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Jerome Willis speaks

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.

Semper Fi
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 protect them.'

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.

The Future
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 softened considerably.

That’s great writing.

That’s great acting.

That’s Peele for you.

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