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


In the fictional South American country of Chacua, a blond-haired, blue-eyed vagabond in tattered clothes strolls barefoot through the streets, strumming a guitar and singing a rousing rendition of that traditional Latin American ditty, “Hava Nagila.” Why, it’s U.N.C.L.E.’s very own Man of a Thousand Faces, Illya Kuryakin! ‘Sup, Illya? What tomfoolery are you getting yourself into this time? Illya approaches a man in a suit and, trotting out his finest we-don’t-need-no-stinking-badges accent, asks for a handout. When the man tries to shoo him away, Illya whacks him over the head with his guitar. Uniformed authorities swoop in, club Illya into submission, and haul him off. Left alone, the suited man whips out an U.N.C.L.E. communicator and contacts Mr. Waverly to let him know the plan is proceeding according to schedule.

Next thing you know, Illya’s been sentenced to seven years of hard labor at the friendly local penal colony, which is secretly operated by the dreaded terrorist organization THRUSH. In a heavily-defended fortress beneath the colony, THRUSH has been safeguarding their latest fiendish device: the Ultimate Computer, which contains all the knowledge stored in all the books in all the world’s greatest libraries. So, THRUSH has just invented Project Gutenberg a few years ahead of schedule, pretty much. Illya’s mission: infiltrate the penal colony and steal the computer to enable U.N.C.L.E.’s top minds to replicate this amazing technological achievement, so all of humanity may benefit from its near-unlimited stores of information.

Ha ha, just kidding. That’s not the way U.N.C.L.E. works. This is Illya’s actual mission: infiltrate the penal colony, plant a ton of explosives, and blow the Ultimate Computer into smithereens. Take that, groundbreaking world-improving technology!

New prisoner Illya is brought before the penal colony’s commandant, Captain Cervantes (Roger C. Carmel), who greets him in a genial manner and fills him in on the local amenities (“Breakfast, of course, is continental style…”), ending with a cheerful offer to sever the tendons behind his knees if he ever tries to escape.


As soon as Illya is dragged off by the guards, Cervantes, who is smarter than the average THRUSH goon, calls his boss, corrupt Governor Callahan (Charles Ruggles), to tell him there’s something familiar about the new inmate: “If memory serves, the prisoner, one Illya Kuryakin by name, is an U.N.C.L.E. agent.”

I have two thoughts:

1. If all of your enemies, even ones you’ve never met before, can identify you on sight, aren’t you effectively worthless and, indeed, a dangerous liability as an undercover operative?

2. Did Illya really go undercover as a vagabond guitarist from South America named Illya Kuryakin? Lazy, Illya. Very lazy.

Doddering old Governor Callahan, by the way, takes Cervantes’s call while sitting in his mansion playing a friendly round of strip poker with his two sexy nurses, Flora and Dora. Everyone who works for THRUSH is evil and pervy, sure, but they do seem to have a refreshing zeal for life.


Back in New York, Napoleon takes a quick break from pressing matters (i.e. canoodling with a comely brunette agent) to discuss the mission with Mr. Waverly. While Illya is busy sneaking into the fortress beneath the prison to destroy the computer, Napoleon will clear his path by knocking out the generators that supply power to the complex alarm system. To gain access to the generators, he’ll need the help of an innocent civilian, the splendidly-named Miss Salty Oliver (played by Judy Carne, Laugh-In’s “sock it to me” girl), who, as an advocate for the International Society for the Improvement of World Penal Conditions, will be able to help Napoleon enter the penal colony unchallenged.

Napoleon sets about intimidating mousy, high-strung Salty into helping him. After being lured under false pretenses into the tailor shop that serves as U.N.C.L.E.’s outer façade (a waiter deliberately tramples on the hem of her dress, necessitating emergency repairs), Salty steps into the changing room and removes her clothes. The secret door leading into U.N.C.L.E. headquarters flips open, and an underwear-clad Salty is greeted by the sight of Napoleon and the receptionist smirking at her.


Oh, that’s real nice, Napoleon. You too, unnamed receptionist lady. Were you both raised in barns?


