The Man from UNCLE Season 2 Affair: Eps. 7-12
“The Arabian Affair”: Two parallel plots here that converge at the end. Solo’s plot is kind of interesting; he’s found out that THRUSH “retires” all its 65-year-old agents quite permanently, with exploding gold watches, to make sure they don’t reveal what they know. And so, in order to gain intel on a THRUSH operation in Arabia, he tracks down a THRUSH man who’s a day from retirement, proves to him that he’s marked for death, and convinces him he’s better off taking the UNCLE retirement plan, in exchange for his help getting the info. Oddly, though, the retiring agent, Lewin, is played by a 42-year-old Robert Ellenstein in very unconvincing age makeup. Also, the head of the THRUSH satrap of the week, Mr. Norman (Jerome Thor), is more loud and unpleasant than an interesting adversary.
Meanwhile, Illya is playing Lawrence of Arabia, almost literally. He’s spying on the aforementioned THRUSH operation, which involves a “vaporizer” machine that spews deadly dish-soap foam that disintegrates anyone it engulfs. He’s attacked and captured by a band of Arab stereotypes led by the late, great Michael Ansara, and it all gets rather embarrassing. Seriously, they threw in every Arab stereotype that existed as of 1965 — violent, greedy, gullible tribesmen who needed a white man to show them a better way and unite them behind his rule. (The “Arab terrorist” stereotype was still in the future.) Illya actually claims to be T.E. Lawrence’s son in order to convince the tribe to follow him, although he has to defeat Ansara in an obligatory fight. Oh, and Ansara’s daughter (Phyllis Newman in brownface) has claimed Illya as her “property” and intends to trade him for a camel at Aqaba, except his constant condescension and insults somehow make her fall for him (I think they call it “negging” in some circles). Did I mention this is another Peter Allan Fields script? It’s amazing that someone who wrote such virulently misogynistic stuff on this show could go on to write so many great scripts for Lwaxana Troi and Kira Nerys in Star Trek.
This one has another decent Gerald Fried score, but not much else going for it. Even Michael Ansara can’t save it, though he has a moment or two where his innate dignity shows through the pile of negative stereotypes. Seeing this episode so soon after Ansara’s passing wasn’t the tribute I’d hoped it would be.
“The Tigers Are Coming Affair”: Shouldn’t that be “The The Tigers Are Coming Affair”? Oh, well. It’s another episode set in India, but the stereotypes aren’t quite as awful as last time. Jill Ireland is back playing Suzanne, a French missionary teaching modern farming techniques and pesticide use to the backward natives, but the main villains are Prince Panat (Lee Bergere in brownface) and his compatriot, a cashiered British colonel named Quillon (episode writer Alan Caillou), who are generally very condescending and exploitative toward the natives. So while there are mentions of dacoits (murderous bandits) and a degree of White Man’s Burden condescension, for once it’s the Western or at least Westernized elites who come off as more villainous than the indigenes. Specifically, the prince has stolen Suzanne’s pesticides to defoliate the jungle and drive the peasants from their homes so they’ll have to work in the prince’s dangerous ruby mines to survive — which, as a fringe benefit for him, has driven a bunch of tigers down from the upcountry so he can mount an ongoing safari and shoot a bunch of pretty kitty-cats. Although the episode doesn’t paint this as evil, since Illya himself fells the only tiger killed onscreen (well, the only stock-footage tiger supposedly shot offscreen and then replaced with a fake dead tiger lying on the ground).
This time, Ireland is playing Robert Vaughn’s love interest rather than her husband David McCallum’s, but there were apparently limits to how far she’d take it, since they never kiss on camera (the final freeze-frame just prevents it). She comes off fairly well; her French accent is certainly a lot better than whatever they were trying to pass off as Indian accents here (only one guest character’s accent sounded even slightly Indian), and in the climax, Suzanne gets to save Solo and Kuryakin and hold the bad guys at bay rather effectively — literally with her hands tied behind her back and her mouth gagged.
A highlight of the episode is a really strong score by Robert Drasnin. Parts of it remind me more of Gerald Fried’s future work than Fried’s own scores on this show have done so far, making me wonder if Drasnin was an influence on Fried. But in the last half, Drasnin gives our heroes a really neat, jazzy leitmotif that reminds me of Oliver Nelson’s work on The Six Million Dollar Man, and gives the episode a ’70s sound ahead of its time.
