The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Gazebo in the Maze Affair”
On the sidewalk outside the tailor shop that serves as the secret entrance to U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, a well-dressed elderly English gentleman (George Sanders) collides with Illya. The man drops his briefcase, scattering papers everywhere. Amid profuse apologies, Illya helps him gather up his things before the man rushes off to catch his bus.
Upon realizing the man left behind a book, Illya chases after the bus. He seems unaware it’s a classic London double-decker bus, which is not a typical sight in midtown Manhattan. Oh, Illya. Where are your spy instincts, babe? Didn’t U.N.C.L.E. train you to notice anomalies and proceed with caution? Anyway, Illya jumps on the bus and returns the book. The elderly man thanks him, then insists they’ve met before: “Don't you remember the trek out to the desert? All that mucky heat and the crawling insects boring into your skin? ... I wore a beard in those days.” As it starts to dawn on Illya that maybe, just maybe, he’s waltzed right into a trap, the man’s henchman jabs him in the back of the neck with the tip of his umbrella. Illya collapses, unconscious.
In Mr. Waverly’s office, a security guard brings in a small pear tree topped with Illya’s identification badge and a toy bird, which was left for Napoleon at the tailor shop. When Napoleon presses a button on the bird’s back, it plays an enigmatic recorded message: “Oh, to be in England, now that Illya is here. Seven years of plenty, seven years of lean.” When Napoleon asks about any strange activity in the neighborhood, the security guard tells him about the mysterious bus, which was emblazoned in front with EASTSNOUT EXPRESS.
From this, Napoleon deduces the tree was delivered by an old enemy, Emory Partridge, who took over a Latin American country, then disappeared into the rainforest seven years ago after U.N.C.L.E. ousted him from power. Napoleon figures Partridge has kidnapped Illya and taken him to Eastsnout, England. “You'd better follow through on this, Mr. Solo,” Mr. Waverly tells him sternly. OH DO YOU REALLY THINK SO MR. WAVERLY? Glad you mentioned it. Otherwise, Napoleon was probably planning on just shrugging it off and leaving his partner to die at the hands of a longtime foe.
In the village of Eastsnout, Partridge takes Illya to his lavish country estate, Porlock Hall, and introduces him to his flighty, dithery wife, Edith (Jeanette Nolan). Edith seems delighted to meet Illya.
This is an ominous sign. When sweet-natured-but-probably-evil ladies take an interest in Illya, it never turns out well, because there’s nothing sweet-natured-but-probably-evil ladies like more than torturing him in violent and creepy and inappropriately sexual ways. Exhibit A: Mother Fear. Exhibit B: Miss Diketon.
Partridge takes Illya on a long, chatty tour of his mansion, while Illya, as polite and aloof as ever, gamely plays along, trying to figure out when his hosts are going to get around to torturing the stuffing out of him.
Edith’s maid, Peggy (One Day at a Time’s Bonnie Franklin, making an endearingly terrible attempt at an English accent), watches from a window as Partridge leads Illya into a hedge maze. When Peggy asks Edith about their new houseguest, Edith refers to Illya as “that nice young man with the awkward name. A very charming fellow.” She goes on to say, “He was very sort of physical looking, in an unusual way.” It’s a bit of a word salad (Edith is not the clearest communicator), but here’s what I think she’s trying to say: She’s hot for Illya, and she’s not sure why.
The tour of the grounds culminates at a gazebo in the very center of the hedge maze. Partridge ushers Illya through a trapdoor leading into a sub-gazebo dungeon. Illya looks around at the grotesque torture implements—the iron maiden, the rack, the bed of nails—and, very sensibly, bolts for his life.
He runs into the maze, where he encounters a wolf. Even though the wolf looks friendly and downright cute, it’s enough to deter Illya from his escape plan. He allows himself to be recaptured.
Partridge’s evil, shotgun-toting groundskeeper refers to Illya as a “little animal.” Rude.
Upon recapturing Illya, Partridge shackles him to the wall and leaves him alone in darkness. Peggy sneaks down into the dungeon via a hidden passageway behind the iron maiden and secretly observes Illya, but makes no attempt to, like, free him or find out what he’s doing there. Peggy is not tremendously useful or proactive.
Napoleon arrives at the train station, where Partridge’s chauffeur is waiting to take him to Porlock Hall. When the chauffeur attempts to stab him with his umbrella tip, Napoleon beats the crap out of him, then stuffs him in the backseat and, with a merry wave at the station agent, who witnessed the whole violent exchange, drives off. The station agent shakes his head. “American tourist,” he mutters disapprovingly.
So Napoleon heads straight to the local pub to have a pint and play some darts before rescuing his kidnapped partner. Man’s gotta have priorities.
Outside the pub, Peggy waylays Napoleon and confirms that Partridge is indeed holding Illya captive. Terrified of Partridge, she refuses to give Napoleon directions to Porlock Hall. Yet again, Peggy is not a heck of a lot of help. Napoleon stows away in her car and hitches a ride to the mansion, where he finally strikes a bargain with her: If she can show him the entrance to the dungeon, he’ll take her to London to get her far away from Partridge.
