The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Her Master’s Voice Affair”
I’m going to kick off this recap with a bold statement: This episode, the season-three premiere, features the absolute worst spy work from Illya that we will ever see over all four seasons of this excellent series. But wait, you say, what about the time Illya spent a whole episode failing to notice THRUSH had replaced Napoleon with an evil doppelganger? Or the time THRUSH tricked him into bringing a live bomb into U.N.C.L.E. headquarters? To which I reply: Yes, those were both terrible moments for Illya… but he’s even less competent here. Read on, ye mighty, and despair.
Napoleon and Illya are acting as bodyguards for renowned quantum physicist Dr. Matsu (Dale Ishimoto), whom THRUSH has targeted due to his recent iconoclastic breakthroughs in the field of gamma radiation. After picking Dr. Matsu up at the airport, Napoleon and Illya shepherd him back to his lavish Long Island home. Even though it’s the middle of the night, there’s a milk truck parked in the driveway, blasting “Brahms’s Lullaby” over its speakers.
While Illya keeps watch over the front of the house, Napoleon and Dr. Matsu head inside and discover the milkman, who is actually a THRUSH operative, has somehow brainwashed Dr. Matsu’s teen daughter Miki (Victoria Young) into breaking into her father’s safe and memorizing all of his top-secret scientific papers. When Napoleon confronts the milkman, he darts out the front door, beats up Illya, steals his car, and speeds away to safety.
At headquarters, Mr. Waverly gives Dr. Matsu and Miki the bad news: U.N.C.L.E.’s top scientists have no idea how to reverse the effects of Miki’s brainwashing. As it’s too risky for Miki to return to her fancy boarding school, Waverly offers her the use of Illya as her bodyguard and personal tutor until the brainwashing wears off. Waverly impresses Miki and her father with Illya’s curriculum vitae: “A black belt in judo. Did postgraduate work at the Sorbonne, PhD at Cambridge.” “Dead languages, wasn’t it?” Napoleon snipes. “Quantum mechanics,” Illya replies coldly. Napoleon looks disconcerted by all this focus on Illya’s awesomeness, like he’s longing to return to the days when he was the one and only Man From U.N.C.L.E., back before David McCallum’s burgeoning popularity threatened to transform the series into The Adventures of Amazing Superspy Illya Kuryakin, With Help From His Special Friend Napoleon.
To find out how THRUSH got to Miki in the first place, Napoleon visits her boarding school, the Partridge Academy for Young Ladies, which is run by doddering old Mrs. Partridge (Estelle Winwood). Donning his best white suit, complete with pith helmet, knee boots, and riding crop, Napoleon poses as the personal secretary to a Maharaja who, he claims, is considering enrolling his teen daughter in the school. Mrs. Partridge offers him the use of the school’s guesthouse while he decides whether the school is acceptable.
Famed tycoon Jason Sutro (Joseph Ruskin), one of the school’s most prominent donors, arrives and starts handing out expensive presents to all the students. “Are you the father of one of these girls?” Sutro asks Napoleon. “No, no, I’m just an admirer of all of them,” Napoleon replies, because there’s nothing at all inappropriate or creepy about a thirtysomething dude ogling a bunch of cute, giggly teen girls. Mrs. Partridge beams happily at the two childless adult men hovering around her nubile young charges.
To entertain Sutro and Napoleon, Mrs. Partridge leads the girls in a demonstration of rhythmic exercises. Due to a mix-up, the wrong music—“Brahms’s Lullaby”—is played, which causes all the girls to behave like zombies until the tape is shut off.
Back at the Katsu residence, Illya tries in vain to tutor Miki, who is more interested in seducing him. Ahem. I do realize this episode is a direct reaction to the way The Man From U.N.C.L.E.—and McCallum in particular—had suddenly become a huge pop phenomenon among teen viewers, but it’s still very, very disconcerting to watch Illya and Napoleon navigate their way around all these pretty teen girls who desperately want to shag them.
Miki steals Illya’s gun (oh, Illya) and threatens to shoot him unless he takes her to a nightclub: “Maybe I won’t shoot. I’ll just call up your boss, that Mr. Waverly: Mr. Waverly, listen, what kind of agent did you send out to protect me? He’s the one who needs protection—I’m holding his own gun on him right now!”
Miki, girl, you are crazy and obnoxious and a hazard to polite society, but I love you.
Illya tackles her and wrestles his gun away. They roll around on the floor until Miki ends up straddling him. “You’re cute,” she giggles. Icy and unruffled, Illya replies thoughtfully, as though it’s never occurred to him to consider his cuteness before, “Hmm. Maybe.”
