The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Children’s Day Affair”
near the Italian border, Napoleon and Illya zip along in a sporty convertible, patrolling
the roads to Geneva
as part of security measures for an upcoming gathering of U.N.C.L.E.’s Western
Hemisphere Section One leaders. When someone opens fire on them, they leave the
car and explore the surrounding woods. In no time at all, Illya finds himself ambushed
from all directions by a gaggle of gun-toting young boys in school uniforms. Illya,
my love, try not to let small children get the drop on you. It reflects poorly on
U.N.C.L.E. when a bunch of preteens can outmaneuver one of its top spies.
At the sound of a whistle, the boys scurry. Napoleon apprehends one of the kids. He and Illya take him to U.N.C.L.E.’s
Geneva headquarters, where they brief a
visiting Mr. Waverly and local division chief Carlo Farenti (Eduardo Ciannelli)
on the situation. The boy, who is dressed in the uniform of a private school located
in the nearby town of Figliano, was carrying a rifle identical to those used by
the dreaded terrorist organization THRUSH. Fearing a potential THRUSH attack, Farenti shifts the location of the conference from a
Geneva hotel to a secluded lodge in the middle of nowhere.
Waverly suggests Napoleon and Illya try to discover the connection between THRUSH and the school. Farenti agrees to this plan, though he seems openly skeptical of their investigating prowess, probably because Napoleon and Illya keep pulling weird faces and looking bored out of their skulls during this crucial security briefing.
is run by a pair
of fabulously nasty villains: Captain Dennis Jenks (Warren Stevens) and his
wife Yvonne (Jeanne Cooper, the late Young
and the Restless doyenne who, fun fact, is also Corbin Bernsen’s mom), who
prefers to be called Mother Fear. Their THRUSH-financed school is dedicated to transforming delinquent young boys into soulless killers. The
first big test will be at the upcoming conference, at which the boys will attempt
to assassinate all of U.N.C.L.E.’s leaders. Jenks frets that the attack on
Illya and Napoleon has alerted U.N.C.L.E. to their scheme; Mother Fear soothes
him with a combination of gentle massage and brutal nerve pinches. Figliano
I’m just going to quickly point out that Mother Fear wields a leather flogger, Captain Jenks always carries a riding crop, and there are no horses anywhere in sight. Jenks makes a chilling offhand reference to “all those brutality trials” at other schools where he was the headmaster; Mother Fear keeps Tom and Huck, two hulking henchmen with matching facial scars, in line with sunny threats of whippings. They’re sadistic, creepy, and kinky. Obviously, nubile young Illya is going to wander into their clutches before the second commercial break. He’s a magnet for this sort of thing.
Illya and Napoleon head back to Figliano by train. A young boy aims a pistol at them; jumpy after recent events, Illya quietly draws his own gun and almost shoots him before the boy’s caretaker, an adorable young social services worker named Anna Paola (Susan Silo), jumps in and reassures them it’s just a toy. After Anna, who is escorting the boy, Ricardo, to a placement center, heads off after her errant charge, Illya and Napoleon discover that Ricardo’s toy pistol is filled with corrosive acid.
(All children in this episode, even the ones who haven’t yet been exposed to the toxic influence of Mother Fear and Captain Jenks, are depicted as vicious, remorseless, wantonly destructive beasts. Perhaps someone on the Man From U.N.C.L.E. creative staff once underwent some kind of traumatic babysitting experience.)
When the train arrives in Figliano, a panicked Anna begs Illya and Napoleon for help finding Ricardo, who has gone rogue. Illya spots a helium balloon emblazoned with the school’s logo, which Tom is using to signal to prospective recruit Ricardo. Illya follows the balloon to a THRUSH-operated bakery, where he’s quickly apprehended.
