The Apprentice: season 12, episode 4 recap: "Liberty Bells"
At Drapers' Hall Lord Sugar, his autocue reading now giving him the air of an inadequately bearded proprietor in the nativity play telling Joseph there's no room at the inn, tells the gang they've got to sell things in a shop. We wait for the kicker: do they have to do it in a teepee? On tricycles? While rapping Run DMC's entire back catalogue? No: they've just got to sell things. In a shop. It's as if he's experienced his own Naked Lunch moment, and decided in a jolt of clarity that perhaps wholly arbitrary additions to tasks designed to make people argue are in fact a poor recruitment technique.
They've all got to set up shop at Liberty, and sell stuff. Liberty is a high-end department store, so high-end in fact that they stiff me once every six months for beard oil at £35. Shut up, it's got jojoba in it and if you smelled my face you'd pay twice that.
"Natural born leader" Sofiane said earlier in the car that he'll be PM "all day long" and so it proves, though he may regret this 24-hour commitment when the others are pinging his Blackberry at 4am to enquire why the next burn-down meeting isn't in their Outlook calendars yet. Grainne claims it for the other lot (btw, I have no capacity for remembering which team is Goliaths and which is Jumbotrons even at this early stage) because she likes make-up or something.
In a twist that would've been shocking if Digital Spy hadn't ruined it on Twitter (no, withholding the identity of the candidate doesn't make it less of a spoiler, but THANKS) Aleksandra announces her decision to quit the show and does a bunk, despite Karthik's helpful command that she "stick with it". She later reveals that she found the process unproductive because of the high-stress environment and "blame culture", making you wonder whether she'd seen The Apprentice before or thought she was signing up for The Great British Sewing Bee. She seemed the candidate most likely to go on to be a gob on a stick for The Sun, so hopefully this is a blessing in disguise.
Paul is grumpy as hell about the whole thing, and I realise that this is not just his reaction to circumstances he considers below ideal, but just how he is as a person. He gives the impression that his optimum task would be in some sort of service industry job where he could shake his head gruffly whenever asked a reasonable question, like a London bus driver or bouncer at a provincial nightclub.
One lot decides to sell scarves shaped like cats, perhaps sensing a huge untapped market (cats are "on trend"); the other goes for bags, on the basis that bags in Liberty cost an absolute bastard fortune. Also Mukai, pulling another prior experience out of his arse (tot up the number of years of work in different retail sectors he's claimed over four weeks: he'd have to be 60 years old), says he knows everything about bags. I know that some are big enough to fit useful things in and some aren't, so I assume he knows more than I do.
Looking at some examples of bags, Paul surprises everyone by noting that one is "Futuristic meets modern contemporary", which sounds vaguely like an actual thing. Dillon, lapping up the opportunity to trawl through clothes, points out an "interesting twist on the pussy bow", a phrase I include here only because it should help with SEO. Their window displays are unveiled and Sofiane declares it "by far the best thing I've ever seen", which seems hyperbolic until you consider that he likely spends most of his time looking at the LinkedIn profiles of men he considers rivals.
There are a few missteps, like the failure to ask a client's budget and clothing size in the phone call to set up a personal shopping session, but here's the thing: more or less everyone approaches the task sensibly, the PMs come up with and put into practice strategies that are largely based on sound reasoning and well thought-through, and when things go wrong they adapt. Rebecca even uses an endearing deliberate malapropism, "Good information gatherage", leading me to believe she might be the sort of person in whose company you could bear to be for more than ten minutes.
By this point I don't even know who I am anymore.
Sugar jokes that Aleksandra's leaving at least means he "saved myself a cab fare". Among his terrible "off-the-cuff" quips this week are his observation on the scarves that he is "used to dealing with fat cats, not flat cats", and his telling Mukai "You know your Helmut Langs from your Vera Wangs ... those famous designers of handbags." Despite being in a supposed position of power, his constant need to explain his jokes betrays an insecurity, almost as if he's aware that the only reason he's here is that Britain has no figure that combines business acumen with at least a modicum of celebrity sheen, because every other possible candidate is only famous because they went to prison for some sort of large-scale fraud.
He struggles to find reasons to ramp it up and have a go at anyone, because in essence everyone did OK, no one seriously fell out, and the whole thing played out in a way almost appropriate to an actual work environment. Team Tighty-Whities takes it, but Nebuchadnezzar only missed out by the sale of one bag, so the room for recrimination is small. Grainne changes her mind a couple of times, but brings back Mukai and Karthik, neither of whom did all that much wrong. Karthik argues that he's "not good at picking out clothes for 16–18-year-old girls", which comes as a relief.
Mukai says it's unfair he's there at all, and Karthik uses the phrase "it's just my humble opinion". He doesn't seem all that humble. Sugar finally fingers Mukai, but tells Karthik, "Let me make it very, very clear to you now that I have my eyes on you." Which means "You make good telly despite being an obvious joke of a potential employee so the producers have decided you'll stay in till week eight or so."
Does he thank him?
Yes, in a whisper. The quietest thanks since records began, quieter than whatever Scarlett Johansson whispered to Bill Murray at the end of Lost in Translation.
Next week: Nick Fury arrives at the house in the dead of night to inform the Apprenti they have only 16 hours to find the Tesseract, and the group immediately set about adding tasks to their Kanban board.