Mr Peele, You're Needed
He wants to be liked.
In the third season opener, All in a Good Cause, Peele and Burnside
have a chance encounter in a Chinese restaurant. Burnside invites
Peele to join him for dinner, and Peele, after the briefest of
hesitations, declares that he’d love to. He then sheds his
coat with an expression of genuine pleasure on his face. That
two such bitter workplace adversaries can behave in this simple,
human way in the outside world is oddly affecting.
It’s a brief, rare, touching little moment of warmth in
this series. That it is so rare only tinges the moment with sadness.
This is, after all, The Sandbaggers.
Jerome Willis and Roy Marsden, two actors well inside the skins
of their characters by this point, bring this poignant scene to
life through the use of naturalism and understatement. One doesn't
always need a voluminous soliloquy in order to give a great performance,
and this scene is one the best.
Peele, for all his faults, can also be remarkably loyal. When
Laura Dickens is arrested by the East Germans, Peele remains at
work after hours to see if he can help in any way. In this instance,
we can tell he means it. And, quite often, his more annoying,
rule bound tendencies can also be viewed as loyalty to his department.
He is constantly concerned that Burnside’s double-dealing
may ruin SIS’s credibility with the government, for example.
It is also true that Burnside’s cutthroat methods are often
detrimental to the overall good of the department, and Peele,
by siding with the rules, is sometimes correct almost by default.
Deep down, Peele most likely wants Burnside to fall into line
and prosper in the office. Peele recognizes Burnside’s strengths,
even though he includes things he ‘would rather have left
unsaid’ in a negative annual report he has written on his
subordinate’s job performance. ‘I shall promote you,’
Peele adds ‘if and when I can trust you.’ Clearly,
Peele also enjoys his position as the number two man in SIS.
He frequently threatens Burnside’s job when Burnside is
openly insubordinate, and does so with apparent relish. ‘That
is no way to address me!’ Peele cries at one point, indignant.
At one point, though, Peele feels he has suffered Burnside’s
behavior for far too long, and actively attempts to remove Burnside
and place him in a dead-end position elsewhere.
Burnside wins back his job, though, and Peele seems slightly
annoyed when C invites Burnside to remain as D-Ops. However, in
the final episode, Opposite Numbers, Peele uses a bit of good
fortune and his own brand of deviousness to uncover an illegal
plot hatched by Burnside, and even contends that 'I feel that
if the truth ever came out we would lose D-Ops and both Sandbaggers...I'll
This is what he appears to do when he torpedoes Burnside’s
plan without harming Burnside. In the aftermath, though, he tells
Burnside and Willie: 'Sit down. I have quite a bit to say and
I want an attentive audience.' We never witness what he says to
them after that, although the scenes leading up to the explosive
climax indicate that Burnside retains his job.
The final few moments of the episode cast grave doubt on Burnside
remaining in his job for much longer.
Would we have learned what Peele tells Burnside and Willie had
Ian Mackintosh written another episode? There’s no way to
tell, of course ... but our last, lingering impression of Peele
is one of respect. He certainly ends the series in a moment of
personal triumph, whatever his motivations.
It is easy to be annoyed by Peele much of time, he emerges as
a character who is, if not always likable, at least remarkably
sympathetic. Personally, I was concerned for his character in
the final episode.
I sat on the edge of my seat during the quiet scene when Peele
enters his Malta hotel room, removes his coat, and washes his
face in the sink. Knowing it was the final show, and being familiar
with the fact that in The Sandbaggers any character can end up
dead, I feared the KGB contingent in the story would knock over
Peele in retaliation for Burnside’s misguided plot. The
scene is a tease - but a brilliantly constructed one. It showed
me how much I care about this character and how saddened I would
be by his on-screen demise.
And my first impression of the character - one that lasted a
long time - was that he was simply a buffoon or whining yes-man
with no guts or personal integrity. In the end, my attitude has
That’s great writing.
That’s great acting.
That’s Peele for you.
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