At the school’s shooting range, where the young pupils are trained to fire rifles at cutouts of nice old Mr. Waverly, Captain Jenks cheerily tells a captive Illya all about his diabolical plans for the school. They have a very polite, civilized chat about how Jenks is going to torture the stuffing out of Illya to find the new location of the U.N.C.L.E. conference (“Torture, then?” Jenks asks. “You’re the headmaster,” Illya replies, calmly yet tinged with a certain weary must-this-happen-to-me-every-damn-mission? resignation).
So next thing you know, Illya’s shackled to the floor, wrists and ankles, in front of Mother Fear: “Illya, dear, when’s the last time you told your mother that you love her?” When Illya, cold and polite as ever, refuses to divulge the conference location, she throws hot tea in his face, announces that she’s going to flog him, and starts unfastening his clothes.
While Illya’s indoctrination in the world of hardcore BDSM happens demurely off screen, Napoleon and Anna continue the search for Ricardo. Napoleon spots the balloon in the bakery window and whips out his gun. “I have a sweet tooth,” he explains to a startled Anna.
Napoleon stuns the bakery workers with a smoke bomb, then asks Anna to stay behind and guard them while he heads off to the school to continue his mission. For crying out loud, Napoleon, they’re deadly THRUSH agents, there’s four of them, they’re tied up with kitchen towels, and poor Anna is armed only with a rolling pin. Even by your slapdash standards, this is a whopping lot to ask of an untrained civilian. Call U.N.C.L.E.’s
office and ask them to send over a couple of agents. It’s the least you can do.
Nope. No siree. No way, no how. That’s not how Napoleon works. He scampers off to the school, leaving the innocent young social worker alone with the cluster of vicious, lethal terrorists.
At the school, Napoleon poses as an inspector and snoops around the grounds while Mother Fear and her pupils observe him on hidden cameras. Mother Fear carries on a running analysis of his actions (she’ll eventually assign him a grade of C-minus for his spy work. Seems fair), then gives the students a crash course in all things Napoleon-related: “You’ll find the name in your THRUSH manual. Napoleon Solo. Look it up.” Of course there’s a section on Napoleon in the THRUSH manual. Of course. I bet it’s a thick chapter, complete with annotations and footnotes and glossy photos, plus maybe some cheeky first-person accounts from the various comely THRUSH agents who’ve slept with him.
After shaking off Tom and Huck and a slew of gun-wielding kids, Napoleon finds Illya, a little worse for wear, locked up in a cell. Napoleon takes a quick breather from the usual glib one-liners and edgy barbs that characterize his relationship with Illya to tenderly dab at his injured partner’s wounds.
Hi, guys. Take your time; I’ll just watch.
Because all this tender wound-dabbing sucks up time that could’ve been spent, like, escaping, Tom and Huck arrive and capture Napoleon as well. And now it’s Napoleon’s turn to be interrogated. I swear, these two get tortured so, so much. While the methods for torturing Illya tend to have weird sexual undertones (or, as in this case, blatant sexual overtones), Napoleon’s torments lean more toward the elaborate and gimmicky. Case in point: Here, he’s chained in front of a model train set, in which the freight cars are loaded with vials of nerve gas. Captain Jenks forces Napoleon to maneuver two trains along the rails at ever-increasing speeds, constantly switching tracks to prevent collisions. If the freight cars derail and spill their bounty, the nerve gas will kill him.
Eventually, Captain Jenks puts a stop to this nonsense, claiming he’s already learned the new location of the conference. As he gleefully tells Mother Fear, this is all part of his brilliant plan: He’s going to allow Napoleon and Illya to escape, then secretly follow them to the conference. Spoiler alert: This is exactly how the rest of the episode plays out. Captain Jenks’s plan will be 100% successful. Illya and Napoleon, who bravely withstood brutal torture and mind games to keep the location out of the hands of the enemy, will now lead THRUSH right to the conference doorstep.
