The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Dippy Blonde Affair”

Somewhere out on Long Island, chief engineer Harry Pendleton (Fabrizio Mioni) oversees the final stages of THRUSH’s latest dastardly plot: He’s created a machine that gathers ions from the atmosphere, which will be magnified via a pair of spike-covered spheres designed by his accomplice, Dr. Segal. The magnified ions can then be shot at any human target, causing illness or insanity.

This seems like a thoroughly plausible and sensible scheme. A fine use of THRUSH’s money and resources. Carry on, Pendleton.

As soon as Dr. Segal hands over the completed spheres, Pendleton shoots him. The murder is witnessed by Pendleton’s girlfriend, Jojo Tyler (Joyce Jameson), who is horrified to discover her boyfriend is a hardened killer. Pendleton gives a distraught Jojo a choice: Either prove her loyalty to THRUSH by executing a captured U.N.C.L.E. spy, or die as well. The captured spy is Napoleon, naturally, who was nabbed by THRUSH guards whilst snooping about Pendleton’s mansion. Pendleton chains Napoleon to the wall, hands Jojo a gun, and orders her to kill him.

Later in the episode, a THRUSH henchman will sneeringly refer to Jojo as a “dippy blonde”—hence the episode’s title—which is uncharitable and unfair; Jojo is a con artist with a strong mercenary streak, and she’s a bit of a floozy (I say this with affection—some of my favorite people are floozies!), but there’s nothing especially dippy about her. This is a marvelous episode, but the title hasn’t aged well.

Luckily for Napoleon and Jojo, Illya has been lurking outside the mansion with a cluster of fellow U.N.C.L.E. agents, waiting for the right moment to move in. Everyone’s dressed in matching black turtlenecks and shoulder holsters, like they’re attending a meeting of the Illya Kuryakin Fan Club. Sign me up! We’ll drink slivovitz and trade witty bon mots while looking effortlessly cool and enigmatic.

While Jojo insists to Napoleon that she really doesn’t want to kill him, Illya crashes through the window and tackles Pendleton. Fisticuffs ensue! Man, early on in this series, the fight scenes tended to be clumsy and weirdly staged, but by now, late in the second season, everyone’s got them down to a science. Illya and Pendleton brawl with wild abandon, hurling each other across the room and taking crazy leaps into the air and knocking over all the furniture. It’s a joy to watch. Illya eventually gets the upper hand and traps Pendleton in a half nelson. “Say U.N.C.L.E.,” he hisses.

Jojo has a chance to grab Pendleton’s dropped gun and save her boyfriend, but decides to pass. Instead, she surrenders to Illya and Napoleon and tells them where to find the spheres for the ion projector.

Left handcuffed to the wall while all this is going on, Robert Vaughn seizes the opportunity to do lots of weird stuff in the background. Well, of course. You can’t stick Vaughn in a scene and not expect him to steal it. That’s not the Vaughn way.

At U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, Illya interrogates Pendleton about the location of the ion projector; Pendleton cuts this line of questioning short by swallowing a poison capsule hidden in a molar. Before he dies, he makes a final request: Send his body back to his family in Riverview, Connecticut, but keep the cause of death a secret. “My family never knew about THRUSH,” he gasps out, then expires.

Illya and Napoleon give Jojo the spheres and instruct her to cozy up to THRUSH’s unit chief, Mr. Baldanado (Robert Strauss), in order to coax the location of the ion projector out of him. Jojo refuses to play along, until Mr. Waverly ladles on an extra-thick layer of guilt: “Up until now, this young lady has done an exemplary job of messing up her life. It isn’t fair to assume that she’d welcome the chance now to do something constructive for a change.” Under pressure, Jojo caves in. Well done, Mr. Waverly! You’ve persuaded a trouble-plagued and down-on-her-luck young woman to prostitute herself to a dangerous criminal so that she can do the work of your highly trained agents. No one’s really heard much from the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement since 1968; I’m guessing that’s right around the time it was shut down after being financially gutted by all the lawsuits brought against it for recklessly endangering civilians.

Outside Jojo’s apartment, she’s accosted by a pair of THRUSH engineers*, Max (James Frawley) and Eddie (Rex Holman), who demand to know why she didn’t get captured by U.N.C.L.E. during the raid on Pendleton’s mansion. Jojo claims Pendleton gave her the spheres and helped her escape. As soon as she hands over the spheres to them, Max and Eddie drag her off, intending to kill her to eliminate loose ends. They’re stopped by Illya, who pops up out of nowhere and tries to take them all into custody. Jojo wrestles the gun away from Illya and pretends to riddle him with bullets; Illya collapses in the gutter and pretends to die.