After this introduction, Salty is (understandably) not feeling especially kindly toward U.N.C.L.E., so Napoleon lays on an extra-thick layer of glib charm and talks her into playing along with his scheme. Donning a cap and a ridiculous mustache, Napoleon poses as Salty’s foppish new husband, who is honeymooning with his bride in Chacua while she inspects conditions at the penal colony. Because Chacua is apparently short on hotels, they’re staying at Governor Callahan’s mansion.


While visiting the prison, Salty smuggles a bundle of explosives to Illya, who seems perfectly at home in his new surroundings, shoveling ditches with his fellow inmates under the hot sun and showing off his nice biceps while happily whistling “Hava Nagila” to himself.


Since Illya’s glorious mane of hair remains hidden under a straw hat most of the time, this episode is pretty much all about biceps.


Captain Cervantes, meanwhile, has a tête-à-tête with Salty, at which he tells her he’s well aware both Illya and Napoleon are U.N.C.L.E. agents. After confessing his strong romantic feelings for Salty, he promises to spare both men, provided she agrees to run away with him.

Napoleon paddles a rubber raft around a lake on the prison grounds, searching for the generators. He’s surprised by armed THRUSH guards, who overpower him and drag him off to see Captain Cervantes. I am delighted to report that he loses his dumb fake mustache in the melee.


So the next thing you know, Napoleon finds himself chained up in Cervantes’s office in an elaborate and vaguely fetishistic manner. Same old, same old. Cervantes releases him, returns his gun, and offers his assistance: He’ll drug the guards’ coffee so Illya can sneak past them and destroy the computer, and he’ll also help Napoleon sabotage the generators.

Though deeply suspicious of Cervantes’s intentions, Napoleon agrees to this new partnership. True to his word, Cervantes helps him disable the generators, then further proves his allegiance to Napoleon by luring his THRUSH cohorts into a deadly ambush. Napoleon is mildly appalled at the sight of Cervantes cheerfully deceiving and slaughtering his former comrades, but Cervantes shrugs it off: “How do you think I got to be captain?”


Illya sneaks past the drugged guards and makes his way into THRUSH’s underground fortress. He demonstrates his usual level of competence, i.e. he walks directly into an electrified field, narrowly avoiding a fiery death only when his cigarillo bursts into flames before his face does. He locates the Ultimate Computer, rigs it with explosives, and blows it into bits.


His end of the mission successfully completed, Illya uses his communicator to contact Napoleon: “I’m sunburned, blistered, grimy, and very, very hungry.” Napoleon orders Illya to head home while he retrieves Salty from the governor’s mansion: “I’m glad I don’t have to take you out in public anywhere. Now get that disreputable-looking body out of here as fast as you can.” It’s flirtatious. They’re flirting. Any way you approach it, this is flirting. It’s also one of the most delightful and unexpected aspects of the show: Napoleon and Illya are two predominantly heterosexual men who, very plainly and obviously, flirt with each other all the time.


Back at the governor’s mansion, preparations are underway for a fancy dinner party in honor of THRUSH’s top muckety-mucks. Napoleon’s glamorous influence has worn off on drab little Salty, and she blossoms forth sans glasses, wearing a nice dress and an elaborate upswept hairdo. Alas for poor Salty, Governor Callahan knows all about U.N.C.L.E.’s plans: Anticipating Illya’s actions, he arranged for him to blow up a fake computer, while the real Ultimate Computer will be handed over to THRUSH officials at the party.


Napoleon and Cervantes arrive at the mansion, searching for Salty. Cervantes double-crosses his new partner and reveals he’s been faithful to THRUSH all along. This surprises no one, least of all Napoleon. After tying up Napoleon and Salty, Governor Callahan gloats that he’ll kill them after his big dinner party.

Facing imminent death, Napoleon and Salty try to make out, because why the hell not? They can’t quite get it to work, since they’re tied back to back, but they give it a game effort anyway.


Illya, meanwhile, disobeys Napoleon’s order to leave without him and hijacks a THRUSH jeep. While the dinner party is in full swing, Illya, still scruffy and disreputable from his time in the penal colony, saunters into the mansion in a stolen THRUSH uniform and rescues Napoleon and Salty. Napoleon bawls him out for: a) returning to save him, and b) blowing up the wrong computer—the real Ultimate Computer is in the dining room, surrounded by all the high-level THRUSH members. Illya: “Oh. That’s what it was. How awkward.”


