The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Deadly Decoy Affair”
While parked outside some bizarre bare-bones eatery known as the Cub Room (from the sign on the door: “BREAKFAST 8-9 AM. 9:30-ON VENDING MACHINES ONLY”), Napoleon honks his horn, impatient for Illya to stop dawdling over his morning coffee and cruller: Mr. Waverly has just summoned them to U.N.C.L.E. headquarters to help transport a high-ranking captured THRUSH spy to Washington for interrogation by the CIA. Napoleon makes fun of Illya’s pronunciation of “garage”, Illya looks moody and resentful about his interrupted breakfast, and all is well with the world.
Inside U.N.C.L.E.’s parking garage, heavily-armed THRUSH goons lob bombs filled with poison gas at U.N.C.L.E. agents in an attempt to rescue the captured spy, Egon Stryker (Ralph Taeger). Illya and Napoleon arrive on the scene. Illya leaps out of Napoleon’s car, swings nimbly over a railing, drops into a crouch, and whips out his gun. Fantastic! I thought to myself. This is going to be one of those episodes where Illya is competent! We haven’t had one of those in a long while!
Then Illya fires off a single shot at the bad guys and yells to Napoleon that he’s out of bullets. Napoleon tosses a spare ammunition clip at his partner; Illya tries to catch it, drops it, and spends the next few moments fumbling around the pavement to find it.
It’s not going to be one of those episodes where Illya is competent. That much is clear.
Napoleon and Illya hold off the THRUSH agents long enough for backup to arrive. Egon Stryker is taken back into headquarters, where Mr. Waverly briefs Napoleon and Illya on the situation: Since THRUSH goons are lying in wait outside the building, Waverly is going to distract them by escorting a decoy agent disguised as Stryker to the airport, while Illya and Napoleon secretly transport the real Stryker by train to Washington. While this briefing takes place, a glowering Illya makes a big production number out of reloading his ammunition clip, like he’s silently daring Waverly or Napoleon to ask him why he showed up at work in the morning with only a single bullet in his gun.
Amazing. If I were forced to choose a single favorite aspect of this marvelous series, I think I’d give my vote to all the small, weird, hilarious character bits like this. David McCallum and Robert Vaughn, who are a glorious matched pair of spotlight-grabbing hams, are fundamentally incapable of sitting quietly in the background. If Illya runs out of bullets in a scene, of course he’s going to spend the next scene pointedly reloading his clip while looking venomous and sulky.
Waverly introduces them to Egon Stryker, who, as befitting his most excellent name, turns out to be hostile and smarmy and awesome. Upon learning that Napoleon and Illya will be his escorts to Washington, Stryker asks, “Are you complimenting them, or insulting me?” Ooooooo, that’s terribly obnoxious. I like you, Stryker. On a roll, Stryker bums a light off of Napoleon and then, when Napoleon’s Zippo malfunctions, quips to Waverly, “You should pay your help better.”
Faced with the prospect of spending several hours on a train being pelted by Stryker’s blistering bon mots, Napoleon asks Waverly wistfully, “Must we deliver him in perfect condition?”
While Mr. Waverly escorts the decoy Stryker to the airport via an armored truck, Napoleon and Illya smuggle the real Stryker out of the building and into a cab. Napoleon becomes suspicious when the Irish cabbie—last name of O’Brien—speaks with a thick Italian accent (“Mamma mia! Those-a stupid pedestrians!”). Before the cabbie can knock them out with poison gas, Napoleon and Illya make a quick exit, dragging Stryker along with them. They duck inside a fancy boutique to hide from pursuing THRUSH agents.
The proprietor of the boutique huffily informs them no one is allowed inside without an appointment. Illya introduces himself as an internationally-famous designer (“Kuryakin of Paris”) and starts spewing effusive French at her. She is, naturally, charmed.
Hey, has everyone seen the ghastly 1983 made-for-TV reunion film, Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E.? If you’ve been spared the trauma, here’s the grim setup: Illya, estranged from Napoleon and long retired from the spy business, has found a new career as, ahem, a famous fashion designer. I feel like that terrible bit of nonsensical nitwittery had its roots in this episode.
Napoleon and Illya smuggle Stryker into one of the dressing rooms, where Napoleon has a brilliant thought: He’ll handcuff himself to Stryker, thus ensuring their captive can’t wander off. While Napoleon tosses the key down into the heating vent (Stryker: “Really, Solo, dismemberment is so distasteful”), Illya fastens one cuff around Stryker’s wrist. Before he can fasten the other cuff around Napoleon’s wrist, they’re startled by the sound of THRUSH agents searching the shop. All three men duck behind a rack of clothes. While thus hidden, Illya snaps the other cuff around Napoleon’s wrist…
...No. No, he doesn’t. Somehow, Illya manages to snap the other cuff around the wrist of a very nice lady named Fran Parsons (Joanna Moore, mom to Tatum O’Neal), who’d darted behind the rack to hide from the three strange men who’d burst into her dressing room. Figuring a good offense is the best defense, Illya immediately snarls, “You were the one who threw away the key!” at Napoleon, before Napoleon has a chance to bawl him out for his latest bout of rank incompetency.
