The Man From UNCLE Season 2 Affair: Eps. 19-24 (Spoilers)
“The Waverly Ring Affair”: After raiding a THRUSH message drop disguised as a storefront photo developing service (complete with an oddly blurry fight scene — perhaps there was a camera error and they couldn’t afford a reshoot), Illya finds a top-security UNCLE document in the captured packet, revealing that there’s a mole inside UNCLE HQ. We get to see more of UNCLE’s security procedures as Solo and Illya investigate. Suspicion seems to fall on a friendly Clark Kent-meets-Fred MacMurray type named George Dennell (Larry Blyden), who’s caught with a secret document and gets kicked out of UNCLE and “de-trained” using a spinny-disk hypnosis “beam” to erase his classified knowledge — but it’s really a ploy by Solo to use George as bait for THRUSH recruitment. It’s pretty easy to guess that the other new UNCLE employee introduced here, Carla (Elizabeth Allen) — who’s just friends with George though he wants more — is really the THRUSH mole. But when Solo gets captured by both of them seemingly working together, it’s unclear which one is the real mole — especially since they both seem to have so-called Waverly rings, a top-security device that can only be issued by Waverly himself to his most trusted operatives. Which one is the real spy? (Well, for THRUSH, I mean. Obviously they’re both spies.)
This is a fairly good episode, a nice look inside the title organization, though as is often the case, the climactic action gets a little incoherent. Still, there was a moment where I thought the story was going to go in a totally different direction. The de-training hypnotist, Dr. Lazarus (Jim Boles), had a very sinister-looking pointy goatee, so I thought, “Of course! He’s the mole! He frames UNCLE agents for security breaches, gets them kicked out, and pretends to hypnotize them into forgetting all UNCLE’s secrets, but he rigs the process with a back-door suggestion so THRUSH agents can capture them, trigger their suppressed memories, and get their secrets! It’s brilliant!” But none of that actually happened. Which is a pity, since that sounded more interesting than what we got. Not that this was a bad one, but it feels like a missed opportunity, and a less cohesive story, since the hypnosis angle has little payoff in the actual episode.
“The Bridge of Lions Affair, Parts 1 & 2”: Solo investigates the disappearance of elderly scientist Dr. Lancer, who looks like James Doohan in old-age makeup, and the appearance of a man with identical fingerprints named Bainbridge, who looks like James Doohan with a fake mustache. Bainbridge, of course, is a de-aged Lancer, as he reveals to the elderly Sir Norman Swickert, played in age makeup by the great Maurice Evans, who does such a convincing job playing an elderly man that I almost forgot he was still much younger at the time this was made. Swickert was once one of the great men of power in the UK, and he formed the Bridge of Lions Society, a chess club allowing world leaders to keep the lines of communication open so the misunderstandings that led to World War I couldn’t happen again.
Solo’s investigations lead him to Lancer’s daughter Lorelei, a model at the Paris salon of Mme. Raine De Sala (Vera Miles), who has ambitions to seize the power that the men of the world reserve for themselves, and who has her henchwoman Olga (Monica Keating) strangle Lorelei and shoot Dr. Lancer/Bainbridge/Scotty to keep them from talking to Solo. There’s also a Richard Kiel-esque strongman chauffeur, Fleeton (Cal Bolder), who tries to keep Solo from getting into Swickert’s estate by lifting the front of his roadster and rotating it to point in the other direction — whereupon Solo simply kicks it into reverse to get inside.
Meanwhile, Illya is tracking cats around Soho, trying to find out why they’re being, err, catnapped. And eventually THRUSH’s Hong Kong office, of all places, gets wind of these investigations, and their Waverly equivalent (James Hong) orders Jordin (Bernard Fox, without his usual mustache) to look into it all. Which is a slow scene that’s mostly for padding, but it’s mildly interesting to see inside a THRUSH HQ and to see how different James Hong looked and sounded back then.
