Every season, the Drama After Dark team gathers ‘round the (currently virtual) conference room table to watch the latest and greatest in British dramas. This month, just in time for the election, we’re covering MASTERPIECE’s new political drama Roadkill. If you would enjoy a mashup of Veep and The West Wing with added British flavor and a whole lot of familiar faces, then this is the show for you. I’m here to recap the season as it happens (and we’re also covering the show on Drama After Dark).
Hugh Laurie’s character is working a “President Bartlet from The West Wing, but make him conservative and whatever the Brits would say instead of folksy” angle, and I can’t tell if it’s smug or charming. Brit Bartlet starts the show by addressing a scrum of reporters: he’s just had a victory in the courts, where he was up against a newspaper which had reported that he exploited his government position to make money. His take:
Brit Bartlet: Look, I’m not fancy like those other politicians; I’m just like the people who live in my district. I had to stand up for myself because I’m in the right. Anyway, now I’m gonna quote some poetry to show that even though I’m a regular guy, I’m still educated, because here in the UK we don’t automatically mistrust nerds.
The take of the various reporters covering the story? This was a pretty impressive victory, which appears to only have been possible because a key witness couldn’t provide a piece of central evidence. The take of his legal counsel? He’s almost certainly guilty, which makes the victory all the sweeter even though he kind of half-asses his thank you.
Brit Bartlet and his bag man/second in command Sidekick get into a taxi which has been sent by the prime minister. For a man of the people, Brit Bartlet seems awfully annoyed to be riding in a taxi when a town car could have been provided instead...
Anyway, it’s clear that he and the PM do NOT get along. Back outside, the reporter who was central to his victory is mobbed by her peers as she leaves, even though she won’t answer any questions. There’s a weird moment between her and the barristers: have they met before? Did Brit Bartlet’s team pay off the reporter? Am I so jaded by political shows/life that I’m already looking for conspiracies at every turn?
Across town, the aforementioned Prime Minister (a real modern Maggie Thatcher type) tells an assembled group of bored suits that even though the last few years have been challenging, things are looking up.
Iron Lady 2.0: It’s been so great how much you business tycoons have helped the right wing government since we gave you more access to the seat of government! It’s almost as if our interests (i.e. capitalism, white wine, long walks on the beach) are entirely aligned!
Everyone leaves, and it becomes clear that this isn’t just a regular meeting: it’s a fundraiser, which has Iron Lady 2.0 just as bored as the rich people who gave her money, to her wing woman’s chagrin.
Wing Woman: Look, you gotta make money to win elections! Anyway, here’s that dossier you wanted on Brit Bartlet.
Iron Lady 2.0: Wow, that was fast.
Wing Woman: Yeah, well they already had the files ready to go; it’s kind of their job. And yes, his poor background schpiel is actually all true: dude had a tough upbringing.
Iron Lady 2.0: Ew, he worked in retail before he got into politics? And then started a charity?
Wing Woman: Well, he claimed it was a charity but it turned out to look an awful lot like a tax shelter so it got shut down. The stated purpose was to foster cross cultural understanding between us and the US.
Iron Lady 2.0: I mean, they seem to mostly subsist on our TV shows, but go off I guess. Anyway, look him up in Who’s Who and find whatever doesn’t match with this: that’s the dirt.
Who’s Who? It’s exactly what it sounds like: a compilation of all the most influential people’s biographies published in the UK each year so that the folks who didn’t make the cut can feel bad about themselves.
Brit Bartlet isn’t feeling bad about himself, because he’s too busy hosting his weekly radio call in show. Now look, do I think this is a pretty fun way to connect with one’s constituents? Yes! But you know who also had a radio program to win people over to his cause? Jim Jones! Anyway, Birt Bartlet charmingly chats with the general public and a few things become clear:
1: he’s clearly at ease in this environment and knows how to turn on the charm.
2: he considers himself a chill conservative, who looks for ways to connect with anyone who’s unabashed in their beliefs, even if he doesn’t entirely agree.
3: he’s confident that he’s untouchable, despite the fact that he literally just left court.
You fool! You Icarus! You’ve called down destruction on yourself with your hubris, Brit Bartlet!
Post show, Brit Bartlet’s sidekick has some plot-advancing information to bestow. A call came through on Brit Bartlet’s personal phone yesterday, from someone who claims to be his daughter.
