The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Never-Never Affair”

Illya races through the streets of Manhattan, ducking behind cars and glancing wildly over his shoulder. He darts into an alley and finds himself trapped: THRUSH goons have lit blazing fires across each exit, effectively anchoring him in place. A Rolls-Royce limousine pulls up, and the dastardly yet charming Victor Gervais (Cesar Romero), the visiting head of THRUSH’s French Division, gets out. Illya, it seems, is carrying a list of names of top-ranking THRUSH leaders; Gervais is trying to intercept him and recover the list before Illya can bring it to U.N.C.L.E. headquarters. Bemused, Gervais watches as Illya collapses from smoke inhalation.

This episode comes relatively early on in the series, so Gervais and his THRUSH associates genuinely appear to have no idea who Illya is—they consistently refer to him only as “the courier”, instead of as “Mr. Kuryakin”, or as “the Russian”, or “the one with the turtleneck fetish”, or maybe “the cute one with the pretty eyes and all that nice hair.”

After the flames die down, Gervais discovers Illya has escaped via a convenient manhole. Gervais, who seems politely underwhelmed by the showy tactics favored by his comrades in THRUSH’s New York office, muses, “It would have seemed simpler, perhaps, to shoot him in the leg.” Pfft. Don’t bring common sense into this, Gervais. That’s not the THRUSH way. Yes, shooting Illya would have been simpler, not to mention more effective, but when has THRUSH ever been concerned with “simpler”? If something can’t be done in an unnecessarily extravagant and convoluted manner, it’s not worth doing.

Back at U.N.C.L.E. HQ, Mandy Stevenson (Get Smart’s adorable Barbara Feldon), an employee in the Portuguese division of the translation department, sighs wearily as she translates tedious weather reports from Brazil. Upon receiving a request to bring a file to Napoleon, Mandy slips into his office, pulls a gun on him, and orders him up against the wall.

Napoleon is unruffled, probably because Mandy pulls this kind of crap a lot. When two armed U.N.C.L.E. agents burst into his office to save him, Napoleon quickly explains they’re only playing a game: Mandy, who is bored to tears with her dull desk job, keeps trying to prove to Napoleon that she’d make a good field agent. I see no problem with this. As indicated by her reckless stunt, Mandy is irresponsible and unprofessional. She’d fit in perfectly alongside Napoleon and Illya in the field.

In Mr. Waverly’s office, Illya hands over the list of names, which will be transferred to a microdot before being hand-delivered to U.N.C.L.E.’s Paris bureau. As New York is currently teeming with THRUSH goons searching for Illya, Mr. Waverly has lined up a replacement courier to handle the next leg of the journey. This marks the first and last time in the entire series that anyone will worry that Illya and/or Napoleon might be too recognizable to complete a mission.

Mandy trails Napoleon into the elevator, pushes the emergency button to bring it to a halt, and once again pleads with him to send her on a dangerous mission. “I’m dying of acute dullness,” she moans. Oh, Mandy. Mandy, Mandy, Mandy. In a more well-run spy organization, Mandy would’ve been fired or quietly eliminated years ago for doing this sort of thing. Armed agents burst into the elevator; Napoleon reassures them, once again, that he and Mandy are just having some harmless fun. The agents skulk off, openly resentful of all the nonsense they have to put up with from Napoleon.

Napoleon takes pity on Mandy and gives her what he claims is a hazardous assignment: Pick up Mr. Waverly’s humidor from his assistant, then go to a tobacco shop across town to get it refilled with Waverly’s special blend. He cautions her against opening the humidor, implying that it’s wired with explosives, then tells her to be sure to follow “evasion pattern number eight”, a convoluted and totally made-up route involving taxis and buses and spontaneous visits to movie theaters. Mandy is thrilled by the mission.

Mandy stops by the laboratory to drop off lunch for one of the technicians. As any good spy would, she immediately starts boasting about her top-secret assignment. Assuming she’s the new courier for Illya’s list of names, the lab tech hands over the microdot to her, even though he knows she’s not a spy. We’re still in the first act, and we’ve already seen a great deal of disgracefully sloppy intelligence work. For a refreshing change of pace, none of it has been by Illya.

Napoleon, who seems pretty pleased with himself about giving Mandy the fake mission, saunters through the hallways of U.N.C.L.E. He openly scopes out the backsides of all the female agents, because Napoleon’s classy like that.

Alarms blare, lights flash. Napoleon runs to Waverly’s office and finds Waverly and Illya in full-on panic mode, having just discovered that Mandy has disappeared with the microdot. Napoleon fumbles his way through an explanation: “She fantasized an adventure, you see, and I thought it was a good idea at the time.” Waverly and Illya stare at him with matching expressions of unvarnished disgust and incredulity.

Napoleon can’t remember the details of the elaborate route he’d told Mandy to take, so Waverly orders all available agents to sweep the city for her. The city is still swarming with THRUSH agents searching for the list, so Illya decides to draw their attention away from Mandy. He does this by loitering out in the open on busy street corners, patiently waiting to be kidnapped or killed by miscreants. Sure enough, within minutes he’s spotted by a pair of THRUSH goons driving an ice cream truck (THRUSH seems to have an odd fixation on ice cream men), who trail him down the sidewalk.