It’s a while before all these plot threads come together. Raine reveals that she’s been in love with Sir Norman since she was a little girl — maybe it was his power she was in love with, but Vera Miles and Maurice Evans have a beautifully acted scene where Sir Norman speaks of how time has defeated him and Raine passionately insists she can give it back to him. It’s perhaps the finest acting I’ve seen on this show — which helps make up for the performance of the innocent, Sir Norman’s nurse Joanna (Ann Elder), who has an atrociously fake Irish accent. Anyway, the cats are research subjects for Gritzky (Harry Davis) and his age-reversing process, which Raine has developed so she could de-age Sir Norman in a machine that’s basically a big box with Robby the Robot’s head on top. That’s not a joke; it’s actually the outer part of Robby the Robot’s head used as the machine’s dome. (IMDb’s episode page actually says “Robby the Robot … Part of Rejuvenating Machine (uncredited).”) But even as Sir Norman is being de-aged, Solo and Illya try to win over Joanna, but she’s a prim lass who doesn’t like strange men showing up at her window, so she summons Fleeton, who knocks them out and dumps them into a wine press. Holy vintage! Can our heroes handle the pressure? Will they be turned into wine before their time? Tune in next week, same UNCLE time, same UNCLE channel!
Or, just play the next episode on the DVD. Which opens without a “Previously…” montage, instead replaying some of that well-acted Miles/Evans sequence interspersed with new material of Solo and Illya trying to shore up the wine press. Apparently lifting the floor left enough space underneath to save them, for Jordin subsequently retrieves Solo (while Illya plays dead) and quizzes him on recent events, recapping part 1 through dialogue — similar to what they attempted in their previous 2-parter, but better handled. Illya helps Solo get away from Jordin. Later, we see Sir Norman in the Robby-head contraption, and it actually plays out differently than in the closing shot of part 1: Rather cleverly, the de-aging machine causes no instant outward effect, but triggers the cells to gradually restore themselves over the ensuing days.
Some time later, Sir Norman has made a triumphant return to politics, and his old friend Waverly sends our boys to try to talk him into turning the process over to UNCLE before THRUSH gets it. But Sir Norman insists it’s his marriage to Raine that’s rejuvenated him and won’t reveal the truth. But Jordin has the room bugged, so he captures Dr. Gritzky and blackmails Raine into sharing the de-aging process with THRUSH. By this point, though, Sir Norman has realized that he’ll need monthly treatments to stay rejuvenated, and that he’s therefore trapped. He doesn’t like that, and he wonders if Raine ever really loved him.
Solo tries to reach Sir Norman and tries to persuade Nurse Joanna that he’s on their side. Having little success, he asks Mr. Waverly to fly over and talk to Sir Norman. But Jordin gets the drop on Solo and puts him and Joanna back in the wine press. Later, Waverly arrives, but Raine has Jordin take him prisoner — and the unflappable Waverly utterly schools him in the etiquette of proper hostage-taking. Leo G. Carroll is in rare form here, and later on as he and Solo contrive their escape from the press.
But Sir Norman has reached his own decision without Waverly’s help. He tries to convince Gritzky that the process is a trap and must be buried, even if Gritzky has to be buried along with it. Jordin just barely stops him from shooting Gritzky himself, but Sir Norman urges Gritzky to do the right thing. He then begins to confess the whole story to his assembled compatriots, and when Jordin attempts to shoot him, Raine surprises her husband and herself by taking the bullet for him. Gritzky subjects himself to an overdose of the machine, and booby-traps it, taking Jordin out of the picture. His secret is lost, except for a notebook that even UNCLE’s computers can’t decode — at least, not anytime soon.
This is one of those stories that would’ve been so much easier to resolve if not for the insistence on maintaining the status quo of the world. Sir Norman and Gritzky were trapped because only Gritzky held the secret and couldn’t let THRUSH have it — but if he’d just published it, then everyone would’ve had the secret and the bad guys would’ve had no advantage. Not to mention the potential benefits to humanity. Plus there would’ve been no need for Gritzky’s suicide.