Brit Barlet: Which one?
Sidekick: Uh, not one of the ones we know about, chief. A new one.
Sidekick: Anyway, I’ll cancel your appointments for the afternoon.
While Sidekick deals with Brit Bartlet’s schedule, a guard lets a young woman out of a cell. Could this be the aforementioned surprise daughter? Looks like it, because the guys work their way through security at the prison. They claim that they’re here to visit a constituent, but at least one of the prison staff knows that’s bologna: the woman they’re visiting is not from Brit Bartlet’s district.
Brit Bartlet: So, you’re the one who’s claiming to be my kid?
Mystery Gal: LOL, you wish. No, I’m here on her behalf.
Brit Bartlet: Uh, ok — so is she also a prisoner here? Look, I have two kids, one of whom is getting a fancypants math degree, and I’m even pretty sure I know where the one who doesn’t want to talk to me is. So, I’m nailing this dad thing.
Mystery Gal: Yeah, ok, sure Jan. My friend says you used to be kind of a player back when you lived in Notting Hill in the 90s.
Mystery Gal: Well do you remember all the gals you hooked up with? Specifically, if any of them weren’t white?
Brit Bartlet: Ok, this has gone on long enough, I don’t even know you. Let’s go, Sidekick.
Sidekick: Uhhhh not so fast. I had a preliminary convo with Mystery Gal yesterday, you gotta hear her out.
Mystery Gal: We saw your press conference from earlier.
Brit Barlet: So my daughter IS in here with you.
Mystery Gal: WOw, way to admit you’re her dad! Anyway, your politics and party are the worst, so I’m not personally a fan, but since I met your daughter things have gotten WAY more interesting around here.
Brit Bartlet: Will you at least tell me her name?
Apparently not, because Brit Bartlet and Sidekick leave, disappointed. Brit Bartlet is inclined to believe the whole thing is made up. Sure, Mystery Gal knew a lot about him, but she could have just done her research. Or maybe gotten prepped by someone on the opposition. Either way, he’s not thrilled that Sidekick brought him here. Sidekick's vibe:
Sidekick has a reason to be concerned. There’s a vocal minority that doesn’t like that Brit Bartlet went to court to protect his reputation: apparently, in England, politicians are expected to just take their lumps and move on.
Brit Bartlet: Yeah, but I won! And I had to do it, and you know why!
Sidekick: Sure, but now we have to worry about people bringing up your prodigious sowing of wild oats in your youth.
Brit Bartlet: Look, it was cool back then to not be able to remember all the people you’d slept with.
Sidekick: But now it’s a #MeToo moment waiting to happen! And there’s a race element too!
Brit Bartlet: Ugh, you’re so old fashioned. People like me because I’m a bad boy!
Sidekick: Whatever man. Anyway, we gotta run: just got called in to Downing Street to meet with Iron Lady 2.0.
Back at the law offices of Barrister “Saved Brit Barlet’s Butt” a message has just come through from a woman named Margaret, who claims to have important evidence in the case. Barrister SBBB isn’t too interested, given that they just settled the case, but she takes it regardless.
Across town, Brit Bartlet and Sidekick arrive at their meeting with Iron Lady 2.0. Well, Brit Bartlet’s meeting: Sidekick gets told to wait in the hall.
Brit Bartlet: So why am I here?
Iron Lady 2.0: Well, look, you just got accused of some serious stuff. Anything else I need to know about?
Brit Bartlet, going around the issue: I was vetted.
Iron Lady 2.0: Standard vetting doesn’t always cut it, especially not with the internet. Anyway, spill.
Brit Bartlet, way too informal: First of all, you’re implying that there’s something scandalous in the first place, and second of all, if you want to dig through my personal life, that should be at the ministerial level.
Iron Lady 2.0: Are you coming for Wing Woman? Who is, let’s face it, the one doing most of the actual work?
Brit Bartlet: No, but we’re both elected, and she’s not. You might think I’m some kind of rabble rouser, but I’d like to follow the rules here.
Iron Lady 2.0: Wing Woman stays. Look, your decision to sue was reckless and risky, and I’m not willing to have my government in court again.
Brit Bartlet, clearly lying: Well that won’t be a problem! I’m totally clean.