Peggy tells him about a secret passageway located behind the fireplace in Edith’s sitting room. Napoleon barges in on Edith, gun drawn, and demands to be taken to Illya. Edith, sweet and dithery as ever, invites him to tea, then shows him the passageway in exchange for a promise to join her for dinner later.
Instead of following the passageway all the way to the dungeon, Napoleon takes a detour and emerges in the living room, where he runs into Emory Partridge. Partridge explains his diabolical plan for terrible vengeance against U.N.C.L.E.: He's going to use Illya and Napoleon as bait to lure Mr. Waverly into his dungeon.
After overpowering Napoleon, Partridge chains him up next to Illya. “I see you've come to rescue me,” Illya says, dripping with scorn.
When Napoleon refuses to call Mr. Waverly, Partridge resorts to drastic measures: He summons Edith, who turns out to be the diabolical mastermind behind his villainy. Edith chides her husband: “Get you out of another fix, do the hard part for you, make you look good. ... You can't quite manage alone, can you?”
With the aid of the butler, Forrest, Edith bustles about the dungeon, preparing to torture Napoleon and Illya. Her first order of business is to stroll over to Illya and start toying with the waistband of his pants.
Every damn time. I swear, the sweet-natured-but-probably-evil ladies can’t keep their hands off of the poor boy.
When Napoleon once again refuses to lure Waverly into a trap, Edith orders him strapped onto the rack. While Forrest tortures Napoleon, Edith menaces Illya with a hot poker.
Peggy sneaks down to the dungeon through the passage in back of the iron maiden and spies on the torture session. She’s caught by Emory Partridge, who threatens to burn her with the poker if Napoleon refuses to cooperate. While tormenting Peggy, Partridge transforms from a respectable English gentleman into a creepy, misogynistic letch: “These wenches are all alike. ... Don't think I don't know what you've been trying to do to me, flaunting yourself about the place, trying to catch my fancy.”
Wow. This episode got kinda rapey all of a sudden.
To save Peggy, Napoleon breaks down and agrees to call Mr. Waverly. Partridge leads him back upstairs and allows him to use his communicator to contact U.N.C.L.E. headquarters. Napoleon tells Mr. Waverly he needs his help to rescue Illya, stressing (weirdly) that he must come to Eastsnout alone. Mr. Waverly takes this (weird) request at face value: “Meet me at the Eastsnout station tomorrow at three,” he says, because he has apparently memorized all the timetables for England’s extensive train system.
Now that Napoleon has outlived his usefulness, Partridge orders his groundskeeper to kill him. Napoleon seizes a convenient broadsword and scurries down into the dungeon.
In the dungeon, Edith has a nice chat with Illya, who is still chained to the wall. “Kuryakin. It's an odd sort of name, isn't it? Are your people from Bristol, young man?” While still polite, Illya is in no mood for small talk. At least Edith is no longer trying to unbutton his pants, so he’s probably coming out ahead here.
Napoleon bursts into the dungeon and engages Forrest in a vigorous broadsword-versus-hot poker brawl before slamming him inside the iron maiden. Everybody winces in horror, except for Edith, who cheerfully applauds Napoleon on a job well done. After freeing Illya and Peggy from bondage, Napoleon straps Edith down onto the rack. She’s delighted by this, confiding that she’s eager to test how long it’ll take her to get free: “I’m an expert escape artist, you know.”
Illya, Napoleon, and Peggy exit the dungeon through the gazebo and flee into the maze, which is filled with lethal traps. Within seconds of entering the maze, Illya steps on a pressure plate. Napoleon smugly informs Illya of his blunder, then, while Illya is still standing on the pressure plate, deliberately triggers it with the tip of his broadsword. A bunch of knives shoot up from the ground, missing Illya by a whisker.
Bravo, Napoleon! You almost killed your partner.
Partridge and his henchmen head into the maze, armed with shotguns. Illya and Napoleon brutally dispose of both henchmen in rapid succession—they feed the chauffeur to the wolf (“Bon appetite!” quips Illya, still holding a grudge after that "little animal" comment) and impale the groundskeeper on a crossbow bolt—then find themselves at the gazebo again, where Partridge lies in wait. As Partridge prepares to shoot them, Edith, having freed herself from the rack, emerges from the trapdoor beneath him and knocks him off balance. Illya and Napoleon swoop in and apprehend the Partridges.
Before driving Peggy to London, Napoleon celebrates the successful completion of the mission with a quick pint. Mr. Waverly arrives at the pub, rented bicycle in tow, irate that Napoleon neglected to pick him up at the train station as promised. He stuffily informs Napoleon that Illya assured him he’d have a good explanation for his failure.
As Napoleon fumbles for a way to explain leaving his boss in the lurch, Peggy chastises Illya for shifting all the blame to his partner. “That's the spy business for you. You can't trust anyone,” Illya tells her cheerily.
Wonderful. This is one of those episodes where Napoleon and Illya, who are always fun to watch together, are downright sparkling and effervescent. Great stuff.