*What with Pendleton, Max, and Eddie, this episode is teeming with dangerous, gun-toting, thuggish engineers. Got an advanced degree in a STEM field, anger-management issues, and delusions of grandeur? THRUSH is the place for you!

Having proven her loyalty to THRUSH, Jojo convinces Max and Eddie to take her to Mr. Baldanado, who becomes instantly smitten with her. Meanwhile, Max and Eddie work to finalize the ion projector at THRUSH’s new laboratory, which is located in a secret lair beneath a crypt in Riverview Cemetery. The lair is protected by a glowing-eyed animatronic statue with a camera that rises up out of the top of its head and broadcasts footage to a guard booth located in a high-security tower in the nearby mortuary.

So… it’s a security camera. Just a plain old run-of-the-mill security camera. There’s no need for the statue to move or for its eyes to glow; THRUSH could’ve accomplished exactly the same thing by simply mounting a camera on the fence surrounding the crypt. See, this is why I love THRUSH. They’re every bit as incompetent as U.N.C.L.E., only they’re a whole lot more ridiculous about it.

The entrance to the laboratory, by the way, is via a staircase hidden inside a coffin in the crypt. Never change, THRUSH. Shine on, you crazy, evil diamonds.

Pendleton’s body is in the laboratory, Mr. Waverly having indeed honored his last request by sending it to Riverview. Turns out Pendleton’s request was all a fiendish ploy: He’s not really dead! Or… I don’t know, maybe he’s dead, but can be magically brought back to life! The episode isn’t too clear on the particulars. In any case, Max and Eddie discuss how they can counteract the poison that killed (or “killed”) him by injecting him with an antidote. THRUSH can do magic; just accept that and move along.

Due to his new love for Jojo, however, a jealous Baldanado refuses to resurrect Pendleton, even though Max and Eddie desperately need his engineering know-how to properly connect the spheres to the ion projector. Fed up with their boss, Max and Eddie disregard Baldanado’s orders and inject Pendleton’s corpse with the antidote, which should bring him back to life in a few hours.

Illya follows a homing signal implanted in the spheres and sneaks into the mortuary. Upon finding the entrance to the security tower barred by a thick metal door, he whips out a tuning fork and uses it to shatter the lock. This episode was written by Peter Allan Fields, who wrote a whole slew of U.N.C.L.E.’s very finest episodes (“Concrete Overcoat”, “See-Paris-and-Die”, “Girls of Nazarone”, “Fiddlesticks”, “Ultimate Computer”, “Foxes and Hounds”—classics, all of them); in three of his episodes (“Concrete Overcoat” and “See-Paris-and-Die”, plus this one), the plot has hinged upon the strategic deployment of tuning forks. Mr. Fields, you are a wonderful writer, and I greatly admire your willingness to explore the oft-neglected possibilities of weaponized tuning forks, but tuning forks do not work the way you seem to think they do.

Illya breaks into the guard booth and attacks the guard on duty, who manages to sound an alarm and activate a heavy security gate. Illya finds himself trapped in the tower.

Jojo and Baldanado share a romantic dinner at a restaurant. Over champagne, Baldanado proclaims his love for her. He confesses he’s beginning to question whether he should continue dedicating his life to THRUSH: “I don’t want to kill anyone anymore. I want to love!”

Illya is still trapped in the tower, where he’s feeling very dramatic about his predicament. He calls Napoleon on his communicator: “I hate to trouble you with trivia, but I think I’m about to get killed, and it struck me that you might want to say goodbye.”

Napoleon, who’s been lurking outside the restaurant, spying on Jojo and Baldanado, suddenly discovers Max standing behind him, holding him at gunpoint. “Goodbye,” Napoleon tells Illya. This probably wasn’t what Illya wanted to hear, actually.

Max escorts Napoleon into the restaurant and confesses to Baldanado that he brought Pendleton back to life. Baldanado flies into a rage at this show of disloyalty; Max tries to reason with him: “Sir, I beg to remind you that the Uniform Code of THRUSH Procedure…”

The Uniform Code of THRUSH Procedure! Outstanding. I get goosebumps whenever anyone invokes the Uniform Code of THRUSH Procedure. They may be a gaggle of murderous, insane, treacherous, power-crazed jackasses, but by gum, they all appreciate the importance of adhering to a strict code of conduct.

Baldanado sends Max back to the cemetery with orders to kill Illya. As soon as Max leaves, Napoleon wrestles Baldanado’s gun from him and threatens to shoot Jojo unless Baldanado saves Illya: “Get my friend out of the clutches of those maniacs of yours, or I’ll blow your girlfriend’s head off.” He, uh, seems like he might mean it. You know what’s another hallmark of a Peter Allan Fields-scripted episode? Napoleon and Illya going to crazy lengths to rescue each other. 