Mandy, meanwhile, makes her way across town to the tobacco shop, following Napoleon’s convoluted instructions. She’s taking the assignment very, very seriously: She’s ditched her glasses in favor of contact lenses, and she’s wearing a trench coat to look more spy-appropriate. When a skeevy dude makes a pass at her, she freaks out, assuming he’s with THRUSH. She spots Illya and scurries over to him for protection. Horrified, Illya hisses at her to get away from him, but it’s too late: The THRUSH agents on his tail spot him with Mandy and assume he’s passed the list of names to her.

In a panic, Mandy ducks into a movie theater. A cluster of THRUSH agents follow her inside, then try to gun her down. After reuniting with Napoleon, Illya tracks Mandy to the theater. While everyone around them just tries to watch the movie in peace, Illya and Napoleon engage in a good old-fashioned shoot-out with the THRUSH goons.

There are many excellent reasons not to get involved in a shoot-out in an occupied movie theater, but heck, it’s not like it’s the most irresponsible thing these two have ever done.

Mandy makes a break for it. Spotting more THRUSH agents lurking on the sidewalk, she darts into a nearby coffee shop, where she runs smack into Victor Gervais. Unaware that she’s an U.N.C.L.E. agent, he gallantly offers to help her search for a dropped contact lens. Upon finding the lens on the grimy coffee shop floor, he licks his finger, picks it up, and hands it to her, whereupon Mandy licks her finger and replaces the lens in her eyeball. Er, unless you’re a big fan of conjunctivitis, you maybe should’ve given that a quick rinse first, Mandy.

Oozing with effortless charm, Gervais asks Mandy out for a drink. Wary of the THRUSH goons outside, she accepts his offer of a ride in his limo. When his goons notify Gervais that Mandy is, in fact, the courier they’ve been pursuing, he knocks her out by spraying her with tranquilizers hidden in a perfume atomizer. Cesar Romero, by the way, is wonderful in this episode. On the spectrum of genial, dashing THRUSH villains, he’s rivaled only by Vincent Price’s Victor Marton in “The Foxes and Hounds Affair.

Gervais smuggles Mandy into a THRUSH hideout, which is located above an auto body shop, then proceeds to inspect her personal effects (still believing the humidor is wired to explode, Mandy visibly recoils when he opens it) while interrogating her in a civil, gentlemanly manner. Mandy, who is bearing up pretty well under pressure, adamantly refuses to surrender the microdot. Eventually, Gervais grows exasperated with her. “You have lost your amusement value,” he snarls.

Fortunately for Mandy, Illya and Napoleon are on her tail. To give his partner an excuse to enter the body shop, Illya loosens Napoleon’s distributor cap. “You’re a smart Russian,” Napoleon purrs admiringly.

While Illya calls for reinforcements, Napoleon pulls his car into the shop and asks the attendant to take a look under the hood, then snoops around, looking for any sign of Mandy. Upon finding an U.N.C.L.E. radio in the glove compartment, the attendant attacks Napoleon. A spirited brawl ensues; Napoleon ends it by dousing the attendant in gasoline and waving around his lit Zippo, which seems like a really super-excellent way to blow everything and everyone to pieces.

Properly terrified, the gasoline-soaked attendant shows the crazy man with the Zippo the secret entrance to the lair. Napoleon charges into the lair and promptly gets captured by Gervais.

With his hands tied behind his back, Napoleon manages to retrieve his gun and, using a mirror to guide him, shoots Gervais in the shoulder. This cool little maneuver wins him the admiration of Mandy. “Oh, you’re wonderful, Napoleon,” she gushes. “Yes, I am, aren’t I? It’s astonishing,” he replies, his smugness level cranked all the way up to maximum.

Illya bursts into the lair, accompanied by Mr. Waverly and a slew of U.N.C.L.E. agents, and takes Gervais into custody. Illya asks Napoleon how he managed to shoot Gervais with his hands cuffed behind his back. “Smart American,” Napoleon replies.

Mandy surrenders the microdot, which she’d hidden in one of her contact lenses, to Mr. Waverly. Even captured and wounded, Gervais remains charming and unflappable, effusively praising Mandy’s (mediocre) spy work while flirting outrageously with her.

Mr. Waverly asks Mandy to refill his humidor on the way back to U.N.C.L.E. headquarters. Considering all she’s been through, this is kind of a dick move on his part. She’s a translator, Waverly, not your errand girl. Anxious to get back to her dull life in the translation department, she begs off. So Waverly hands the humidor off to Napoleon, sticking him with the menial task as punishment for screwing things up with Mandy and the microdot in the first place.

One of the all-time classic episodes, due in large part to the extra-witty script and the sparkling and charming guest stars. Good stuff.


Hamlette said…
I liked this one so, so much. Cesar Romero was impeccable!

If something can’t be done in an unnecessarily extravagant and convoluted manner, it’s not worth doing.

Disturbingly true!

We’re still in the first act, and we’ve already seen a great deal of disgracefully sloppy intelligence work. For a refreshing change of pace, none of it has been by Illya.

Hee! Also disturbingly true. Illya generally means well, at least...
Morgan Richter said…
How great was Cesar Romero in this? He was so terribly dashing and affable. Loved him.

Oh, Illya. I adore Illya to pieces, but man, he's pulled some truly staggering blunders over the seasons. I mean, so has Napoleon...
Hamlette said…
Illya does seem to come off better most of the time, I've noticed. Possibly because he's not quite so distracted by every female to come within 300 feet of him...

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