“The Deadly Toys Affair”: I don’t even know how to recap this one. It’s an incoherent jumble of parts. The core story is about Solo & Illya trying to win over a boy supergenius (former Dennis the Menace star Jay North) that THRUSH has in its clutches in a Swiss private school run by THRUSH agents Arnold Moss and John Hoyt. They want to take him to THRUSH central in the Near East and seduce him with a state-of-the-art lab facility including “his own Van Allen Belt” — seriously, they said that. But Dennis has rigged up a means to spy on the headmasters, knows they killed his father, and plans to go with them to mount an extended campaign of revenge from within. Now, that sounds like a plot with potential, but we only get a few slapdash glimpses of it in between a lot of other, mostly irrelevant stuff. The extended teaser involves a mission to blow up a THRUSH nerve gas silo — contradictorily described as a hypnotic poison gas which would put all of Southern California to sleep forever, a massive euphemism fail — which has no evident connection to the rest of the story beyond the fact that the boy’s father tipped UNCLE off to it. And most of the rest of the episode revolves around two innocents who are mainly a distraction from the core plot — Angela Lansbury basically playing a Gabor sister as the boy’s aunt, and Diane McBain as a spoiled heiress who’s a friend of Lansbury’s character and has no reason to be in the story at all except as a flirtation interest for both Solo and Illya. All these various bits are flung together without any real coherence, and I often found myself confused at the randomness of it all, Or the occasional contradiction — in one scene Moss reflects on the lucky accident that they hired the boy’s father and then discovered the boy’s incredible brilliance, but in a later scene it’s stated that THRUSH hired the father specifically to get to the son.
Also, the boy’s brilliance is more discussed than shown. In the few scenes North actually gets, he’s given little opportunity to convey any particular intelligence — and UNCLE’s plan bizarrely involves sending Solo in as a maker of novelty gags like chattering teeth and sneezing powder, as though these would somehow excite the intellect of the greatest boy genius of the age. (There’s a scene where Waverly plays Q and tells Solo about all the spy tricks built into the novelty items — yet Solo never uses any of those tricks!!)
The episode’s only asset is a lively Gerald Fried score, but I think it’s mostly stock.
“The Cherry Blossom Affair”: A defecting scientist from THRUSH Eastern in Japan brings UNCLE a film proving that his employers have invented a “volcano activator” with which they can blackmail the world. THRUSH assassinates him at the airport in New York before Solo can meet him, but in an unlikely coincidence, his film gets mixed up with one belonging to Cricket Okasada (France Nuyen), who dubs English films into Japanese. UNCLE gets the real film and THRUSH’s Japan branch, led by Harada (Jerry Fujikawa), gets Cricket’s film, embarrassing him in front of visiting THRUSH representative Kutuzov (Woodrow Parfrey), who comes from that well-known ’60s-TV nation known as “My/Your Country.” Solo and Illya must track down THRUSH’s HQ and protect the determined Cricket as she tries to get her film back at all costs — although they keep ending up in worse danger than she does, and Solo even needs her to rescue him at one point.
The prospect of another TMFU episode set in Asia filled me with dread, but this one was a pleasant surprise. Oh, by today’s standards it wallows in Orientalism, with lots of thick accents and “Oh, look how Japanese we are” moments — THRUSH’s front is a karate dojo, Harada is obsessed with baseball and life-size kabuki marionettes (which are obviously stuntmen in costumes), and a policeman mentions to Illya that they could make his UNCLE radio for half the price — but by the standards of the series to date, its portrayal of Japan is surprisingly authentic and respectful, with genuine Asian actors, real Japanese being spoken, and characters like Cricket and Harada coming off as rather respectable and non-stereotyped. There’s a bit of business where Kutuzov makes some condescending remarks about how the Japanese can’t get the air conditioning to work, only to be smugly informed by Harada that the broken A/C unit was built in Kutuzov’s own anonymous country — a nice subversion of Western condescension.
In addition to being refreshingly non-awful in its portrayal of Asia, “Cherry Blossom” is a pretty solidly written episode overall, with a fairly strong story and some effective wit, and Joseph Sargent does a good job directing it. There are a number of very clever scene transitions in the episode, and I’m not sure how much of that is due to Sargent and the editor and how much is from scripter Mark Weingart (from a story by Sherman Yellen). Fried gets to do Japanese music this week, and again, it’s a somewhat interesting score but not up to his later standards. Nuyen (who’s actually French-Vietnamese, but speaks decent Japanese in the episode) is excellent as Cricket and has a good rapport with the leads. (By the way, about two years after this episode, Nuyen would marry I Spy star Robert Culp, who was so memorable in the first season’s “The Shark Affair.”)