Iron Lady 2.0, doesn’t believe him for a second: Great! Because I’m planning to shuffle people around, and it might involve promoting you.
Brit Bartlet: Oh! Well, that’s cool, I thought you were gonna …
Iron Lady 2.0: Fire you? Whyever would you think that? I’ve got you in mind for something big.
Brit Bartlet: And you can’t say what?
Iron Lady 2.0: Figure it out, you know who’s failing. Anyway, we’re done, bye.
Brit Barlet takes himself out of the office, but not before shooting Wing Woman a lingering (and dare I say flirty?) parting glance.
In a less pleasant interaction, we finally get some screen time with the journalist from the start of the episode, who’s name is, delightfully, Charmian Pepper.
Charmian has been called into her boss’s office, presumably to pay the piper for losing the libel case for the paper. Inside, the paper’s owner, another employee who I’m calling Newswoman, and George Warleggan’s Uncle Cary (i.e. Charmian’s boss) await.
Charmian: I just want to say, Boss was very supportive and stood by me the whole time.
Lady Rupert Murdoch: Yeah, and look what it cost us.
Charmian: I know it’s not good for our reputation, but it’s not going to cost us anything, is it?
Newswoman: The insurance company isn’t eager to pay out.
Charmian: Yeah, but they have to, right?
Boss: How are you this naive? Be more worried right now! You changed your story under oath, that’s really bad!
Charmian: Yeah well I had to!
Boss: Your whole story was built on the idea that he was collecting money he didn’t report, but his schedule contradicted it!
Charmian: Look, his schedule was altered. And I couldn’t say that because I knew it would sound flimsy, and impossible to prove. The digital version was presented in court, but I saw the paper copy!
Boss: But you can’t say where or when? Even now?
Charmian: No! It would breach confidentiality.
Boss: Seems convenient.
Charmian: Well it’s not! And I didn’t think that would be the deciding factor.
Lady Rupert Murdoch: No point going over this further: the insurance was based on the evidence you were going to present; it was conditional.
Charmian: Wait, so because I had to change what I said the paper is on the hook?
Boss: Look, when we hired you I thought it was the best decision ever: you were getting access, probably because you’re hot —
Me: Ok, well, that’s sexual harassment, Boss.
Boss: — Anyway, you cost us a lot of money, so you’re fired.
Across town, Brit Bartlet arrives back at his office to a round of applause from his staff. He’s preparing to leave to celebrate, with a briefcase full of work, natch, when a young couple appears and asks for a selfie with him. They appear to be delighted that he’s taken the “fake news” down a peg, and he obliges their photo request. I’m gonna be honest, I can’t tell if I’m just jumping to conclusions because of his aforementioned wild youth, or if I’m picking up on something that’s really happening, but Brit Barlet really is out here aiming flirty eye contact at EVERY WOMAN HE INTERACTS WITH. The coworker who hands him his case of work? Check. The woman who drives his government car, and wants to know where to pick him up tomorrow? Check. Even Iron Lady 2.0, who is both his boss and the dang Prime Minister? Check! This secret daughter is feeling more plausible by the second.
And how does Brit Bartlet celebrate his victory? By heading out to a surprisingly small and cozy apartment. Inside, he’s greeted by a gal around his age who’s a) definitely not his wife and b) wearing some kick ass shoes embroidered with glittering lobsters. They briefly talk about the case before heading to bed, and not to sleep.
Across town, Charmian, “I just got fired and cleaned out my desk” box in tow, hits up an AA meeting. Given the day she had, this is probably a very good idea. She mentions that she’s only recently gotten sober, and that she’s been struggling because a powerful man (who could it be???) is trying to destroy her. Halfway through her monologue, she looks up and notices the second Barrister who defended Brit Bartlet. Clearly terrified, she stops talking. After the meeting, he follows her.
Barrister 2: Look, I’m sorry, I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable.
Charmian: Dude, we were on opposite sides of the case that literally led to me getting fired!
Barrister 2: I know, but just so you know, the whole point of those meetings is that they’re anonymous and confidential, so —
Charmian: Yeah, I know — it’s not my usual meeting but I know the rules.
Barrister 2: The thing is, this is none of my business, but if you’re going home alone, based on what you said earlier, you might drink. Do you want to get coffee or something? And by the way, I didn’t think what happened today was fair.
