Is Your Journey Really Necessary? opens in the Ops Room, where Burnside, Caine and the others are following the progress of Operation Nightingale. Burnside mounted it as a favour for the CIA, but it ends in tragedy for the Sandbaggers.
Sandbagger Two, Jake Landy (David Glyder) is caught behind enemy lines with no possible means of escape. So Sandbagger Three, Alan Denison (Steven Grives) is ordered to shoot him, rather than let him fall into Russian hands.
Afterwards, “C” and Burnside have a postmortem meeting. “C” tells him that the mission was carried out without departmental or political clearance. Burnside is unabashed and also explains that Landy was killed on his orders. “To avoid giving the FCO and Number 10 the excuse they need to tie the other hand behind my back.”
When Denison returns, Caine offers him another reason why Landy had to die – if he’d been captured, then he would have been tortured, exhibited on a show-trial and executed. At least this way it was quick.
It’s interesting that there are only ever three Sandbaggers (agents trained to carry out “special” operations). With the whole of the globe to cover, this does mean that they are invariably spread very thin. The loss of Landy is therefore bad, but when Denison breaks the news he wants to quit, it throws Burnside into a tail-spin.
Denison wants to get married and doesn’t feel that he can carry on as a Sandbagger once he has a wife. Whilst Burnside is cordial to his face, behind his back he makes it quite clear to Caine they’re going to keep him, by whatever means necessary.
The obvious problem is Denison’s girlfriend, Sally Graham (Brenda Cavendish). She’s already been vetted, but Burnside wants her watched and he wants some dirt on her. The first couple of episodes have already demonstrated just how ruthless Burnside can be, but here it moves to a whole new level.
Caine follows Sally and photographs her enjoying a meal and staying the night with a male friend (whilst Denison is out of the country on a mission). At the same time, Burnside burgles her flat to look for anything incriminating. He’s happy with Caine’s pictures, as whilst Caine says they don’t prove anything, Burnside isn’t concerned with that. “I’m not interested in proof. Suspicion’ll do me.”
Burnside corners Sally, shows her the pictures and tells her to break off the relationship with Denison. Although Sally denies anything happened, Burnside brushes this off and then chillingly tells her “I can have you taken off the streets, drugged, stripped and into bed with a dozen different men. Then I can have you done for soliciting, shoplifting, breaking the Official Secrets Act.” And given what we’ve seen of him, it’s possible to believe this is no idle threat.
Events then take a tragic twist. Denison calls Sally to tell her he’s reconsidered and wants to stay with the Sandbaggers. Sally, still upset from her meeting with Burnside, doesn’t take the news at all well. Shortly afterwards we learn that Denison is dead – he wasn’t killed on the mission, he was knocked down by a car in a simple accident. As Caine says, he obviously had things on his mind. And it’s interesting that we don’t even see this, as his death happens off-screen.
So in the course of one episode, two members of the Sandbaggers have died. First time viewers would probably have expected that both of these characters would be regulars, so their deaths are something of a jolt. In the last episode we were told that the previous Sandbagger fatality happened three and a half years ago. That was clearly a wrong-footing move to lull the audience into a false sense of security, as here we see just how dangerous the job of a Sandbagger can be. Or are we meant to consider the culpability of Burnside? He’s only been D-Ops for a short while, therefore both deaths occured on his watch.
Sally is also dead – from an overdose of sleeping pills. Although Burnside didn’t think he was too hard on her, it was obviously more than enough to push her over the edge. Had Burnside agreed to let Denison go, then they probably would have both still been alive. His decision to fight to keep him indirectly resulted in both of their deaths.
This is a bleak, bleak tale that brings into question the judgement of Neil Burnside. And it certainly won’t be the last time that he’ll have the deaths of colleagues on his conscience ….