So the Algerian crisis rumbles on into a second episode, and everyone tries to avoid calling it the Algerian crisis, because that sounds like something they’d rather not have to deal with. The Olympic Deliverance team have called the Algerian representative a dog, the French are trying to split the Olympic nations into Us and Them and worst of all, there actually now is a Head of Legacy in the office. Siobhan (Jessica Hynes) is helpfully giving a count-down to disaster and Graham (Karl Theobald) is stressing the need not to wave a red flag at a bull, especially a Christian bull or a French bull.
There may be a chance they can use the laundry centre as a worship centre instead (or Belief Zone, or Faith Sphere…), as by a useful quirk of architecture the athletic laundry is due to be carried out in the one building in the complex which is aligned eastwards. Obviously the way to fix this situation is to arrange to meet the spokesman of Muslim Focus UK, and the press officer of the Church of England, in that building at the same time. (By fix this situation, I mean salvage the lumpenly unfunny episode by injecting a note of predictable yet potentially pleasing farce into it.) Before they can get to the laundry centre Sally (Olivia Colman) does her stuff, producing another five minutes of suppressed emotion centred around arranging Ian’s (Hugh Bonneville’s) life for him whilst overusing the phrase “but it’s not a problem”. This is, in fact, superb pacing, as by this stage in the plot I was wondering why I was still watching, and then Olivia Colman appeared to remind me. Good times.
On the way to the laundry centre/spiritual site the taxi ride gives Jessica Hynes a chance to be really annoying on an iPad and a Blackberry, which is more entertaining than I’d thought. She (and the director/writers) seem to have decided to play Siobhan Sharpe as much broader and more straightforwardly ridiculous than she appeared in the last series. Instead of wondering what she’s thinking, we now seem invited just to laugh at her saying “Yah, yah, totally, okaaaay, LOVE it” with the shifting intonations of someone working through the Campanology Handbook. It’s less subtle and takes the character less seriously, but I’m not at all sure it isn’t more effective. Particularly laughed at her agreeing so wholeheartedly with Ian Fletcher’s ideas that she prevents him from actually managing to say them.
Once at the place suitable for celebrating that Shepherds Washed Their Socks By Night, the Rev Richard Salter (Jason Watkins) makes his appearance. I’m not sure what the joke is with this character – maybe I was so convinced that I knew how they’d write the Church of England press officer (smooth, pop-culture-literate, bafflingly uninterested in God and unexpectedly knowledgeable about Islamic theology) that I can’t see what stereotype Watkins is supposed to be playing off. He’s obviously got something in mind, though, and his perky, camp performance provides a foil for Hynes’ drawling Head of Brand shtick.
When Saleem Ahmed (Philip Arditti) explains that Muslim Focus UK would be very happy to smooth things over with the Algerians, he suggested a minaret would be the ideal peace offering. The very minaret which it was established early on during this plotline is the one thing they cannot afford to be seen providing. The architect Mike Whitaker (Neil Edmond), appears as a voice of reason, explaining gently that the thing about this building is it’s a building in the sense that it is built, having already been built. And therefore suggesting it suddenly have six sides or indeed a minaret would involve it not being the building it is, because it would involve building another building. As the Olympic Deliverance Team energetically ruin the poor guy’s equanimity and grasp on what words or ideas mean any more, they stumble across a solution: turn one of the heating ducts into a minaret, call it that to half the world and deny it’s anything of the sort to the other half. It’s not as good as the wind turbine metaphor, but in terms of the Twenty Twelve Prominent Structure Symbolism Award, I’d put that in the top five so far.
Dr. Jem Bloomfield studied at the universities of Oxford and Exeter and is currently an Associate Lecturer in Drama at Oxford Brookes. His research covers the performance of Early Modern drama and the various ways it has been adapted and co-opted throughout the centuries. His own plays include “Bewick Gaudy”, which won the Cameron Mackintosh Award for New Writing, and he is working on a version of Oliver Goldsmith’s comedy “She Stoops To Conquer”. His writing on arts, culture, and politics have appeared in “California Literary Review”, “Strand Magazine” and “Liberal Conspiracy”. He blogs at “Quite Irregular” and can be found on Twitter @jembloomfield