So Max and Eddie head up into the tower to kill Illya. Illya manages to escape by once again using his tuning fork to… shatter eardrums, or do magic, or something. I don’t know. Point is, he escapes. Being Illya, he then gets swiftly recaptured.

Napoleon takes Jojo and Baldanado to the cemetery, where he orders Baldanado to save Illya: “You’ve got exactly five minutes to bring my friend out of this no-man’s-land with all parts functioning and intact, is that clear?” Baldanado agrees to betray THRUSH by rescuing Illya, just as long as he knows Jojo will stay true to him. “I’ll be waiting for you, sweetheart,” Jojo assures him, love and devotion oozing from her pores. As soon as Baldanado leaves, she confesses to Napoleon, “I keep forgetting to ask him his first name.”

Inside the laboratory, Max recognizes Illya as the agent whom Jojo ostensibly killed: “I knew I’d seen that funny hairdo before.” He and Eddie tie Illya up in a weird and impractical way and slap him around a bit. Illya looks vaguely bored by all this, like he’s disgusted with their lack of creativity in torturing him. Illya has been tortured by the best, guys. He’s not going to be impressed by a bunch of amateurs.

Baldanado arrives and orders Max and Eddie to release Illya. When Max breaks the news that Jojo has been working for U.N.C.L.E. all along, Baldanado kills him, then kills a newly-resurrected Pendleton for good measure. True to his word, he helps Illya escape.

Outside the laboratory, Baldanado spots Napoleon and Jojo in the front seat of his car. They are, uh, making out. Even though the entire mission—even though Illya’s life—hinges upon Baldanado believing Jojo is devoted to him, Napoleon and Jojo are making out. Look, you can’t expect Napoleon to sit in the front seat of a car with a beautiful woman and not make out with her. It’s what he does.

Betrayed, Baldanado raises his gun to shoot Napoleon. Illya attacks him and wrestles the gun away. While Napoleon smooches Jojo, unaware of the chaos outside, Illya and Baldanado brawl, until Illya finally beats Baldanado into unconsciousness. Napoleon looks up at last and sees his partner standing in the pouring rain outside the car, battered and soaked and bedraggled. “We do work well together, don’t we?” Illya says, a touch of sad desperation in his voice.

Wonderful. More than any other U.N.C.L.E. writer, Fields consistently nails the weird, hilarious, maddening, fascinating, adorable Illya-Napoleon dynamic. Top marks.


Hamlette said…
I have a head-cold, but even so, this:

Mr. Fields, you are a wonderful writer, and I greatly admire your willingness to explore the oft-neglected possibilities of weaponized tuning forks, but tuning forks do not work the way you seem to think they do.

sent me into peals of congested laughter.

I seem to recall at least one ep of The Wild, Wild West that involved weaponized tuning forks. I'm wondering if Fields wrote that as well...
Morgan Richter said…
I hope your cold is better! So weird that harmonized tuning forks are a common motif...
Hamlette said…
Thanks! It is :-) And yes, why the fascination with tuning forks? Odd.
Illesdan said…
Definitely one of the stronger episodes I've watched so far -- Read: Napoleon and Illya aren't thoroughly incompetent in this episode. Something impressed me here that I've rarely seen in the other episodes, and that is how invested you feel in ALL of the characters here. There are quite a few of them, compared to previous episodes, but they don't feel shoehorned in or cliched. They actually seem real, like they have a tangible stake at what's going on here. I really enjoyed this episode, too bad its saddled with such an unfortunate title; it makes you not expect much from it.

I'll never get tired of Illya pining for Napoleon's affection. Never.
Morgan Richter said…
Illesdan, that's a good point -- even the peripheral characters are pretty well fleshed-out in this episode. The minor THRUSH goons have personalities! Peter Allan Fields is my favorite UNCLE writer by a big margin, mostly because he's so good at characterization, which is something that tends to fall by the wayside in episodes by other writers. And he's absolutely the best at writing that Napoleon-Illya relationship, mostly because he writes them as overtly flirtatious with each other (Illya pining for Napoleon's affection!).
M'lady said…
Not only do thrush like a code but they have excellent business sense and branding. ;)
I get the impression illya us rather fed up of napoleon's libido spoiling missions. Felt so sorry for him at the end. I was waiting for Ilyich to inturpt napoleon at the end with a cutting comment.
Amused said…
I fear that Mr Baldanado's conduct with Jojo constitutes a serious breach of the Uniform Code of THRUSH Procedure. I couldn't help but notice that the engineers had their jobs made impossible by an incompetent higher-up in the organisation.

I too enjoyed the weaponised tuning fork and your review thereof.

That black spiral staircase appears so often in U.N.C.L.E. episodes it should have received mentions in the credits.

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