Tuesday, May 24, 2016

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

Illya is in the hospital, where he’s grouchily recuperating from a concussion sustained in the course of a mission involving a bikini model named Margo. Napoleon stops by to provide his partner with sympathy and moral support, and also to casually imply that he’s shagging Margo. Then he triumphantly sails out of the hospital room, leaving Illya sputtering with rage. The last time a bikini model showed romantic interest in Illya, she had to forcibly drag him into a bedroom to get him to notice her, so it’s probably fair to assume Illya’s fury here is due more to Napoleon’s blatant display of one-upmanship than to losing own his shot at Margo. If there’s a single element that defines the Illya-Napoleon dynamic, apart from their deep and heartfelt friendship, it’s the joy they take in delivering a perfectly-executed cockblock.

While Illya recovers, two thugs dressed as doctors break into his room and attack him. Illya tries to fight them off, but they drug him into submission. “Get him ready, but carefully. He still has ten hours to live,” one thug says to the other. Hmm. That’s interesting! I bet this episode takes place in real time, because I’m pretty sure it’s ten hours long.

Sorry. No. My mistake. I just double-checked. It’s a standard fifty-minute episode; it only seems ten hours long, thanks to some difficulties with pacing. This is a fourth-season episode, which means you can hardly expect the story to move briskly along at a steady clip.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

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

Somewhere in the Caribbean, a gaggle of well-heeled gamblers play a high-stakes game of roulette at a private casino. At the stroke of midnight, foppish casino magnate-turned-THRUSH agent Barnaby Partridge* (Michael Rennie, who joins Leo G. Carroll and Anne Francis on the elite list of Man From U.N.C.L.E. actors who get name-checked in “Science Fiction Double Feature” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show) informs the group they’ve been gambling with their lives: Each guest has some vital information that THRUSH wants, and they’ll either tell it to him, or die.

*This makes three episodes featuring THRUSH villains with the last name of Partridge: Along with Barnaby, we’ve got Mrs. Partridge in “The Her Master’s Voice Affair” and crazy old Edith and Emory Partridge in “The Gazebo in the Maze Affair”. Maybe they’re all related! Maybe this was some kind of internal gag! Maybe the writers were too lazy to drum up alternate surnames! We’ll never know.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Master’s Touch Affair”

In Lisbon, Illya poses as a cabbie and drives Napoleon along a winding mountain road in search of the current hideout of Pharos Mandor, the exiled second-in-command of all of THRUSH. Following a failed coup attempt, Mandor has turned traitor against his former compatriots, supplying U.N.C.L.E. with vital information about THRUSH’s inner workings in exchange for great sums of cash. Illya and Napoleon are trailed by a THRUSH agent operating under the orders of Valandros (Nehemiah Persoff), Mandor’s former protégé and current arch-nemesis. A squadron of Mandor’s personal bodyguards swoop down the hillside and mount an attack. They murder the THRUSH agent, kidnap Napoleon, and leave poor Illya stranded on the side of the road with his totaled cab.

Napoleon is whisked off to a lavish gated villa to meet with Mandor, who is played by Hawaii Five-O’s effortlessly sleek and cool Jack Lord. This is a season four episode, which is another way of saying it’s really not any good—the pacing is sluggish, the script is sloppy, and nothing quite makes cohesive sense—but Lord’s Mandor is pretty consistently terrific. Much of the first half of this episode just features Napoleon and Mandor hanging around the posh villa together, sipping cocktails and looking handsome in their nice suits and exchanging veiled threats while trying to outclass and out-cool each other. As fond as I am of Napoleon’s easy sophistication and unruffled charm, I have to give the edge to Mandor.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Summit-Five Affair”

As an exercise in masochism, all this month I’ll be looking at episodes from U.N.C.L.E.’s dismal fourth and final season. First up: the utterly ridiculous season premiere.

Napoleon visits the Berlin headquarters of U.N.C.L.E.’s Northeast division to inspect the security system in advance of Summit-Five, a meeting of U.N.C.L.E.’s five division chiefs. He’s led around the building by the snooty chief enforcement agent, Strothers (Lloyd Bochner, making his second appearance on this show after “The See-Paris-And-Die Affair”), and a communications expert named Newman (Don Chastain). When an alarm goes off, Newman realizes the building’s security has been grievously compromised*. He barricades himself inside the office of the absent division chief and places an emergency call to Mr. Waverly in New York. The call is cut off; when Napoleon breaks down the office door, he discovers Newman’s freshly-murdered corpse.

