The Sandbaggers: Opposite Numbers
October 16, 2016 11:02 PM - Season 3, Episode 8 - Subscribe

A major arms control treaty is in the works. The foreign service is for it, so Burnside is against it. What can he do? Work with the KGB who also want to scuttle the treaty behind the back of the Politburo? Tricky tricky...
posted by the man of twists and turns (5 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
So we're really doing this.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:19 AM on October 17, 2016

And it's over - Caine hurt,maybe dead. Burnside having pissed off all three people who might protect him, and the Soviets extremely angered.

Ian MacKintosh and two other people disappeared in a small plane near Alaska, and the series ended.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:33 PM on October 17, 2016


I hadn't watched this last episode since the time I first saw it. This series was airing on my local PBS station years ago and I don't know how I ended up watching it. There was another show on at the same time that I was hooked on but I guess I read somewhere that Sandbaggers was worth watching so I started recording it to watch later. Also I needed to be able to rewind it to catch all the dialogue. Not long after that I realised I couldn't wait to see it so I gave up on my original show to watch it as it was broadcast (and still recording it). Nobody I knew had ever heard of it; that hasn't changed.

This episode. Of course, I didn't realize it was the last one when it aired. It had such a cloud of doom over it. Burnside was going balls to the wall and Willie was right behind him. All that talk about being fired or quitting. Lying to Wellingham. Peele's out of character maneuver. Then Willie getting shot. In the neck. It'd been a while since a Sandbagger was killed but I always figured that it would be Sandbagger 2. I mean, they'd never kill off Caine but they did. I don't think you can come back from being shot in the neck like that. So this was as bad as Laura Dickens.

There's just a shot of an airplane taking off, a voiceover at the airport paging Burnside and the credits roll. Then, the PBS station announcer came on to state that it was the end of the series. It went something like "This is the end of the series. There are no more episodes. The creator of the show, Ian Mackintosh was killed in an airplane crash after this episode was filmed and he didn't leave any scripts behind." Something like that. On top of Willie being shot and Burnside being sent home in disgrace, I didn't see how the writer could get out of that but to not even have the chance. If it's possible to be traumatized by a fictional tv program, I was.

Unrelenting, unpatronizing, cold-blooded. This show is the yardstick that all dramas are measured against.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:26 PM on October 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Kind of a weak episode to go out on, I think. It was hard to cheer for Burnside sabotaging the arms reduction talks. His concern about Soviet untrustability was certainly real and reasonable but also we know now he was mostly wrong. And he's willing to sacrifice everyone for his questionable goal: himself, the KGB double agent, his Sandbaggers, the new Malta station chief. Burnside is never quite the hero in any episode but he seemed like the goat here.

The fun part of this was Peele's about-face, proving himself competent. And his colleagues recognizing it. I always enjoyed Peele's bumbling cluelessness but it was a bit confusing. Looks like the writers had some fun reversing it.

Interesting how this episode firmly cemented the show in late Cold War. This episode takes place in mid-1980. Thatcher and Reagan are about to be ascendent in the US, taking a very aggressive stance against the Soviets that we don't quite see on screen in Sandbaggers. And then everything changes in the Soviet Union starting in just a couple more years. Solidarność is just a few months away, Gorbachev a few years. Not a hint of any of that in this show, how could there be?

What a great show, I'm really glad I watched it. I found it via Fanfare I think, in discussions about Star Wars: Andor. It's held up very well. Some of it is dated and the production values are at times cheap. And after the promising first season its treatment of women devolved, short-sighted even its time. But overall I liked it quite a bit. The show feels right for a reboot to me, re-film it with mostly the same dismal tone but updated a bit and do something about the sexism. The story is open ended enough you could expand it while staying true to it. Key thing is to avoid action hijinks, it can't be another Mission: Impossible or James Bond.
posted by Nelson at 6:41 AM on October 25, 2023

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