“The Virtue Affair”: A namesake descendant of the Reign of Terror’s Robespierre (Ronald Long), trying to follow in his ancestor’s footsteps in the pursuit of “virtue” by whatever violent means are necessary, has abducted prominent scientists to build him a nuclear missile with which he’ll contaminate the French vineyards, basically his own aggressive form of Prohibition. One scientist he goes after is female physicist Albert Dubois (Mala Powers), named for Einstein, and Solo tries to protect her (futilely — seriously, he should just give up trying to go undercover, since the bad guys always know who he is the moment he shows up). Illya, meanwhile, goes after Robespierre’s main assistant Volger (Frank Marth), an avid bow hunter, challenging him to a target-shooting contest where Illya upstages him with a fancy kind of “bow” that’s more a high-tech slingshot that shoots arrows. I think there’s supposed to be some kind of electronic trickery with the arrows homing in on a ring or something, but that isn’t explained, just implied, and wouldn’t explain most of Illya’s trick shots. But Volger catches him out as an UNCLE agent (he asks Illya if he got the bow from “Uncle,” and Illya makes the mistake of asking “What’s that” instead of “Who’s that”), and makes him the target in The Most Dangerous Game (literally, with a target painted on the back of his shirt). It seems the show has abandoned the early idea that the general public had heard of “the U.N.C.L.E.” — in the past couple of episodes it’s been treated as a secret that only spies know about. Anyway, Illya eventually ends up slated for the guillotine, and Solo finds a rather clever way to trick his guard (Lawrence Montaigne) and escape his cell. (Montaigne strongly reminded me of Leonard Nimoy here, a resemblance I never noticed before even though I’ve seen him in Star Trek‘s “Balance of Terror” and “Amok Time” countless times. I suppose it explains why they cast him as a Romulan and a Vulcan.)
The episode is by accomplished mystery/thriller/SF writer Henry Slesar, but I can’t say I found it very impressive. It’s decent, which is above average for the episodes in this post, but unremarkable. We’ve seen the conceit of the villain trying to replicate a historical ancestor’s gimmicks before, and it’s all pretty much by the numbers. The episode makes a point of establishing that Robespierre is as fanatical about not harming women as he is about everything else, so it’s obvious that his unwillingness to hurt Albert will be his downfall. So really, not a lot of surprises — except early on, when Albert’s father (Marcel Hillaire) escapes from Robespierre by taking Solo and Illya hostage at gunpoint, and later when Robey’s henchmen assassinate Dubois père in a rather brazen and startling way. The rest of the episode is something of an anticlimax. It isn’t helped by the inconsistent French accents of the actors. Robert Drasnin scores again, but it’s mostly stuff we’ve heard before.
“The Children’s Day Affair”: Doing security for an upcoming conference of UNCLE heads, Solo and Illya are ambushed while driving along a back road in Geneva (which looks exactly like the back road in France where they were ambushed last week). The attackers turn out to be a bunch of teenage boys in the uniforms of a local boys’ school with the THRUSH logo in its insignia. (Seriously, why does a super-secret organization even have a distinctive logo?) They and Waverly are surprised and wonder what THRUSH would want with a boys’ school in Switzerland — even though they just broke up a THRUSH-run boys’ school in Switzerland three episodes earlier! The school is run by Mother Fear (Jeanne Cooper), who’s got this weird Mommie-Dearest dominatrix thing going on and has headmaster Jenks (Warren Stevens) and her other adult henchmen acting in a perpetually childlike and obedient state around her. They’re planning to assassinate the UNCLE heads, but the boys’ impetuous attack on our heroes has led UNCLE to move the conference, and now they have to try to find the new site, first by capturing and torturing Illya, then by capturing Solo, letting him escape with Illya, and following them to the conference site. For some reason, even though our heroes figure out they’re being trailed, they still let the villains find out where the conference is, when they could’ve easily led them astray and thus avoided the climactic danger altogether. And for a secret conference of UNCLE’s top men, they have absolutely awful security, letting the student assassins smuggle in a bunch of high-powered rifles under their choir-boy robes. So there are at least two reasons why the climax shouldn’t have happened at all.
Oh, the innocent is Anna, an Italian woman who claims to hate children but has ended up in social services anyway and likes kids more than she lets on. She’s escorting a brat who turns out to be one of the THRUSH recruits, and she gets involved with our boys when trying to track him down. She’s played by Susan Silo, who’s been a prominent animation voice artist for decades, but at the time was doing mainly live-action work and looked and sounded a bit like a real live Betty Boop. She’s fun to watch and listen to, one of the few highlights of the episode, though she’s underutilized and rather tacked on.
All in all, a pretty mediocre episode by Dean Hargrove, completely falling apart in the last act. The music is stock, credited to Fried and Drasnin.