*We will never find out how security was compromised, or why the alarm sparked such a panic in Newman. This is business as usual for season four. If you’re the type of person who gets vexed by things like loose plot threads or a lack of internal logic, this season is guaranteed to drive you batty.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

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

Outside U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, Illya is ambushed by a pair of miniature robots*, who shoot explosive darts at him. He deflects their attack with a garbage-can lid, then whips out his gun and blasts them into bits. He seems relatively unfazed by all this, like being ambushed at his workplace by lethal-yet-adorable little robots is just a daily part of life for Illya Kuryakin, amazing super-spy and noted turtleneck aficionado.

Over at THRUSH headquarters, THRUSH unveils its current fiendish scheme: They’ve given one of their agents extensive plastic surgery to turn him into a Napoleon doppelganger. Oh, lordy, THRUSH, why would you do that? One Napoleon in this world is plenty. For the first stage of their plan, they’re going to kidnap the real Napoleon and replace him with the duplicate, hence the attempt on Illya’s life. As the fake Napoleon explains, “Illya Kuryakin knows Mr. Solo too well and therefore represents a danger.” Well, you’d think so, wouldn’t you?

Since the attempt to kill Illya was a bust, Fake Napoleon shrugs and decides not to bother with trying to get him out of the way. “But I must stay particularly alert in his presence,” he muses aloud.

Spoiler alert: Fake Napoleon will not need to stay particularly alert in Illya’s presence.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Re-Collectors Affair”

In Madrid, Gregori Valetti (frequent U.N.C.L.E. guest villain Theo Marcuse) checks into a hotel room and shoots an elderly bellhop with a gun disguised as a walking stick. He then calls the police, introduces himself, and dramatically confesses his crime: “I have just executed Colonel Oscar Manheim.” He adds that he works for a secret organization known as the Re-Collectors (slogan: “We hunt, we find, we kill”), then hangs up. A beautiful young Italian woman named Lisa Donato (Jocelyn Lane) bursts into the room, gun in hand, intending to shoot Valetti. He escapes unscathed, leaving Lisa to discover the bellhop’s corpse.

Back in New York, Mr. Waverly briefs Napoleon and Illya on their new mission: The shadowy members of the Re-Collectors have dedicated themselves to hunting down four Nazi war criminals who vanished after amassing a priceless collection of looted artwork. The Re-Collectors have claimed responsibility for killing two of the Nazis thus far, including the elderly bellhop, and have recovered several valuable pieces of stolen artwork, which they’ve sold back to the rightful owners for great sums of money. Valetti, a well-known assassin associated with the Re-Collectors, approached Lisa Donato in Rome and offered to restore a looted painting belonging to her family; unable to pay his exorbitant fee, Lisa turned to U.N.C.L.E. for help recovering her family’s artwork.

Waverly points out that the Re-Collectors seem able to track down the fugitive Nazis with ease, even though U.N.C.L.E. has been fruitlessly searching for them since the end of WWII. Waverly thinks this seems mighty fishy. Mr. Waverly, sir, I hate to be the one to break this to you, but the reason your well-funded global spy organization has spent the past twenty years trying to find four old Nazis to no avail is that all of your agents are grotesquely incompetent.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

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

In the middle of a bleak Nevada desert, Napoleon braves a sandstorm to ask an elderly prospector (J. Pat O’Malley) for directions to a nearby ghost town, which is named, promisingly, Nowhere. Upon reaching Nowhere, Napoleon stumbles across the corpse of a murdered man sprawled on the floor in a deserted saloon. Napoleon searches the saloon and finds a pocket watch with a map hidden inside it. While attempting to contact U.N.C.L.E. headquarters about his discovery, he’s ambushed by horseback-riding THRUSH goons dressed as old-timey gunslingers. He hides the pocket watch and map in a cow skull, then sends a frantic emergency message to U.N.C.L.E.—“I’m taking Capsule B!”—before he’s clubbed over the head and captured.

Back at headquarters, Mr. Waverly briefs Illya on the situation: Napoleon went to Nowhere to meet an undercover U.N.C.L.E. agent—the dead man in the saloon, presumably—who was going to pass along intel about a famous cybernetics specialist, Arum Tertunian (Lou Jacobi), who’s being held captive by THRUSH. Mr. Waverly plays Illya a recording of Napoleon’s message about Capsule B, a drug that induces amnesia for up to three days. “That’s the new capsule the research boys were bragging about in the cafeteria!” Illya exclaims cheerfully. “It’s supposed to be top secret,” Waverly mutters, filled with weary resignation at this latest bit of evidence that his powerful global spy organization is staffed entirely by knuckleheads and blabbermouths.