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).
Now, in terms of a hard first day on the job, Brit Bartlet sure drew the short straw. The newly appointed Minister of Justice is holding a presser outside the Sheffield Prison (which last week was the site of a riot AND his very awkward Maury Povich moment).
Brit Bartlet: Well, I’m new to this job, but there are a lot of changes to be made. We incarcerate too many people!
Reporter 1: But don’t you and your party like to do that?
Brit Bartlet: We need to rethink this policy. It’s not working, and it’s a lot of wasted potential.
Reporter 2: So you’re saying that this riot is going to be rewarded?
Brit Bartlet: No, I’m saying I just started this gig and I’m going to look everything over objectively. Justice needs and deserves a shakeup, and that’s what I’m here for.
Iron Lady 2.0 and Wing Woman, watching from the office:
Inside the prison, the correctional officers try to get to the bottom of the riot, which involves interviewing Mystery Gal’s roommate Rose.
Head Honcho: Who planned this?
Rose: It wasn’t planned.
Head Honcho: I don’t believe you: you’re always talking to the woman who started this mess.
Rose: I talk to everyone — solidarity is important in here.
Head Honcho: Ugh, who are you, Norma Rae? Look, you’re the smartest person here, I don’t believe anything like this happens without you knowing about it.
Rose: Doesn’t really matter what you think; the burden of proof is on you.
Head Honcho: Then what’s with the sweatshirt over the camera? Why would you do that if you hadn’t organized this? This was very expensive, dude!
Rose: Big deal — the private prison industry makes a lot of money for shareholders, they’ll be fine. Or do you not read the Financial Times? Look, they’re lying if they think this whole “efficiency” plan is going well… must have you a bit worried about what happens to you if this doesn’t work out. You don't strike me as someone with a lot of marketable skills.
Second in Command: We need you to testify about the riot for our inquiry.
Rose: Yeah, I’m not doing that. Only a public inquiry, with a judge, like Brit Bartlet just promised. An internal inquiry isn’t gonna cut it.
Head Honcho, annoyed at losing this battle of wills, and going for the jugular: You’re so smart… it’s too bad about your friend Mystery Gal.
Mystery Gal, who's next on the interrogation list for Head Honcho and company. Not gonna lie: I am concerned for her!
Head Honcho: You attacked a guard, who had to be hospitalized. She wants to press charges; you might be stuck in here for a very long time. Tell us about your visitor last week.
Mystery Gal: No thanks, that’s private.
Head Honcho: We can help your case, but you have to help us. Why was Brit Bartlet here, and why was he talking to you?
Speak of the devil, Baby Driver drops him and Sidekick off at the office, where he’s greeted by a grumpy Undersecretary who’s a) not happy to be ignored by her new boss and b) not too invested in fixing the issues at Justice, so kind of a mixed bag if we’re honest.
Brit Barlet: Do you know how many people have died by suicide in our prisons in the last 20 years?
Undersecretary: I don’t just have these statistics memorized, pal.
Brit Barlet: Well I looked it up: it’s 2,000. That’s way too many!
Undersecretary: Don’t you think you should focus on restoring order?
Brit Barlet: No! This is super important and we’re not doing anything about it.
Undersecretary: You can’t just go and have Sidekick write position papers, this isn’t how this works! Your data could be wrong!
Brit Bartlet: We have actual deaths to count, lady! How much does it cost to keep someone incarcerated for a year?
Undersecretary: Well, the number is squishy…
Brit Barlet: It’s $40K, $60k for a young person; that’s a year of fancypants private college! The whole thing costs $4.3 billion per year!
Undersecretary: Why do you think we’re so big on privatization? It’s cheap!
Brit Bartlet: Look, I’m a conservative, I’m all about the free market, if it works, but this doesn’t. We gotta stop locking people up.
Me: OH NO. Do I agree with this shady man?
At an under the radar pub, Barrister SBBB meets up with Margaret the Tipster for a wee chat about our main man.
Margaret the Tipster: You totally don’t recognize me, huh? I heard you and your pal talking about how gratifying it is to get a guilty person off outside the court… you should learn to be quieter.
Barrister SBBB: First of all, I said I suspected he was guilty; there’s a difference. Second of all, I don’t really want that packet of evidence you’re trying to hand me, so me and my vodka are going to wait until you explain why you’re doing this.
Margaret the Tipster: I care about the truth, and I couldn’t give the paper’s legal team this in time for the case. Anyway, you got to know Brit Bartlet a bit, what did you think of him?