So Napoleon and Illya cobble together a hasty plan to destroy the real computer. They send Salty into the THRUSH-occupied dining room, pushing a dessert cart with one of Illya’s spare bombs tucked inside a cake. Nothing to see here, just an untrained civilian keeping a gaggle of hardened terrorists at bay by waving around an armed explosive device. Move along.


While Salty carries out the most precarious and dangerous part of the plan, Napoleon and Illya swap clothes with each other, for some weird and unnecessary reason. Napoleon puts on Illya’s THRUSH jumpsuit and, while Illya leaps out the window and runs for his life, yells for the guards to chase after him. Illya jumps in his stolen jeep and leads all the guards away from the mansion. Napoleon blows a kiss after them.


Napoleon joins Salty in the dining room. He places the bomb on the computer and advises the THRUSH leaders to leave while they can: “If THRUSH gives an award, and you don’t mind the possibility of a posthumous one, then I would suggest you come and get it.”

Everyone flees, except for Governor Callahan, who, abandoned by Flora and Dora, remains in the dining room and waits for the bomb to explode. When Cervantes tries to make a break for it, Callahan hooks his leg with his cane. The bomb goes off, obliterating Callahan and Cervantes along with the Ultimate Computer.

On the road leading away from the mansion, Napoleon and Salty reunite with an exhausted and grumpy Illya, who is doing emergency repairs to the jeep’s engine. Ignoring Illya’s complaints, Salty and Napoleon hop in the backseat and commence canoodling and whispering sweet nothings to each other, leaving Illya to handle the repairs on his own. Bad move, Napoleon. Such a bad move. Illya, who becomes vicious and lethal when he’s crossed, promptly executes a cold, devastating, perfectly-aimed cockblock: He turns to Salty and says, in his most withering tone, “Oh, not you. I thought you would be more special than the rest of them.”


Ouch. This is hands-down the meanest thing Illya has ever done, and ever will do, in the entire series. Because jaw-dropping cruelty can sometimes be funny, it’s also hilarious. While Napoleon, sputtering and stammering, tries in vain to reassure an apoplectic Salty that she’s not just one in a string of meaningless flings, Illya gets the jeep started at last. They drive away from the mansion, with Salty seething and Napoleon dumbfounded and Illya in a strangely improved mood.


Beautiful. A perfectly ridiculous and delightful episode. Keep ‘em coming, U.N.C.L.E.

Comments

DKoren said…
Okay, all of these ones you review sound great, but this one in particular makes me want to see it Right Now. This would have positively absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with those screenshots of Illya in his sleeveless disheveled prisoner attire. Nope, nothing at all. Or the one in the beret.

So much of this one made me laugh out loud.

Take that, groundbreaking world-improving technology!

2. Did Illya really go undercover as a vagabond guitarist from South America named Illya Kuryakin?

I am delighted to report that he loses his dumb fake mustache in the melee.

“I’m sunburned, blistered, grimy, and very, very hungry.”

Also, the fact that they swap the THRUSH uniform. Also, I love Roger C. Carmel. He plays such a delightfully cheerful bad guy.
Morgan Richter said…
It's a delightful episode. Roger C. Carmel is one of my favorite THRUSH villains ever -- he's so genial and cheery the whole time.
Hamlette said…
I love Roger C. Carmel, so I think this is gonna be the very last ep we watch during my visit, tonight quick before my husband returns, lol. It sounds too adorable not to watch! (Deborah alerted me to the fact that the full series was suddenly only $60 instead of $200, so I got it for my mom for Christmas and gave it to her early. In turn, she gave me her copy of season 1 we've been watching, so I can totally watch that at my leisure now.)
Morgan Richter said…
Hamlette, that's very cool that the full series went on sale -- hooray for picking it up for your mom. As I was telling Deb above, Roger C. Carmel is one of the all-time best THRUSH villains, just because he's so delightful.
Hamlette said…
Like you said, he's genial and cheery :-) We doubled down that last evening and watched the ep with Vincent Price in it too -- I think that's my favorite yet! Thanks again for all the great recommendations.
Morgan Richter said…
You're welcome! It's impossible to pick an all-time favorite episode, but that one with Vincent Price might be mine--he's so dapper and charming. Glad you're enjoying the series.

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