Still, this 2-parter is the highlight of the season so far and one of the high points of the series. I’ve found this season rather disappointing on the whole, but this one really clicked, with a good script by Howard Rodman (story by Henry Slesar) and effective direction by E. Darrell Hallenbeck, as well as mostly excellent guest performances (with one or two exceptions). The main thing it was missing was an original score.
“The Foreign Legion Affair”: Speaking of original scores, this one has an entirely new one that’s immediately recognizable as Gerald Fried’s work, built around an Arabian-style leitmotif that presages Fried’s Capellan theme for Star Trek: “Friday’s Child.” Illya is caught photographing a THRUSH code somewhere in Morocco. He manages to escape, but the THRUSH agents get to his chartered plane before he arrives, and for some reason, instead of just shooting him, they replace the pilots and go through the charade of taking off and everything. For some reason, the plane’s stewardess Barbara (Danielle De Metz) doesn’t discover this substitution until after they’ve taken off, so she and Illya are both taken by surprise. But Illya fights the baddies off and parachutes out with Barbara, landing deep in the Sahara, where they stumble across a French Foreign Legion fort run by Capt. Calhoun (Howard Da Silva), who doesn’t know the Legion was disbanded five years ago and the Arab war ended, so he arrests them as enemy spies. (For some reason, he thinks the blond, Nordic Illya is a Tuareg, one of the Berber natives of Saharan North Africa.) Meanwhile, Solo goes to Casablanca to investigate, gets captured, and predictably gains the support of a gorgeous and very lusty harem-girl type, Aisha (Vivienne Ventura), who helps him escape.
The “outpost commander who doesn’t know the war is over” trope is a hackneyed one, and it plays rather goofily at first (Da Silva’s character is supposedly Irish but you’d never know it from his New Yawk accent), but it ends up taking a rather touching turn when we learn of the unearned disgrace that drove Calhoun to the legion, and the reasons for the loyalty of his only underling, Cpl. Remy (Rupert Crosse). So what seemed like it was going to be a very silly episode turned out to be rather sweet. Although it’s certainly jam-packed with Arab stereotypes.
“The Moonglow Affair”: This is a backdoor pilot for the spinoff The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., which would premiere the following season. However, although it introduces that show’s main characters April Dancer (a name suggested by Ian Fleming, unsurprisingly) and Mark Slate, they’re played by different actors here, namely Mary Ann Mobley and Norman Fell rather than Stefanie Powers and Noel Harrison. Slate is introduced here as an older agent, the man who trained Solo, and now he’s been brought in to train Dancer, apparently UNCLE’s first female field agent. They’re needed to take over an investigation that’s gotten Illya captured and Solo exposed to a THRUSH radiation weapon causing sensory aphasia. Due to the importance of the mission, Waverly bends the rules that say agents over 40 (like Slate) aren’t allowed in the field.
The bad guys are Arthur Caresse (Kevin McCarthy) and his sister Jean (Mary Carver), whose front is the Caresse cosmetics company — seriously, why do so many THRUSH operatives go into the glamour business? Caresse is working on a new cosmetics line called Moonglow, and Waverly is concerned that they may be planning to sabotage America’s Project Moonglow rocket program, since of course the first thing that enemy saboteurs will do to keep their evil plans secret is to name their cover story after the exact thing they’re targeting. April goes in as a secretary, but inevitably (given that they cast Miss America 1959 in the role), Arthur takes one look at her and appoints her the new Miss Moonglow — much to Jean’s frustration, for while she’s trying to pick the best spokesmodel, he just picks the girl he most wants to sleep with. While April uses her feminine wiles on him, Mark tracks down Illya and saves him from execution, getting into fights with THRUSH assassins and generally being Too Old For This Crap. It turns out the plan is to irradiate the US astronauts’ space food so they’ll go loopy and crash, thus scuttling both the US and Soviet space programs so that THRUSH can hold the high ground. While Mark scuttles this plan, April manages to find the microdot plans to THRUSH’s rocket base (as if there weren’t enough McGuffins already), and when Jean discovers her identity, she manages to get the better of both Caresse siblings, but unfortunately the episode wasn’t willing to let a woman save the day all by herself, so she gets irradiated and needs Mark to save her.