Barrister SBBB: He’s refreshingly direct, doesn’t seem to care if people disagree with him — look what he’s doing with prison reform right now. I kinda like him. Either way, I’ve moved on from this case. I don’t get paid to look into stuff, I get paid to win, and that’s what I did.
Margaret the Tipster: You say that, but you’re gonna take this file, and some day, you’re gonna look at it. And if you don’t, Barrister 2 will.
At a grocery checkout line, one of the clerks catches her coworker looking at a headline about the prison riot. Is her friend ok? Does she want to talk? NOPE, she sure doesn’t, and the narrative isn't gonna stick around long enough for us to find out why!
In the prison, Rose tries to comfort Mystery Gal, who’s pretty zonked out (possibly due to drugs, based on the syringes in their sink?).
Rose: It’s gonna be ok, dude. Don’t let them win.
Mystery Gal: Is it though? I’m going to get 200 more days.
At 10 Downing Street, Brit Bartlet has another meeting/verbal joust with Iron Lady 2.0. She’s not super thrilled with him for biting the Invisible Hand of the free market that feeds him, and would like to gently remind him which party he belongs to.
Brit Bartlet: Well, I’m a liberatarian, so… I care more about freedom.
Iron Lady 2.0: So you’re happy to just endanger our citizenry by letting all the criminals out?
Brit Barlet: That’s not what I’m getting at, don’t be obtuse.
Iron Lady 2.0: Don’t get smart with me, I saw your speech!
Brit Bartlet: Maybe you should have checked out what I believe in before you gave me that job then. The system is horrible; let’s take a risk and fix it.
Iron Lady 2.0: Did you miss the thing where our country historically loves to lock people up? We’re a law and order party, and identity beats efficiency every day of the week. Your staff already doesn’t like you; you think you’re too popular to be fired, but let me assure you that I will be delighted to prove you wrong if I have to.
Speaking of disgruntled staff, Undersecretary has a good old fashioned walk and talk with Sheffield Head Honcho to talk about the upcoming inquiry.
Head Honcho: I feel like you might need to know that Brit Bartlet visited the prison a couple of days before the riot.
Head Honcho: Well he SAID he was there to visit a constituent. But he actually met with one of the instigators of the riot.
In other bad news for Brit Barlet, he gets woken up in the wee hours of the morning by Sidekick calling: the angry news chickens have come home to roost, and those shady pics of the Ministerial Daughter Kid Bartlet doing coke are all over the web.
Sidekick: Check your phone; you’re gonna hate this.
Brit Barlet: UGH, I know I did my fair share of partying as a youth, but it’s a lot less cute when my own kid is doing it and getting caught on film. Gonna have to destroy that newspaper.
Sidekick: Want me to warn your daughter?
Brit Barlet: No, I’ll call her later.
Lady Friend, waking up and seeing the photos:
Brit Barlet: Yeah, not great. I’m gonna destroy them AND use this to annoy Iron Lady 2.0 while I’m at it — we should have another look at the drug laws.
Lady Friend: She’s gonna hate that, and it’s not going to look good that you’re doing it to give your kid special favors.
Brit Bartlet: Ugh, ok. I’ll say that this is a private matter, I raised her to be independent, so it’s not my fault. And no, I’m not actually going to call her: she knows my number.
Speaking of the Iron Lady 2.0, she’s vaguely amused about the whole thing: she’s initially convinced that it’s something their office leaked, but she still feels bad for Kid Bartlet.
Kid Bartlet, meanwhile, is indeed freaking out. She can’t just call her dad, he’ll be furious. Time for an unplanned trip home, apparently. Kid Bartlet is greeted by the very judgy Undersecretary, before getting called into her dad’s office in a voice that publicly says “hello, beloved child” and privately says “I brought you into this world and I’ll take you out of it.”
Kid Bartlet: Why are you so mad, this didn’t happen to you!
Brit Bartlet: I do feel bad, but you also need to accept responsibility for your actions.
Kid Bartlet: SCREW YOU, I’m leaving.
But she doesn’t leave; she sets up shop outside the office to follow Brit Bartlet and Sidekick around.
First stop: radio show. Brit Bartlet defends his daughter, saying that while he didn’t get to go to college, partying is normal kid behaviour. Also, yes, he’s in government, but his kid isn’t! His radio cohost (rightly) calls him out on the hypocrisy of the situation: anyone else would be up on charges already.
Co-host: And, let's not forget, Iron Lady 2.0 was actually right earlier in the episode: most of us Britons disagree with your reform ideas. We’re all about incarceration! Have you lost the plot?
Brit Bartlet: I’m not just here to follow, I’m here to lead! Sorry if you don’t agree.
