The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: “The Project Deephole Affair”

In a cheap hotel in Manhattan, Illya and Napoleon protect famed geologist Dr. Remington from a gaggle of evildoers intent on kidnapping him. THRUSH spies, led by the beautiful and hopelessly vain Narcissus Darling (Barbara Bouchet), have surrounded the building; Illya and Napoleon look for a way to smuggle Remington past them to safety.

In the room right next to theirs, hapless Buzz Conway (Jack Weston) argues on the phone with his bookie. When the manager pounds on his door, he climbs out the window to avoid paying his past-due rent. He’s spotted by Narcissus and her gang, who assume he’s Remington and converge on him. They knock him out with a hypodermic dart, but before they can haul him off, Napoleon swoops in, guns blazing, and shoos them away. Illya takes advantage of the distraction to slip out of the building with the real Dr. Remington.

Back at U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, Mr. Waverly and Napoleon compare notes on the current assignment. THRUSH agents have been trying to get their hands on Dr. Remington, who is one of the world’s top experts on sedimentation, to force him to help them with some top-secret project. Mr. Waverly orders Napoleon to find out all he can about THRUSH’s latest scheme.

Oh, hey, look at that boom microphone creeping into the bottom of the frame. And it doesn’t just dip quickly in and out of the shot, either. Nope, it sticks in the foreground for the entire scene while Napoleon and Mr. Waverly stroll down the hallway; at certain points, you can even see the boom operator’s hand. It stays in the scene for so long, in fact, that it eventually starts seeming like it’s supposed to be there, like maybe there’s a documentary crew following Napoleon around the office as he goes about the day-to-day business of being a dashing superspy.

To uncover THRUSH’s latest diabolical plot, Napoleon and Illya devise a scheme that hinges upon placing an unwitting civilian in mortal peril by sending a pack of vicious terrorists after him: They’re going to pretend Buzz Conway, the poor schlub, is Dr. Remington. Dr. Remington is due to attend a geology conference in San Francisco; Napoleon and Illya decide to send Buzz in his stead, all in the hopes that THRUSH will try to kidnap him again. Oh, and they’re not going to tell Buzz about any of this. Nope. No way. Instead they’re going to use a combination of manipulation, threats, and cruel mind games to get Buzz to do their job for them.

Napoleon and Illya, you two are despicable. Luckily, you’re both charming enough and adorable enough to get away with this sort of bad, bad behavior.

Narcissus answers a phone call from her THRUSH superior, Mr. Elom (played by Leon Askin, whose IMDb profile features a wonderful hand-drawn collage of all his greatest roles instead of the usual dull headshot. Somebody out there loves the late Mr. Askin). The mole-like, daylight-shunning Elom, who lurks in darkness in his cavernous San Francisco office, reiterates the need to capture Remington. As an aside, Mr. Elom shyly confesses his romantic feelings for Narcissus. Narcissus doesn’t respond one way or another, though she looks unnerved by the news that her deeply creepy, powerful, evil boss is hot for her.

Buzz regains consciousness in a strange room in a posh hotel, where he discovers a healthy wad of cash, a spiffy new wardrobe, and a plane ticket to San Francisco. Disoriented and confused, he perform his morning ablutions while Illya spies on him via a camera hidden in the hotel bathroom. Tacky, U.N.C.L.E. Very tacky. Keep your cameras out of bathrooms, guys; believe me, nothing’s going to take place in there that you need to see.

Illya casually chows down on a hearty pancake breakfast while indulging his kinky voyeuristic streak. It’s… unsettling.

Buzz discovers the real Dr. Remington hanging in the closet with a knife embedded in his chest. Freaked out by this, he grabs the cash and the plane ticket and heads for the airport to leave town in a hurry. Remington is, of course, not really dead. The knife’s a fake; Napoleon and Illya, the irrepressible scamps, are just trying to scare the crap out of Buzz to force him into going along with their half-assed scheme.

To keep an eye on Buzz, Illya will be taking the same flight to San Francisco. Napoleon, meanwhile, will be traveling by private jet; he tells Illya he’ll meet up with him at the terminal. There are obvious questions here as to why they’re taking two separate flights to reach the same destination at the same time. Hey, Napoleon’s the senior agent in this partnership. If he wants to requisition a private jet, he’s damn well going to requisition a private jet. Commercial travel is strictly for sidekicks.

I am well aware that Illya would probably kill and eat anyone who refers to him as Napoleon’s sidekick.

On the flight, Buzz pesters the nice flight attendant for another cocktail, then waggles his brows at her lasciviously and asks her to sit down and join him for a drink. She turns down his advances with cheery good grace, because there’s nothing women who are just trying to do their jobs like more than humoring randy dudes who pull this kind of crap, then hands him a carnation boutonnière that a “secret admirer” gave to her to give to him.

The secret admirer turns out to be Narcissus, who is also on the flight, actively planting the seeds of THRUSH’s bold new scheme to kidnap Dr. Remington. She’s sitting right behind Illya, who is… taking a nap.