Illya! Great merciful Zeus, Illya! You’re adorable and hilarious and wonderful, but how on earth do you still have a job? I have this theory that U.N.C.L.E. would’ve handed Illya back to the Soviets years ago, were it not for fear of causing offense and sparking a global incident.
Still clad in the full-length fur coat and fancy evening gown she was trying on when they barged in on her, Fran gamely accompanies them to Penn Station, where they all board a train bound for Washington. Both Stryker and Napoleon set about shamelessly flirting with Fran, who remains plucky and upbeat, even upon discovering she’s handcuffed to a dangerous felon (“an international criminal—a dangerous spy!” Stryker informs her smugly).
THRUSH agents swarm the train and start chucking smoke bombs everywhere. While Illya holds them off, Napoleon, Stryker, and Fran leap from the train to safety. Because this is very early on in the series, back when Illya was Napoleon’s adorable-but-incompetent second banana instead of Napoleon’s adorable-but-incompetent equally-billed partner, Illya will now vanish from this episode for the next half hour or so.
Napoleon, Stryker, and Fran trudge on foot through a remote rural area before stopping for the night at a farmhouse run by a kindly Amish (Mennonite?) couple. Fran and Stryker, still handcuffed together, pose as newlyweds, whereupon the Amish couple happily give them the use of their bedroom for the night.
Faced with the prospect of sharing a bed with a dangerous felon, Fran’s cheery disposition wavers for the first time: “I’ve been a very good sport about this whole thing, but a girl has to draw the line somewhere!” Stryker, who is considerably less rape-happy than many of his fellow THRUSH miscreants (I’m looking at you, Louis Strago. You, too, Mr. Elon. Yeah, I’m going to go ahead and throw you and your cattle prod on this sordid little pile as well, Miss Diketon), reassures her he has no intention of taking advantage of her.
Dig the homey “Prepare To Meet Thy God” embroidered sampler hanging on the wall. Reassuring!
Napoleon, who is decent enough not to leave poor Fran alone in a room with a THRUSH agent, steals a hacksaw and sneaks into the bedroom to free Fran and Stryker from the handcuffs. In the morning, they continue on toward Washington in a horse-drawn buggy borrowed from the Amish couple. A policeman stops them and demands to see identification; when Napoleon cooperates, the policeman, who is really a THRUSH spy, stabs him with a syringe and knocks him out.
Napoleon regains consciousness to find himself chained to a tree, where Stryker informs him cheerfully that he’s going to hand him over to his superiors at THRUSH for interrogation.
Napoleon frees himself by strangling the fake policeman with his thighs, which is kind of a neat trick, then overpowers Stryker, rescues Fran, and speeds the rest of the way to Washington in the fake policeman’s squad car. Well! Nicely done! Our lovely Illya has been kind of a disaster this episode, but at least Napoleon brought his A-game.
In Washington, Napoleon bids farewell to Fran. He advises her to check into a fancy hotel, courtesy of U.N.C.L.E., then meet him in the cocktail lounge at nine: “Order some martinis. Well-chilled and very, very dry.” He then knocks Stryker unconscious and brings him to a local hospital to deliver him to the CIA.
The hospital is swarming with THRUSH agents, who open fire on Napoleon and steal a still-unconscious Stryker out from under his nose. Napoleon is saved by the arrival of Mr. Waverly, who knocks out one of the THRUSH agents with a karate chop to the neck, like a boss. A badass septuagenarian boss.
Oh, yeah, Illya is there too. Hi, Illya! Your dry observations and Slavic fatalism were sorely missed while your partner was off faffing about in a horse-drawn buggy. Illya springs this episode’s major plot twist on Napoleon, who is beating himself up over losing Stryker to THRUSH: “Understand one thing: You didn’t turn Stryker over to them. We were the ones that had the decoy!”
Yep. Waverly escorted the real Egon Stryker to Washington while Napoleon and Illya, blithely unaware, chaperoned the decoy, an U.N.C.L.E. agent named Paul Wescott. There are two outstanding things about this development: 1) Neither Napoleon nor Illya ever suspected the truth, and 2) whether out of carelessness or spite, Mr. Waverly couldn’t be bothered to brief them on this very vital piece of information at the start.
THRUSH goons take Stryker—Paul Wescott—to the basement of the hospital, where he’s immediately exposed as an imposter. Before THRUSH can kill him, Napoleon and Illya swoop in and rescue him. With his mission tidily wrapped up, Napoleon saunters off to meet Fran at the cocktail lounge for a celebratory martini, only to discover Wescott is already there. Even though he’s no longer posing as Stryker, he’s still as gloriously smarmy as ever. Napoleon urges him to knock it off: “To put it bluntly, I wish you would stop acting obnoxious.” “Stop? Why, Solo, I could no more stop breathing,” Wescott replies.
Mild-mannered Fran, meanwhile, is delighted to have both men to herself: “I’ll never get another chance like this,” she tells them happily. Napoleon and Wescott grimly clink their martini glasses together, realizing Fran has somehow manipulated them into participating in some weird and unwanted ménage à trois.
Delightful. Stryker/Wescott, you’re welcome to come back and annoy Napoleon and Illya at any time.