In the control room, Sidekick takes a call from his secret hookup, Wing Woman. She's gotten out of work early, and Sidekick isn’t about to squander an opportunity for sex. He runs out of there, leaving his boss to handle the radio show solo.
Later, Brit Bartlet hails a cab and heads off into the night, pursued by Kid Bartlet, who’s honestly very good at this spy business. But wait, she thinks: that’s not my dear papa's apartment!
Speaking of naughty and illicit relationships, Sidekick finally gets around to asking Wing Woman if she’s been passing along their pillowtalk to her boss, Iron Lady 2.0.
Sidekick: See, I had to worry because we just found out about the whole “incarcerated secret daughter” thing, and then he gets put in charge of the justice system. Seemed pretty coincidental.
Wing Woman: Not really a coincidence if I told her.
Sidekick: What the heck, I very clearly told you that was off limits!
Wing Woman: No you didn’t.
Sidekick, ignoring that major red flag: Well, is she trying to destroy his career?
Wing Woman: No… but only because he’s doing that himself.
While Sidekick ponders his bad life choices, we get treated to a choir rehearsal, led by none other than the heretofore unseen Bartlet Wife Helen, who I’m calling Helen of Croydon. Yes, they now live in Sussex, and yes, I’m doing this because I’m a nerd for Greek mythology. I can have a little in-recap inside joke with myself, as a treat!
She tries to hurry home after rehearsal, but can’t quite shake off her pianist, who has a lot of probing questions about Kid Bartlet, etc.
Helen of Croydon: Whoops, I have to leave now!
Pushy Pianist, missing the point: Oh, I’ll walk with you! Anyway, didn’t you head to London for all of this family stuff?
Helen of Croydon: Well, I went up for the trial, but mostly I stay down here. Brit Bartlet knows I don’t like all that glad-handing, and he’s down here a fair bit to meet with constituents and things.
Back in London, Kid Bartlet accosts Baby Driver. She’s been at the London house all night, and her dad definitely doesn’t actually live there. So where is he?
Baby Driver: I can’t tell you, you know that.
Kid Bartlet: Come on, don’t be loyal to him!
Baby Driver: Fine. Her name is Madeleine.
At the office, Sidekick arrives with some news and a half-chewed apple.
Brit Bartlet, getting more relatable to my misophonia-having self by the second: Don’t chew and talk; you know I hate that.
Sidekick, apple abandoned: The secret kid is sending in her DNA.
Brit Bartlet: Ugh and just when we were on top. We have no idea who this woman is! This is a bad look!
Sidekick: We need to deal with this.
Brit Bartlet: I AM dealing with it.
Sidekick: Dude, don’t you read books? Justice comes for everyone in the end.
Brit Bartlet: Justice isn’t a literary device, it’s a badly run department.
Across the pond, Girl Reporter Charmian hits up a crowded bar, presumably to talk to and/or look for a source.
Random Stranger: So, you a republican? This is a republican bar.
Charmian: No, I’m just here because it’s better than hanging out in my hotel room. I’m here to visit my sister.
Reader, that’s not her last lie of the night. Charmian masquerades as Stella, a young publicist type who’s just super keen to hear about the job of this random stranger. But he’s not so random after all, because he’s a lobbyist, and he works for, you guessed it, British American Development forum. She bids him goodnight, escapes with a brief (and clearly unwanted) kiss, and heads home.
Back in the UK, Kid Bartlet heads home, probably to attempt to blow her mum’s mind with a revelation about the affair that I suspect Helen of Croydon already knows about and to lick her “I got caught doing drugs” wounds in private. Kid Bartlet seems to be leaning into the disaffected youth thing pretty hard, but given that her dad is a populist disaster and her mum forgot how she takes her tea, I get it!
Speaking of disaffected youths, Charmian knocks on the heavily graffiti’d front door of a former journalist who used to cover the American side of Brit Bartlet’s shady dealings, and now writes travel clickbait. Her contact is a bit judgey, but ultimately agrees to help, giving Charmian a list of staff who signed NDAs, got rich, and won’t talk to her. The real question is, did anyone NOT sign an NDA?
At Brit Bartlet’s office, Blouse Stain delivers a rather odd piece of mail to Sidekick: a comb. She thinks it’s a weird joke about Brit Bartlet’s hair (makes no sense; his hair, like most male politicians, is great), but Sidekick, and those of us at home, know better: it’s got DNA for a paternity test. But potential secret daughter DNA is only half the puzzle: Sidekick still needs some of his boss’ hair. Luckily, like the proper well-coiffed gentleman that he is, Brit Bartlet keeps a comb in his desk. Unluckily, Undersecretary walks in during the extraction.