Charmian: You were working for Brit Bartlet, end of story.
Barrister 2: Is it?
Charmian, changing her mind: It’s a little late for coffee.
She takes him back to her place, and they start making out. They’re both cute, and so far I like these characters, but this is very much against the rules of AA, and for a good reason. Bad move, kids!
Meanwhile, Brit Bartlet’s lady friend tells him a bit of news: she’s gotten a great job offer in Texas. He’s obviously bummed, but is supportive and congratulates her. He tells her that he’s also been offered a job, and explains for those of us on this side of the fourth wall that it’s probably the Foreign Secretary position, since it’s the only one that’s high profile and currently done by someone who’s screwing up sufficiently.
Lady Friend: Well that’s cool, I thought the PM hated you. Anyway, did you tell your wife?
Brit Bartlet, sulky: No.
Lady Friend: What about your daughter?
Yes, what about his daughter? We immediately cut to a dance club where a young lady who I’m going to go ahead and assume is Brit Bartlet’s off-the-grid kid is dancing, and later, oblivious to someone photographing her, doing lines of cocaine!
No time to worry about her; Brit Bartlet heads into his office the next day, only to have *his* wing woman congratulate him: apparently news of the very hush hush potential promotion has made its way around town. She hands him his schedule for the day, only to have him notice a small stain on her blouse. Time stops. Everyone freezes.
Apparently, Brit Bartlet has a thing about stains? Rattled, Blouse Stain leaves to go change.
Brit Bartlet: Ugh, she’s a mess.
Sidekick: Yeah, but you know you can’t get rid of her, right? She knows… everything.
Brit Barlet: I get it.
Sidekick: You know... what you did. Or I guess what we did.
In the bathroom, Blouse Stain adjusts her outfit when a coworker approaches.
Coworker: So, you like working for this guy? He’s weirdly picky.
Blouse Stain, incorrect: He just has standards! Once you learn them he’s great!
Shirt fixed, she bustles back into the office and starts piling items on Brit Bartlet’s desk. He’s confused: isn’t he meant to have a cabinet meeting today? It’s been canceled, and Sidekick explains why: there is no cabinet. Apparently, the very guy whose job Brit Bartlet is expecting to take has refused to quit.
Brit Bartlet: What the heck? She promised me a promotion, why won’t he just leave?
Me, only a vague idea how the UK government works:
Sidekick: You know how it is, there’s always pushback! But you’re definitely gonna be the Foreign Secretary, for sure!
Brit Bartlet: Does he have any leverage?
Sidekick: Well, he did go on vacation with Iron Lady 2.0 that one time.
Brit Bartlet: Ugh, whatever, that’s old news, everyone knows about that!
Sidekick: Well just stay out of it. Play the long game.
Across town, at the newspaper office, Boss and Newswoman go over their plan to get back at Brit Bartlet. If I’m being honest, this plan seems both petty and probably ineffective: all they have is the photographic proof that BB’s daughter is on drugs and hooked up with a few boys. Boss is waffling when he’s distracted by the appearance of Charmian. Didn’t he just fire her? What is she doing here?
Newswoman: Well, remember when you sexually harassed her while you were firing her? She’s talking to HR about it.
Newswoman: Yeah, what you said was completely inappropriate and she’s right to be mad about it!
Boss: Well whatever, I didn’t say that. And even if I did, she lost us over a million pounds!
Newswoman: You should talk to her.
So he does. Charmian may have been fired, but she’s got the power of being right on her side, and she’s not backing down.
Charmian: Look, I was right: Brit Bartlet was in the US, selling the NHS off to a shady American think tank, and I’m gonna prove it.
Boss: Just because you don’t like him or his political leanings doesn’t mean he’s doing illegal stuff!
Charmian: You’re gonna need to rehire me, and send me to DC, otherwise I won’t hesitate to sue you for discrimination, and you KNOW I’d do it.
Boss: Ugh, fine.
Charmian: Great, I already bought my plane tickets. Bye!
At the women’s prison we visited at the top of the episode, it’s time for a drugs sweep. I have no idea how the British prison system functions, so maybe this is just business as usual, but the timing is a bit suspicious, given that finding drugs in the cell of a certain Mystery Gal might just make her allegations go away. While this is happening, we get our first glimpse of Mystery Gal’s cellmate, a reserved young lady who pulls out a book rather than talk to the others.