Upon arriving in San Francisco, Illya and Napoleon have a quick clandestine meeting at the terminal. When Napoleon asks Illya about his flight, Illya makes no mention of Narcissus, so it’s probably fair to assume he didn’t notice her. He does take a moment to grumble that he had to fly second class. Ah, Illya. Drifting a little further away from your Communist values with each passing episode, aren’t you? In response to Illya’s complaints, the man who just requisitioned a private jet to avoid traveling on a commercial flight calls him a snob. They split up again after making plans to meet at a preordained checkpoint.

Napoleon intercepts Buzz at the terminal. Introducing himself as a representative from the geology conference, he steers Buzz away from the airport and drives him off to a hotel. When Buzz notes that they seem to be taking a roundabout route, Napoleon replies, “I thought you might like to see our air pollution.” A million San Franciscans are shooting you stink eye right now, Napoleon.

With Buzz in tow, Napoleon meets up with Illya at the checkpoint, which turns out to be a repair garage. Napoleon has discovered the boutonnière that Narcissus passed to Buzz right under Illya’s pretty little nose, which he figures contains some kind of tracking device.

It doesn’t. Turns out THRUSH is more wily than that. They’re not tracking Buzz, they’re tracking Illya, who has led them straight to their prey. Oh, nicely done, Illya. A fine job you’re doing on this assignment. Illya is lovely and charming and witty and hilarious, but as a spy, he’s a walking disaster zone. While Illya and Napoleon are chit-chatting amongst themselves, THRUSH spies disguised as mechanics wander up and install a fiendish device inside Napoleon’s car, which allows them to operate it by remote control. The car speeds off with Buzz trapped inside, leaving Napoleon and Illya behind, scratching their heads in confusion.

A friend once described the fundamental premise of this show as “two good-looking but shockingly unskilled men failing at things.” This is an accurate assessment. 

Napoleon and Illya give chase. In a rare display of competence, Napoleon climbs from Illya’s car into the speeding THRUSH-controlled car and yanks out a bunch of wires, bringing it safely to a stop.

Meanwhile, Illya trails the THRUSH spies to Mr. Elom’s offices in a downtown skyscraper. As he’s taking the elevator up, it stops. Three very large and burly men get on and surround wee dainty Illya.

Just as it looks like we’re going to swerve into Captain America: The Winter Soldier territory, with Illya busting out his judo moves and pulverizing everyone in the elevator, the doors open. He’s greeted by Narcissus and her henchman Leon (Tony Monaco), who order him out at gunpoint. Turns out the big guys in the elevator aren’t connected to THRUSH at all—they’re harmless insurance salesmen who happen to work in the building. “The one in the middle used to play for Green Bay,” Leon helpfully tells Illya.

(The script was written by Dean Hargrove, who penned some of this show’s strongest episodes: “The Children’s Day Affair”, “The Never-Never Affair”, “The Alexander the Greater Affair”. Hargrove, who went on to become a television production juggernaut—among his many other credits, he was the executive producer of Columbo, Matlock, Jake and the Fatman, Diagnosis Murder, and The Father Dowling Mysteries—has a nice touch with this kind of material, adding clever moments of absurdity without letting things become outright goofy. The elevator misdirection is a classic Hargrove bit.)

Narcissus orders Leon to take Illya to Mr. Elom, then skips off, claiming a vital hairdressing appointment. She’s dodging Mr. Elom, but she’s doing it in a pretty subtle way. In his vast, dark office, Mr. Elom politely asks if Illya would care for a cold cup of turkey soup. Illya does that thing he always does when he knows he’s about to be tortured, where he goes glacially cold and composed and polite, and replies, “No, thank you.” Next, Mr. Elom asks him for the location of Dr. Remington. Same response, same inflection: “No, thank you.” Illya might not be the most competent spy out there, but he’s always, always the coolest man in the room.

Mr. Elom tells Illya all about THRUSH’s poorly-named Project Deephole, which is, and I quote, “a beautiful project to penetrate deep inside Mother Earth.”

…they’re deliberately trying to make this sound as porny as possible, right?

Anyway, Mr. Elom has built a gigantic drill in the building’s elevator shaft, which will trigger a massive earthquake and destroy all of California. His engineers have run into a thick layer of sentiment, however, which is why he needs Dr. Remington’s expertise. Mr. Elom orders Leon to persuade Illya to talk. Instead of sticking to THRUSH’s tried-and-true standard operating procedure for torturing Illya (step one, strip off his shirt; step two, tie him up in some preposterous and overtly fetishistic manner), Leon flat-out coldcocks him on the back of the head with the butt of his pistol. Illya crumples in an unconscious heap.

In a hotel room, Napoleon finally fills Buzz in on his scheme. Buzz chews Napoleon out for recklessly placing him in danger; Napoleon tries to spin it that he’s actually been protecting Buzz this whole time, but Buzz isn’t buying it, probably because it’s a transparent bundle of self-serving lies. The door is locked, so Buzz escapes out the window. He climbs into the adjoining hotel room… where he finds Narcissus and her henchmen plotting to kidnap him.