Undersecretary: Did he seriously send you to get his comb?
Sidekick: Uhhhh. It’s complicated?
Undersecretary: I guess he trusts you, and honestly, I just don’t care that much. Carry on.
Bullet dodged, Sidekick seals both combs in an envelope, and gives them to Blouse Stain to take to the lab. Blouse Stain asks if it might be the same comb she just found and asked about, but instead of actually looping her in, Sidekick threatens her job like the good little stooge we knew he was all along. Chastened, she heads off, 50 quid in hand for cab fare.
Back with Charmian, she’s eating dinner in the absolutely ridiculously swanky offices of Shady Thinktank with Random Stranger/her lead. He hands her a drink, claiming that it’s only grapefruit juice, but all of us, including Charmian, can tell he snuck alcohol into it. Me, watching this:
Some time later, Charmian heads to the bathroom, and guys, she’s not looking great. She gets a call from a source and says she’ll meet them asap, and then heads back to dinner.
Charmian: Hey, I didn’t tell you, but I think I have to head back to London tomorrow.
Random Stranger, super sinister: Bummer, I hoped you’d stay longer. I poured you a brandy.
Charmian, making a horrible decision, chugs it down, declines his offer of a cab, and heads out into the rain to meet with a woman named Nadia (whom MASTERPIECE fans will recognize as the delightful Georgiana on Sanditon). Nadia has agreed to go on the record, and doesn’t seem to realize immediately that her call might have saved Charmian’s butt. Unfortunately, she’s also a good host, and hands Charmian a beer.
Nadia: That place was gross and fake. They paid off the other girls, but they assumed I wasn’t worth it.
Charmian: What can you tell me about Brit Bartlet?
Nadia: This was a fancy international event. Ostensibly about “western values,” but actually a way for people to have discrete shady meetings. I had met Brit Bartlet before, and liked him: he treats everyone the same, and he was nice. He was there in secret — not on the schedule, but he did have meetings to discuss deregulation, pharma in particular. Basically he said it’s impossible for a publicly funded healthcare system to actually take care of everyone, and argued for “discrete privitization.”
Folks, take it from me and my Master’s Degree in Public Health: that’s straight up not true!
Charmian: So, ok, he was trying to get America’s horrible healthcare system into the NHS model — did he get paid for this?
Nadia: Well officially, he was only paid to give a speech. Half a million bucks through a shell company.
Charmian, giving into temptation and chuggin the beer: But that’s a lot of money for a speech… and was the shell company called Stanfield Titles?
Charmian is, of course, very excited to have this interview on record. It’s a big story, and should completely clear her good name. She hugs Nadia, elated, and calls Barrister 2 while she walks home.
Charmian: I DID IT! Found a source who will go on the record; I’m gonna get his ass.
Barrister 2: Uh, you sound like you’ve been drinking, are you ok?
Charmian, noticing some shady men are following her: Hey, can I call you back in a bit?
She rings off, and stumbles away from the strangers. Unfortunately, she’s looking behind her when she gets t-boned by a panel van, and no, I’m not kidding. It's one of these:
Back in the UK, Kid Bartlet and Helen of Croydon make dinner while Helen of Croydon tries to avoid having a conversation about Brit Bartlet.
Kid Bartlet: We need to be a lot more honest with each other. Do you really not know about dad’s girlfriend, or do you just ignore it?
Helen of Croydon: Well, I don’t know about that, and I'm not sure a) why you do, and b) why you thought it was important to tell me that.
Kid Bartlet: She’s an archivist. Let’s call dad and confront him about it.
And they do just that, calling him and insisting he pick up even though he’s in a meeting with Undersecretary, whom he promptly kicks out of the room. Apparently, a mere phone call isn’t going to solve this issue, and Brit Bartlet jumps in his car to drive home. On the way, he ignores a call from Lady Friend, but does pick up when Sidekick calls. This turns out to be a bad idea, safety-wise, because Sidekick has some… upsetting news. The results are in, and in news that surprises no one BUT Brit Bartlet, he is indeed the father. Unfortunately for Brit Bartlet, he’s so shocked by this "revelelation" that he neglects to pay attention to the road, slamming head on into a deer.
Well, I guess we know why the show is called Roadkill. Will Charmian and/or Brit Bartlet survive their respective accidents? And was Charmian getting hit by a car as… not accidental as it looked? We’ll just have to tune in next week for episode 3 to find out!