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Peep Show: “Burgling” / ”Spin War”

Isy Suttie, David Mitchell
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“Burgling” (season five, episode one; originally aired 5/2/2008)

When we last saw Mark and Jez, Mark had just blown his own wedding up on the launch pad, having somehow managed to inject an entire long, bad marriage’s worth of shared misery into the ceremony by the sheer force of his self-torturing diffidence. Riding off into the sunset together, he and Jez seemed fated to always be the only ones for each other. At the start of this—the midway point of the series to date—nothing much has changed. Mark and Jez are back in their flat, polishing off the next-to-last bottle of a case of wine whose label is decorated with a photo of Mark and Sophie and a message conveying best wishes for their union. (Mark declines to uncork the last bottle, saying that he prefers to save it, for some as-yet unimaginable special occasion. As Jez points out, the possibility that he will someday marry a different woman named Sophie, who looks exactly like Sophie, seems remote at best.)


Mark is in hiding from the world, a nervous recluse lurking in his hidey-hole, which is a good look for him. His re-emergence into the world comes through Jez, who drags him along on a double date—not because he thinks Mark should get out, but because a girl he’s been seeing, Paula, has invited him out and has a friend who must be accommodated. (It’s a date to go to the theater. Seeing Mark shudder at the very thought of sitting through a play, Jez reassures him: I know. But don’t worry. It’s all better now. They’ve moved on. They use proper actors, like Americans and people from the telly.”)

After suffering through a production of the 17th-century revenge tragedy Lust’s Dominion—which would have been another good title for this series, if it weren’t already taken—Mark, Jez, Paula, and Mark’s date, Heather, repair to a watering hole, where Paula reveals that the purpose of this evening has been to inform Jez that she may have given him chlamydia. Mark, on the other hand, comes to believe that he may have struck gold. He has brought along a copy of British Museum Magazine—“I need my props!”—and Heather expresses an interest in it. “This magazine,” he thinks to himself, “is sexual dynamite!”


His emergence from his cocoon comes not a moment too soon. Having set up a second date with Heather, he returns to the flat that find that burglars have stolen his stuff and left a stool sample on the floor to remember them by. Clearly, the outside world is gearing up to invade his fortress of solitude. Nor is he able to seek comfort in the arms of his new friend. She doesn’t show up for their date. (Trying to look less pathetic, he plays with his phone, which makes him feel more pathetic when he looks at the names of all the friends who have no interest in ever speaking to him.)

Finally skulking home, Mark runs into Heather on the street; after she tells him that she lost the phone containing his number and the address where they’d agreed to meet. She’s transparently lying, but but Mark, appreciating that she’s made an effort, invites her up to the flat. Meanwhile, Jez, having arranged to meet Big Suze so he can tell her about the chlamydia, learns that she’s broken up with Johnson and suddenly decides that it would be better to not tell her about the chlamydia after all. It would spoil the mood.


Jez returns to the flat with Big Suze in tow and big plans in his head, only to find that Mark has caught a burglar and is trying to hold him for the police by sitting on him. This is weird, so Mark agrees to lock him outside, even though it’s raining. (With the assurance of a scholar on international law, he tells the complaining thief that “There’s no human right to be dry.”) Unfortunately, the thief still has his phone on him, and his friends pick up right away. A pack of them arrive and liberate him, and Mark’s television for good measure. (It’s toted out by the lout from the early episodes who always hits Mark with the baffling but oddly dispiriting insult “Clean shirt.” This provides a nice continuity.) As it’s starting to get late, both Heather and Big Suze take their leave, both extending invitations to the men who are interested in them that they never attempt to contact them again. The fact that Mark and Jez do not look out the window and see them making out with the burglar and his friends is what used to be called a tender mercy.

“Spin War” (season five, episode two; originally aired 5/9/2008)

Now that he’s back in the social whirl, it’s time for Mark to return to the workplace. But what kind of reception can he expect to receive from his co-workers? Sophie is already back to work, spreading what Mark calls “her lies,” by which he means an accurate description of his behavior in the final days of their relationship. For one thing, he’s pretty sure that she’s been telling people that he jilted her, where, as he sees it, you jilt someone before taking marriage vows. They broke up seconds after pledging their eternal devotion to one another, or maybe at the exact moment they were doing it. To his mind, it’s not a jilting if you suck it up and say the words that, your potential life partner has been made to understand, you see as amounting to an official death notice for your soul. Even Jez feels that he may be clinging to semantics on this one.


It goes pretty bad at first. The tone is set when a woman named Lisa confronts Mark in the break room and tells him, “I think you’re a real piece of shit.” (“That’s fair,” thinks Mark. “Lisa is a very fair person.”) There are more reminders of Soph and the memories in which she takes top billing waiting for Mark at home, where Sophie’s cousin has shown up to ask Jez, who her hero-worships, if he’ll listen to the techno tracks he’s been working on and tell him if there’ s anything there. (You get a sense of what Jez might look like to a rural teenager with big-city dreams when the kid olds up a pair of Jez’s pants and croons, “Hi, I’m Jez. I’ve got loads of girlfriends and hash!” “Yeah,” Jez thinks approvingly, “that is a bit like me.”

