The Sandbaggers: The Most Suitable Person
March 11, 2016 5:53 PM - Season 1, Episode 4 - Subscribe

After the deaths of two Sandbaggers, Burnside and Caine seek new agents for the special section. The only suitable new recruit, Laura Dickens, will be the first woman to be recruited as a Sandbagger. While shorthanded Burnside has to deal with two crises, as the #2 Algerian SIS officer is murdered in Gibraltar and Jeff Ross alerts Burnside possibility that the SIS may hae been compromise. The CIA has discovered that Colin Grove, a highly placed operations officer, has been seeing a psychiatrist that may be a KGB spy.

A little housekeeping: I wanted to make sure that the schedule of these posts works for everyone involved. I noted that carsonb made a couple of comments late in the last thread, and with a small discussion group like this it's a good idea to make sure everyone is able to take part in the conversation. Please let me know in your replies and I may start varying when these go up if that works better.
posted by Grimgrin (11 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Two firsts in this episode. A woman is recruited to the sandbaggers and we see Burnside approving of the actions of one of his superiors. C's delaying action about getting MI5 approval by second class regular post draws a smile from Burnside.

The initial interview between Laura Dickens and Burnside is interesting. While you could never accuse this series of being progressive on gender, its female characters don't feel like afterthoughts. I thought it was a neat move to have her reject the initial offer, and reject it again after Burnside pointed out that she'd be the first woman. It's only after Burnside explains that her views make her right for the job that she consents to join, on her own terms.

This is contrasted with Gove. Burnside uses his nice voice on Colin Grove. It's amazing that the people around him haven't figured out that Burnside's nice voice is basically the kiss of death. Of course, that could be a reason why they haven't figured it out.
posted by Grimgrin at 5:54 PM on March 11, 2016

The only suitable new recruit, Laura Dickens, will be the first woman to be recruited as a Sandbagger.

Laura Dickens is wonderful character in her own right, plus she's a fantastic insight into what makes Sandbaggers special... why it's such a big deal to lose one.

I say this having watched the episode a few weeks ago, and planning to watch it again sometime this week probably Monday. I'll have a more detailed response then. Takes me a while to digest these, sort through the thick plots and dialog, come up with a response. After that the next time I watch the episode, maybe a few years from now, I will probably go back through and add more thoughts. Fanfare threads have a long tail.
posted by carsonb at 10:06 PM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I liked the introduction of Dickens but found it eyerollingly simplistic that the thing that interested Burnside most about her was her disinterest in him.

And although the OMG A WOMAN IN THE SIS angle doesn't hold up so well 35+ years on, I like that her character is effective in a businesslike, hardworking manner, and at least in this episode there's nothing about her being a woman that contributes in any way to her effectiveness: she's hardworking and smart.

The climax sequence seemed a little implausible with for whatever reason the cops choosing to tackle the guy with his finger on the rocket. The whole Gibraltar plot really was kind of goofy, in retrospect.

One thing I've been wondering is about the production values and the shooting of the scenes inside vs outside. Not only do they shoot the outside scenes on film instead of video, but the camera work is much more creative. Then when they move onto a set, it feels as if all the creativity is gone.
posted by MoonOrb at 7:54 PM on March 13, 2016

I just realized who Ross reminded me of: Robert Redford. It's the hair and the voice.

One of the parallels between this series and Tinker Tailor is the difference between the the Brits and the Americans. The Americans are well-funded, technologically competent, while the Brits have the imperial legacy which leads them to stick their noses in a lot of places an American would stand out.
Ross is concerned with keeping the "special relationship" too.
The special section is highly team-oriented. Burnside knows that Dickens knows it, while Grove just doesn't get it.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:36 PM on March 13, 2016

Burnside: I thought Americans were supposed to live off those?
Ross: Not this one!

But Ross is ambiguous: Not this hamburger? Or not this American?
posted by carsonb at 11:07 AM on March 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

I love it when calls to prayer make it into western movies and TV. This episode has about 5 seconds of the call to evening prayer in Tangiers.

Speaking of prayer, Willy asks for a little one from Burnside at a specific time. We cut to a clock at the specified time in Burnside's office, and see that his version of a little prayer is the utter destruction of Grove while snatching his valuable intel in one fell swoop.
posted by carsonb at 11:55 AM on March 14, 2016

Ross is concerned with keeping the "special relationship" too.

You get a sense just how special it is when Burnside "allows" Ross to conduct an investigation into a British National's confidential doctor/patient files.

What was the time frame like between The Sandbaggers and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy? I see this show pre-dates Tinker, Tailor by about a year. Interesting! Burnside and Smiley would be formidable adversaries, I think.
posted by carsonb at 12:05 PM on March 14, 2016

They were almost contemporaneous--TTSS, though, conceivably could have been set a few years earlier than its 1979 release? The novel was 1974.

I'd take Smiley in the matchup. Burnside is shrewd and ruthless but I don't get as much of a sense that he's playing the long, long, long game. But of course Burnside's format is much more one episode at a time, so we don't get to see how he'd do in a real chess match.

11:40 was quite a magical moment for Burnside--his team scores a major coup in defeating the rocket attack (and one-upping MI-5, which couldn't manage to crack the same plot, apparently) and Grove hands him additional power over MI-5 when he tells Burnside that MI-5 turned him away months ago.
posted by MoonOrb at 12:20 PM on March 14, 2016

Burnside--his team scores a major coup in defeating the rocket attack (and one-upping MI-5, which couldn't manage to crack the same plot, apparently)

I read the MI-5 agent's haranguing of Caine more as "what are you even doing here?" rather than "wanna share notes on this Yeardley thing?" They never even knew anything was going on in Gib except that SIS agents kept showing up.
posted by carsonb at 12:24 PM on March 14, 2016

Yeah that gave me the feeling that MI-6 got one over on them since MI-5 couldn't even sort out what was going on in their own back yard.
posted by MoonOrb at 12:27 PM on March 14, 2016

I wanted to make sure that the schedule of these posts works for everyone involved.

Don't worry about it, I say, stumbling in six years later.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:08 PM on December 17, 2022

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