 2005, it was for just three episodes, before a second run of three later in the year. Then there were two hour long specials, ‘The Rise Of The Nutters’ (aired in January 2007) and ‘Spinners and Losers (aired in July 2007) before a third run of eight half hour episodes in 2009. Then Armando Iannucci went off and made ‘In The Loop’ a kind of spin off from The Thick Of It, which featured Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker, but had series regulars like Chris Addison (Ollie Reader) and Joanna Scanlan (Terri Coverley) playing different characters.
When the show finally returned earlier this year, it was slightly different again; now the Opposition from the first three runs of the show were the Government (or at least part of a coalition) and Malcolm’s party were the Opposition, and the first four episodes split time between each side (1&3 on the Government, 2&4 on the Opposition) before last week’s brilliant episode which focussed on both sides.
There was so much crammed into that episode, but it was so brilliantly written and performed, particularly by Capaldi, who had Malcolm at his most vicious and terrifying worst, and set up this hour long episode which takes place during the Leveson-esque Goolding inquiry.
The multi-leaking of information that went on before, during and after his Mr. Tickle’s protest against government policies and subsequent death resulted in Nicola Murray’s public demands for an inquiry into his suicide to instead become an inquiry into the leaking of information that goes in within politics on a day-to-day basis. Episode six begins on the first day of the Goolding inquiry, and it stays within the four walls of the inquiry for the duration, with all the people involved in the various leaks up for questioning.
First up is Stewart Pearson, the Government’s media guru, who is incapable of giving a straight answer in straightforward English, and he lays the blame for the leaks firmly on Malcolm Tucker’s doorstep (or at least he would if he was David Caruso in CSI: Miami). Malcolm’s is a name that comes up repeatedly. Terri (who describes herself as a shepherd, with Robyn as her dog) reluctantly says Malcolm is a bully, while Ollie denies he was bullied by Malcolm, despite civil servants quoting Malcolm as having ‘threatened to remove Mr Reader’s appendix, throw away Mr. Reader and appoint the useless flap of colon as special advisor’ (Ollie claims that they should have heard his comeback, but he can’t remember what it was).
In fact, everyone other than Malcolm gets a relatively easy ride at the inquiry. Phil, Emma and Adam mostly apologise for their actions and jokes about Tickle, Glenn holds his own and Nicola Murray is interrupted by something serious enough to have Lord Goolding adjourn the inquiry for the day (more on that later), and Peter Mannion doesn’t do himself any favours (he says Tickle ‘punched himself in the face’ by making himself homeless, and that he has, tonally, a ‘very depressing voice’), but seems to come out of it all relatively unscathed (although he’ll probably resign anyway).
But as the quote at the top of this article suggests, the inquiry ends up being mostly about Malcolm, and what appears to be the very abrupt ending of his career.
He initially arrives for his questioning in a very confident mood, cracking jokes and treating the whole thing with a kind of relaxed distain. He’s calmly able to deflect questions about the leaking of Tickle’s medical records, and defends his part in Nicola Murray’s departure and the papers getting hold of her ‘quiet bat people’ idea. But it’s the photo of that document that puts Malcolm in a position he’s never really experienced before; utter helplessness.
When he’s asked to return for further questioning, the photo has been enlarged (Malcolm was cropped out of the version that appeared in newspapers) and shows Mr Tickle’s name and some numbers beneath it on a sheet of paper he’s carrying. Malcolm immediately looks concerned, and it quickly becomes clear why. The first sets of numbers are phone numbers, something he could have gotten relatively easily, but below those are Tickle’s NHS number, and his National Insurance number. It’s at this point we see something we’ve never seen before; a completely speechless Malcolm Tucker. To paraphrase U2, he’s stuck in a moment, and he can’t get out. He denies obtaining the information illegally, but you can see in his eyes (and Peter Capaldi gives a truly brilliant performance) that he knows this is the end for him, even if he can avoid being found guilty of a crime.
This brings us back to Nicola’s time in front of the panel. There’s a bit of a commotion behind her as she’s answering questions, and the next day after the adjournment, Baroness Sureka, who was asking Malcolm the most pressing questions, is absent. It seems that the media have made allegations against her of some kind (various people mention it when she later returns, but they are asked not to), and it could only have been Malcolm that stirred up the frenzy. When he’s called in for a third time, he’s still uncomfortable, and struggles to defend himself, but he gives an impassioned speech (again, Capaldi is brilliant), as a last defiant stand, before he admits the truth to himself.
It’s a brilliant hour of television, and although the setting for the episode is different from anything The Thick Of It has done before, it’s still utterly hilarious, but has more of the drama and tension that has been added to this series. Armando Iannucci has confirmed that next week’s final episode will also be the end of the series. It’s been an almost flawless run for The Thick Of It, and next week’s final episode will surely end the show in style.