Jez listens to the music with Super Hans and is thoroughly confused by their shared conclusion that the stuff is actually quite good. It’s as if, they say, there’s more than one musical idea simultaneously in play. ‘This is what we should be doing,” says Super Hans. “Complicated shit.” Jez wonders if it isn’t something of a betrayal of their Big Beat Manifesto. Super Hans reminds him that the entirety of the Big Beat Manifesto goes, “Big beats are the best. Get high all the time.” “At the time,” Jez says, “it seemed like more of an all-encompassing philosophy.” But after a bit more of a listen, he decides that Barney’s music really sounds a lot like the music he’s been intending to make but just hasn’t managed to get down yet, so in a sense, it’s Barney who’s been ripping him off.


With Barney at the flat sucking up to Jez (and finally, literally, sucking off Super Hans), and Sophie getting stoned at work with her old boyfriend Jeff, poor Mark’s life is filled with more ghosts than a porn shop built on a sacred Indian burial ground. But there’s the promise of a brighter future in a new face at work: the divine Dobby, with her geek-girl Mona Lisa smile, her personal cheese brought from work, and the “weird hair” which Mark has to suppress an urge to chew. As if all that weren’t enough, she’s blissfully ignorant of all the horrible and stupid shit he’s gotten up to in the previous four seasons of this show.

After they’ve exchanged a few words, she takes the phone on which he’s receiving hateful messages from Sophie’s friends, blocks their calls, and, she says, sends them all messages telling them to sit on “your hairy cock.” That last bit, she hastens to add, is a joke. “That’s a good joke!” Mark thinks. “She’s nice!” She takes the initiative, too, catching Mark alone in the supply closet and leering sweetly, her eyes frosted over with an almost childlike delight in being naughty, while rubbing her back porch, in slow circular motions, against the front of his trousers until he stains his tidy whities.


A lot of guys would take that as an official announcement from a woman that she’s interested, but Mark, his self-esteem in tatters and his awareness of proper workplace decorum at red alert, is not prepared to take anything on faith. He does, however, work up the courage to invite her to see Jez and Super Hans jam at a club with their new band mate, Barney. The evening does not go well for anyone. Barney has a melt down and can’t go on, leaving Jez and Super Hans stranded. (“We can’t play his music. We’re the frontmen! I was just planning to just wave a maraca and give the ladies the sexy eye.”) And Mark and Dobby crash the ladies’ room and encounter Soph, blitzed out of her mind, sobbing and barfing, and choosing to take this one single, solitary occasion to refer to Mark as “my husband.”

It’s a setback, but you can only do so much to postpone the inevitable. Olivia Colman is a likable, talented actress with a wide range, and from the start of the series, she’s made Sophie seem like the idea train to be hurtling down the track just as Mark is plodding along, on the same track, coming in the opposite direction. But Isy Suttie makes you feel that Dobby could have been genetically created in a lab for the express purpose of being Mark’s life partner, or at the very least, the one who’s always threatening to be the one who got away. She makes “Are you trying to pass for normal?” sound like the sexiest tease in the world, and also a compliment.


Stray observations:

  • Jez, trying to win points with Big Suze by picking out a good wine in a restaurant: “Is the one Hannibal Lector drinks for real or a joke?”
  • Sitting alone waiting for Heather to show, Mark cheers himself up with the thought that maybe she’s died: “Bereaved is better than stood up.”
  • Bumper sticker: “If I have to fuck you to fuck her, I will.”
  • Mark, seeing that Sophie has left him a jeering note after breaking his personal coffee cup in the break room: “Can’t we keep the mugs out of it? Even the mob never hit the families!”
  • Dobby, in response to Mark’s delight at discovering that the women’s bathroom at the rock club is every bit as disgusting as the men’s: “It used to be all pink and tidy, but then feminism happened, and we all just started pissing on the floor.
  • Relating the workplace “P.R. war” between himself and Sophie to his favorite subject, World War II history, Mark likens himself to Rudolph Hess shuffling around Spandau Prison, then thinks that it’s only a matter of time before Sophie and her friends start distributing “cartoons od me as a rodent in a top hat, and everyone will think it’s hilarious until a mob comes and smashes my shop windows.” Then he meets Dobby, and can’t think of anything except all the ways in which she’s “weirdly attractive. Stop, don’t go there, Clinton!” I’ve done absolutely no research on this, but I’m going to go on a limb and say that this must be the only time that a TV character has compared himself to a famous Nazi, an anonymous Jew on Kristtalnacht, and the man from Hope, all in about five minutes of screen time.

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