Back at the bakery, Anna gets sick of waiting for Napoleon to return. She somehow herds the four THRUSH agents into the back of the bakery van and drives up to the school. It’s not clear how, exactly, she accomplishes this—she’s still armed with only a rolling pin—but in any case, she’s far and away the most competent person in this whole episode. At the school, she incapacitates Tom by, uh, rolling the van window up quickly and trapping his arms, then rescues Napoleon and Illya. The three of them steal a car and head for the conference to stop the assassination plot.
Huck trails them at a safe distance. As soon as he sees them take the turnoff to the lodge, he alerts Mother Fear and Captain Jenks as to the conference location. Meanwhile, Napoleon discovers a bomb in the car. Realizing they’ve been tricked, Illya chucks it into Huck’s backseat and blows him to bits. Of Huck’s violent death, Illya quips, “Too bad. He did have the right of way, you know.” It’s a clunker of a line, but it’s worth it for the way Napoleon stares at him, appalled and aghast, as if realizing for the first time that his mild-natured partner is actually a cold and ruthless—albeit charming and delightful—monster.
Mother Fear, Captain Jenks, and all their pupils hijack a bus transporting a children’s choir, which, for some unfathomable reason, has been booked by U.N.C.L.E. to perform at the top-secret, ultra-high-security conference. They steal sheet music and robes, then head to the lodge, ready to impersonate the choir and gun down all the U.N.C.L.E. leaders during the performance.
Meanwhile, U.N.C.L.E.’s Section One chiefs assemble at the lodge for dinner and light entertainment. It’s the usual sausage fest. I’ll say this for THRUSH: At least we’ve seen plenty of women of varying ages and backgrounds holding high-ranking positions within their organization. U.N.C.L.E. has female operatives, sure, but, with a few exceptions, they tend to be cute young receptionists and assistants. As for the U.N.C.L.E. top brass? Nothing but middle-aged dudes, as far as the eye can see.
The boys take the stage, their rifles hidden under their choir robes. With Captain Jenks conducting them and Mother Fear at the piano, they begin to sing. Illya and Napoleon haven’t checked in for a long time, and Mr. Waverly is growing a wee bit concerned, so Carlo Farenti decides to senselessly needle him about it while sneaking in a subtle dig about the competence of his agents: “If it were two of my agents, I would be very worried. However, your two men are so outstanding…” I like you, Farenti. You’re spiteful for no reason.
The evil bakers, having been abandoned by Anna in the back of the bakery truck, show up in the truck and shoot all the guards stationed outside the conference. Enraptured by the choir performance, none of the conference attendees notice the noisy gunfight taking place just outside. Illya, Napoleon and Anna arrive and join the battle. While Napoleon sneaks inside through the roof, Illya, who is quickly evolving into a remorseless killing machine, shoots and kills Tom from underneath the car.
Inside the lodge, Napoleon swings from the rafters and incapacitates the choir boys before they can draw their rifles. Captain Jenks is apprehended by U.N.C.L.E. agents, but Mother Fear makes a break for it. Outside, she faces off against Illya, guns drawn. On this show, punishments for villains tend to be doled out based upon level of heinousness. As Mother Fear is among the nastiest (dude, she flogged Illya), her fate is equal parts brutal and ridiculous: Anna hits her with an explosive-laced cake from the bakery truck (a horrified Anna exclaims, “I did not know the cake was loaded!”), whereupon Mother Fear stumbles onto a giant water wheel and is swiftly crushed and/or drowned.
Denouement: At the train station, Illya and Napoleon once again help Anna, who has been left in charge of all the murderous young THRUSH recruits, search for Ricardo, who has disappeared yet again. Ricardo shows up in the care of Mr. Waverly, who snuck off with him to eat chocolate treats. “Boys will be boys,” Anna says affectionately, while Illya and Napoleon stare at each other, deeply skeptical about the chances of any of the boys growing up into decent human beings.
Marvelous. There was a grievous lack of champagne-swilling in this episode, but there was plenty of snappy banter and a healthy dose of tender wound-dabbing to compensate. It’s all good.