Monday, December 5, 2016

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The King of Diamonds Affair”

This episode features perhaps the most obnoxious opening sequence in the history of the series, in which a young woman bites into a slice of pudding in a London tearoom and dissolves into ear-shredding histrionics when she breaks her tooth on a piece of glass. A customer points out that the glass is actually an uncut diamond, whereupon all the female customers and waitresses gasp and swoon and drop plates in astonishment. It’s grating and frenetic and juuuuuuust on the cusp of offensiveness, and it made me predisposed to loathe the episode.

And then the rest of the episode turns out to be perfectly innocuous and occasionally charming (I mean, it has Ricardo Montalban in it), but man, that opening sequence is dire.

Illya and Napoleon pop up at Pogue’s Pudding Shop in London and introduce themselves to the snippy proprietor, Victoria Pogue (Nancy Kovack, sporting a dodgy English accent). More diamonds were found in other puddings from Pogue’s; at the suggestion her puddings have been tampered with by an unsavory element, Victoria throws a hissyfit and throws Napoleon and Illya out of her shop. Yeah, the female characters in this episode are not scripted with an especially adept touch, I’ll just say that.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Friday Roundup

The painting that gave the band Arcadia its name. True story.
Happy December. I hope  everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving last week (where applicable). Ours was low-key and lovely, filled with plenty of good food, starting with my homemade potato rolls (and cranberry mimosas) for breakfast. My sister roasted a pair of Cornish game hens and did a stuffing made from jalapeño cornbread I’d made the night before, combined with roasted chestnuts, water chestnuts, sage, celery, and Italian sausage. I made miniature sweet potato soufflés with cooked sweet potatoes combined with butter, a little brown sugar, and a ridiculous amount of grated lemon peel and ginger. In a fit of daring, instead of whipped egg whites, I experimented with using aquafaba—the whipped liquid from cooked chickpeas. It worked well! I scoffed at first, but now I’m an aquafaba convert.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Deadly Goddess Affair”

Somewhere in North Africa, Napoleon hangs out in a hookah bar and ogles belly dancers while eavesdropping on a conversation between THRUSH boss Colonel Hubris (Victor Buono) and his knife-wielding henchman, Malik (Joseph Sirola). THRUSH Central is sending Colonel Hubris millions of dollars to finance his plot to seize control of all of Africa; the money, along with all of THRUSH’s top-secret plans, will be transported via what Hubris refers to as a “robot plane”, which will drop a satchel containing the cash and plans in Hubris’s backyard before self-destructing. In today’s world, in which unmanned aircraft have become commonplace, I think we all really missed an opportunity by opting to call them “drones”.  “Robot planes” sounds infinitely cooler.

Illya traces the flight path of THRUSH’s robot plane, which is scheduled to fly directly over Odysseus’s (fictional) Isle of Circe on its way to Hubris’s lair. Equipped with a device designed to signal the plane to remotely jettison its precious cargo, Illya meets up with Napoleon on Circe, where they kill time by hanging out in a café and leering at Mia (Brioni Farrell), a pretty young woman who, as their waiter Narouz (Michael Strong) informs them, is unable to get married because her family is too poor to provide her with a dowry. Illya and Napoleon debate the merits of dowries for a while (Napoleon is anti-dowry; Illya is staunchly pro-dowry), then Napoleon makes a weird and faintly tacky pass at Mia. “Who’d want a dowry with a lovely girl like this?” he asks her. “Any American wouldn’t ask for a penny!” Nonplussed, Mia hurries off without responding. Napoleon asks Narouz, “Did I do something wrong?” Yes, Napoleon, you did. You made a weird and faintly tacky pass at her.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Tigers Are Coming Affair”

In India, the sinister Prince Panat (Lee Bergere, slathered in a generous coat of brown face paint), accompanied by his right-hand man, Colonel Quillon (Alan Caillou, who also wrote the episode), and a beautiful French woman named Suzanne de Serre (Jill Ireland, again), hunts tigers on the grounds of his lavish estate. A ragged young man, whom Suzanne recognizes as the prince’s private pilot, interrupts the hunting expedition by hurrying up to Suzanne and gasping out something about poison. At Prince Panat’s orders, guards knock him unconscious and drag him away. The prince calmly explains to Suzanne that the man was only an escaped prisoner and therefore nothing for her to worry about (“It does liven up rather a dull day, doesn’t it?”).

Suzanne visits U.N.C.L.E. headquarters in New York and explains her predicament to Mr. Waverly and Napoleon: She’s a chemist/botanist, who’s been working in India to introduce technological advances in farming techniques to the locals. At this, Napoleon interjects, with his tone laden with skepticism and a smug grin on his lips, “You’re interested in farming?” Oh, oink. I adore you, Napoleon, but please try not to be a sexist jerk, okay? Suzanne explains that her most recent shipment of pesticides went missing shortly before Prince Panat’s pilot disappeared. She suspects the prince of stealing her pesticides for some diabolical reason.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Friday Roundup

Because Goya seems appropriate these days.

How’s everybody holding up? Are you all getting enough sleep, eating the right foods, drinking in moderation, not letting anger and/or despair interfere with productivity, taking time to appreciate all the good things in life? If so, you have my respect and admiration; on any given day since the election, I’ve managed maybe half of those things.

One of the (many) consequences of having a catastrophic election outcome is that it robs us all of the luxury of remaining outwardly apolitical. I’ve spent too much time over the past week and a half poring over analyses and election postmortems and rants and calls to actions. I imagine many of you have done the same, but in case it’s of any help to anyone, I’ve put together a very fast and not-at-all comprehensive resource guide and reading list to start to shape a course of action for the rough days (weeks, months, years) ahead:

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Discotheque Affair”

We now live in a world without Robert Vaughn, and it’s a mighty cold and unglamorous place. Don your best tuxedo and/or sparkly cocktail gown, pour yourself a stiff martini, and help me celebrate his iconic and irreplaceable magic.

In Manhattan, THRUSH goons transport bullets and hand grenades hidden inside vacuum cleaners to their secret headquarters in a repair shop. Napoleon slinks into the store, where the counterman is arguing with an irate customer. At the sight of Napoleon, the counterman whips out a gun, whereupon Napoleon calmly shoots him with a tranquilizer dart. Being an anarchic sort at heart, he then opens the register drawer and encourages the customer to steal herself a refund. He bursts into the back room and confronts the THRUSH goons, who jump into a van and make a break for it; Illya, who is loitering in the alley, fires a rocket launcher and takes out the van.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Friday Roundup

Hey, everybody! Any news this week?

Well. Things are awful. As to the election, I had a long rant composed in my brain, but I'm going to hold off on it for the moment. We have four years of intensive damage control ahead of us, and we will need great amounts of strength, courage, and kindness, all of which seem to be in short supply at times.

We lost a pair of greats this week. First up: Rest in peace, Robert Vaughn, you magnificent, beautiful, brilliant bastard.