Later, at lunch, tensions are high. Drugs have been found, which means that all privileges have been stopped, including ice cream. This is absolutely too much for one woman, who only eats ice cream, and has to be escorted away. If that wasn’t enough, lunch is also cut short, and when the guards try to enforce that regulation, all hell breaks loose. Inmates start fighting the guards, and then barricade the door. Mystery Gal’s cellmate jumps up and covers one of the cameras with a sweater, and tries to get Mystery Gal to stay out of it: she has a short sentence, and participating in this incipient riot is absolutely going to interfere with that. But Mystery Gal doesn’t care, and jumps the counter into the kitchen.
Meanwhile, at a very fancy party, a young woman who we saw at the top of the episode outside the court serves fancy guests fancy food, when she gets a phone call. Oho! The call is from Barrister SBBB, and the server? That’s Margaret, who we understand has some evidence against Brit Bartlet.
Barrister SBBB: Why would you think I want to put Brit Bartlet away? I just got him out of trouble.
Margaret: Because you were clearly the smartest person in the courtroom today, which means you know that something is off about that guy. He seems squeaky clean, but I can assure you he has a very sinister past. You should look into that.
Speaking of Brit Bartlet, he’s heading over to 10 Downing Street for a late night chat with Iron Lady 2.0. Inside, Wing Woman informs her boss that she did indeed find something that Brit Bartlet is, at minimum, not publicising: his work running a company called Stanfield Titles, which Wing Woman will be investigating further. But there’s no time for that now, he’s here.
Iron Lady 2.0: Oh hey! Good news, as promised.
Brit Bartlet, already celebrating: Wonderful!
Iron Lady 2.0: I want you to become the Minister of Justice.
Brit Bartlet: Not wonderful!
Iron Lady 2.0: There’s been SO much turnover over there, and we really need a steady hand at the wheel.
Brit Bartlet: Well, uh, thanks? Wait, so does this mean that the Foreign Secretary isn’t leaving?
Iron Lady 2.0: Oh, no, he’s gone.
Brit Bartlet: I’m just confused because you implied that I’d be getting one of the top jobs, which doesn’t traditionally include the one you just offered me.
Iron Lady 2.0, shady: Well, it should be: what could be more important than justice? I just assumed that since you love being in court so much, you’d enjoy this opportunity. Now look, prison privatization is not working for us: you gotta fix it. I mean there’s literally a prison riot happening right now!
Brit Bartlet, covering pretty well actually: Huh.
Iron Lady 2.0: Oh, I mean… unless you have some personal reason to want to avoid the legal system?
Brit Bartlet: Nope!
Iron Lady 2.0: Good, because if you were pushing back I’d HAVE to suggest that you consider some time away from government. A refreshing change of pace, you know? Anyway,
Brit Bartlet, chastened, heads out so that Iron Lady 2.0 and Wing Woman can giggle over a vicious meeting well handled, and all thanks to Wing Woman’s informant. Don’t worry, we don’t have to wait around long to find out who it is, because Wing Woman and Sidekick? They’re hooking up.
In less fun news, things have escalated rapidly at the prison. Part of the building is on fire, and Mystery Gal helps two others push over a guard, who falls down in a way that looks suspiciously like she’s dead.
Not dead? The news team’s plans to take out Brit Bartlet. Boss makes the call to publish the pictures of Brit Bartlet’s daughter before anyone can find out and file an injunction. Lady Rupert Murdoch isn’t gonna like it, but they’re doing it anyway. Charmian, in a cab to the airport, calls Barrister 2 to let him know she’s got a plan to nail Brit Bartlet.
And across town, Brit Bartlet’s driver makes her way home. As she climbs toward her flat she runs into someone leaving — it’s Margaret the Tipster! They clearly know each other, and not just as neighbors, because they kiss before parting ways.
Meanwhile, Brit Bartlet is back in the radio studio, finishing his show. He doesn’t say anything publicly about his new appointment, but off the record, when they’re off air, he tells the DJ that he’s absolutely furious.
Are Margaret the Tipster, Baby Driver, and Mystery Gal teaming up to take out Brit Bartlet? Does Sidekick know he’s betraying his boss? And who’s Charmian’s source? Only one way to find out, and that’s to tune in next week for episode 2!