All in all, not a particularly good backdoor pilot. I can see why they recast the leads. I liked Mary Ann Mobley a lot in her Mission: Impossible appearance, but here, while she was certainly very nice to look at, she came off as a bit vapid and limited as a performer. And Norman Fell wasn’t very appealing at all. Really, I’m not sure why this pilot convinced them to go ahead with the spinoff. Although in the final show, Mark Slate was made British and de-aged ten years, no doubt to make him more Kuryakinesque. Odd that they revised a character so completely in what was supposed to be the same continuity. Why not change the character name along with everything else?
The main virtue here is another full score by Gerald Fried, in a mode that’s at once very much a ’60s spy score (with lots of bass guitar and bongos) and very much a Fried score. I’ve commented on how Fried’s earlier scores for this show sounded kind of underdeveloped, sounding more like his early/contemporary comedy work (on Gilligan’s Island) but not quite having the full-fledged qualities of his familiar adventure/drama scoring on shows like Star Trek and M:I. But by now, between “The Foreign Legion Affair” and this one, I can safely say that Fried’s style had reached maturity.
“The Nowhere Affair”: A search for a map to a THRUSH facility takes Solo to
MGM’s Western town backlot the ghost town of Nowhere, Nevada, where he’s captured by the enemy and takes a temporary-amnesia pill. The facility’s head, Longolius (David Sheiner putting on a Western accent), doesn’t believe he’s amnesiac, but his captive cybernetics expert Tertunian (Lou Jacobi) convinces him it’s real, and that the best way to break through the memory block is to “arouse” his metabolism — which predictably means sending a woman to seduce him. Just as predictably, the computer-dating algorithm Tertunian runs reveals that the ideal candidate is the one woman already working in the facility, Mara (Diana Hyland), who protests because she’s a bookish type who missed the obligatory seduction course for female THRUSH agents. Yet also predictably, she somehow manages to seduce Solo like a pro. (She even has a seminude scene that’s surprisingly revealing for 1966.) And even more predictably, she falls in love with him and helps him escape to sabotage the facility. (His memory returns when she puts a gun in his hand — which was almost a good scene, seeing his nonverbal reaction as he regained himself, but then they went and ruined it by redundantly revealing the same thing in stilted dialogue.) The predictability is only slightly offset by the revelation that Tertunian chose her with the full knowledge that this would happen, intending all along to sabotage THRUSH’s plans. But that doesn’t help any, since a few scenes earlier, we’d seen Longolius actually planning to let Solo escape so they could follow him to UNCLE, but then when Solo actually does escape, Longolius is outraged and betrayed. What?
Meanwhile, Illya is trying to track Solo down and ends up bizarrely allying with a stereotypical grizzled prospector (J. Pat O’Malley) who’s found the THRUSH map and thought it was leading to buried treasure. He helps Illya find the facility and then rig it to blow up once the good guys have escaped, and is oddly untroubled by the fact that he’s just killed a whole bunch of THRUSH agents, most of them dressed up like Yul Brynner in Westworld.
The THRUSH computer lab is a nifty set at first glance, with forced-perspective computer banks seemingly receding into the distance, but then they ruin that too by shooting from side angles that give away the diminishing size of the computers.
There’s almost a nice scene in the ending, where Mara reflects on THRUSH’s lifelong indoctrination that left her no choice but to become who she is, but then it takes a rather ghastly turn when Waverly decides the best solution for her tragic upbringing is to get her to swallow down a whole bottle of barely-tested amnesia pills and hope it wipes all her memory rather than just killing her, whereupon she evidently forgets everything she’s known since childhood except that she’s in love with Solo, and this ultimate roofie is somehow supposed to be a happy ending rather than the creepiest one I’ve ever seen on this show. Egad.
So, yeah, it’s an amnesia-themed episode that I really wish I could forget. Way to go, show. At least it has a mostly new Robert Drasnin score, plus a reuse of that nice jazzy, syncopated cue I liked from “The Tigers Are Coming Affair.”