Back in Mr. Elom’s office, Leon is trying to beat the information out of Illya. As Illya is still unconscious, it’s not going too smoothly. In this middle of this, Narcissus calls Mr. Elom to tell him she’s getting ready to take Dr. Remington to him. Elom asks if she’s avoiding him. She denies this, unconvincingly, then tells him she won’t want any cold turkey soup when she arrives: “Gin will be fine.”

Trapped in Narcissus’s hotel room, Buzz grabs a canister of tear gas and a THRUSH rifle and tries to bluff his way out of there. Napoleon bursts in to save him, and chaos breaks out. Narcissus and Napoleon tackle each other and roll around the floor together, kicking and punching and squirming and having what generally looks to be a whale of a good time. Napoleon ends the fight by locking Narcissus in a closet, then discovers that her goons have absconded with Buzz.

At the mercy of Mr. Elom, Buzz tries to explain that it’s all a misunderstanding: He’s not really a world-class geologist, and he has no idea how to help him with his drill. Unconvinced, Mr. Elom threatens to kill Illya if Buzz doesn’t cooperate. Seeing no alternative, Buzz bluffs his way through the process of recalibrating the drill to break through the layer of heavy sediment.

Back at the hotel, Napoleon releases Narcissus from the closet. “Narcissus, you’re just as beautiful as you were four years ago in Portofino,” he tells her. Oh, god, Narcissus and Napoleon are lovers. I don’t know why I didn’t see that coming. It’s certainly not like it’s the first time this sort of thing has happened; I can only imagine U.N.C.L.E.’s head honchos are well aware of Napoleon’s predilection for sleeping with the enemy. In any case, Narcissus and Napoleon are ridiculously cute and sexy together, even though she won’t let him kiss her because she’s worried about smudging her lipstick.

With Narcissus’s aid, Napoleon sneaks into Mr. Elom’s building to search for the drill. Buzz, meanwhile, successfully repositions the drill to strike oil, flooding the laboratory. After Napoleon rescues Illya and Buzz, they head up to Mr. Elom’s office to capture him, only to get captured themselves by Elom and Narcissus. Elom orders his goons to get rid of Illya and Napoleon: “Take them downstairs and dismantle them,” he says.

Dismantle. Nice choice of words. Points for being genuinely creepy.

When Elom tries to drag Narcissus into his office, however, she breaks free and runs for Napoleon. Elom heads after her, but Buzz blows the fuses at that moment, and in the sudden darkness, Elom tumbles into the open elevator shaft. Napoleon cuddles Narcissus while Illya looks faintly irked, like he’s thinking about how their job would probably be less complicated if Napoleon could resist the urge to sleep with their mortal foes.

Back at U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, Mr. Waverly thanks Buzz for his quick thinking and bravery and gives him a cash reward so he can pay off all his debts. Immediately outside the front door, Napoleon spots Buzz being menaced by a group of thugs. He starts to intervene, but Illya stops him: The men are bookies, and Buzz already blew his reward money on the horses. Illya and Napoleon stand by and coolly watch as thugs chase after the man who just saved both their lives after they deliberately plunged him into a deadly situation. Of the bookies, Napoleon idly wonders, “Do you suppose they’ll catch him?” “Probably. Their manhunt procedures are modeled after ours, remember?” his cruel and inhumanly cold partner dispassionately replies.

Illya and Napoleon, you are terrible people, and you’re very bad at your jobs. I love you both to pieces. Never change.


DKoren said…
Hah! Another great review of what sounds like a very fun episode. I love the common theme of sending poor random people into dangerous situations without their knowledge or consent. It is highly amusing. Also, the ending of this ep, with them watching him get chased, made me laugh out loud. Oh, so perfect.

Even for having only seen a couple episodes, Napoleon is my clear favorite of the two. Not that that's any surprise, given Roger and Simon are my Duran favorites, LOL.
Morgan Richter said…
I love Napoleon. Robert Vaughn is a goddamn national treasure in the role. I couldn't possibly choose between Napoleon and Illya; I have very little use for the episodes that only feature one or the other (there are a small handful of Illya-free episodes, and there's one Napoleon-free episode, plus a couple where Napoleon only makes cursory appearances). Their chemistry together is so sparkling and delightful and fun to watch.
DKoren said…
That's like when I watched the Route 66 television show, which I fell in love with. When I started hitting episodes with just Tod, no Buz, as much as I liked Tod, his solo eps just plain didn't work, no matter how well-written or well-acted they were. The show was a beautiful thing because of the two characters together. Remove one... alas, they removed the chemistry.
Morgan Richter said…
Exactly! When the chemistry is right, it can be magical, and no matter how good the actors are, it's not the same if you remove one.
Paper_Crane_Song said…
Loving your reviews, so funny! The third photo on this page confirmed my theory that Gromit (as of "Wallace and Gromit") is modelled after Illya. Those expressive eyebrows.
Morgan Richter said…
Paper_Crane_Song, I love your Gromit theory. I'd never considered it before, but now I *do* see the resemblance...
Amused said…
Came across this by accident and just had to let you know how much I enjoyed your review. I grew up with The Man From U.N.C.L.E. I've only just found the reruns on the web and now I realise that all the men I've had wildly inappropriate crushes on over the years have been poor substitutes for Illya.

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