Napoleon contacts Illya to ask him to buy a copy of “Brahms’s Lullaby” and play it for Miki to see if it triggers her brainwashing. Illya grouses bitterly about this: “I haven’t been reimbursed for the money I paid out last month. I’ll do it, but this is absolutely the last time.” Miki pipes up in the background, “Chintzy, aren’t you?” At this point, I think Miki needs her own spin-off.
And then she plays chess against Illya. Even though she’s flipping through glossy magazines while keeping only a fraction of her attention on the game, she beats him handily. Miki! Hey, Miki, you’re so fine, you’re so fine, you blow my mind, hey Miki!
The doorbell rings. Expecting a delivery of “Brahms’s Lullaby”, Illya opens the door (“Don’t forget, you’re supposed to tip him!” Miki calls after him, thus cementing this episode’s hilarious Illya-is-a-cheapskate motif). Illya accepts his package, failing to realize the delivery boy is the same milkman/THRUSH goon who attacked him earlier in the episode.
I repeat: Oh, Illya.
The delivery man attacks! Miki grabs a samurai sword off the wall and tosses it to Illya, who chases off his assailant.
Meanwhile, over at the school, Napoleon is canoodling with the sexy (and age-appropriate, thank heavens) gym teacher, Verity Burgoyne (Marianne Osborne).
So Mrs. Partridge activates Verity’s brainwashing by playing “Brahms’s Lullaby”, then orders her to kill Napoleon. Verity charges into Napoleon’s bedroom and starts swinging an axe at him.
Napoleon fends Verity off and shakes her out of her trance, just as Mrs. Partridge and a shotgun-toting groundskeeper burst into his bedroom, catching him in what seems to be a compromising situation with Verity. The gossip-starved pupils are delighted by this.
Miki, meanwhile, is still misbehaving:
After Miki pins him to the floor and covers him with kisses, Illya threatens to give her a spanking. Nope. No. Noooooooo. Do not spank teen girls, Illya. Or anyone, really, unless it’s part of consensual bedroom shenanigans between grown-ass adults, but particularly not teen girls.
Having been kicked out of the school for his escapades with Verity, Napoleon wheedles a gaggle of students into hiding him in the attic. They happily agree, assuming he’s trying to get closer to Verity: “I mean, you’re in love with her, aren’t you?” Napoleon looks confused and flabbergasted by this concept.
Miki and Illya eat dinner with chopsticks while watching a swoony Bollywood romance on television. “Why don’t you ever kiss me like that?” Miki asks him.
They’re interrupted by a call from Mrs. Partridge, who activates Miki’s brainwashing and gives her orders to sneak away. When Illya tries to stop her, he’s knocked unconscious by Sutro and his THRUSH goons.
So he’s been knocked unconscious twice, and he let a teen girl steal his gun, and he failed to adequately screen visitors to Miki’s home, and now Miki has been kidnapped by THRUSH out from under his pretty little nose. See what I mean about Illya’s staggering incompetence in the episode? Kind of takes the breath away, doesn’t it? Illya, I love you, but you are very bad at your job.
And then he gets picked up by a police officer and tossed in the drunk tank until Mr. Waverly bails him out the following morning.
Back at the school, Napoleon takes Verity into his confidence about his suspicions: Mrs. Partridge and Sutro have been brainwashing the school’s elite pupils in order to give THRUSH access to their wealthy and influential parents. Napoleon and Verity are caught by the groundskeeper, who brings them to Mrs. Partridge’s office, where a brainwashed Miki is reciting her father’s groundbreaking scientific paper on gamma radiation from memory to Mr. Sutro.
Napoleon and Verity escape, but Mrs. Partridge plays “Brahms’s Lullaby” over the school’s PA system and orders all the students to kill Napoleon. Conveniently, the girls are in the middle of a dazzlingly lethal gym class: javelin-tossing, archery, and skeet shooting.
Illya and Mr. Waverly brave rush-hour traffic to come to Napoleon’s rescue. Dig Mr. Waverly’s adorable old-timey driving goggles:
Upon arriving at the school, a newly-competent Illya sets about lobbing grenades and shooting THRUSH henchmen. He bursts into Mrs. Partridge’s office to save Miki; Sutro tries to shoot him and hits Mrs. Partridge instead. With her dying breath, Mrs. Partridge gets on the PA system and orders the girls to stop trying to murder Napoleon.
And all ends well, with Napoleon heading off on a date with Verity while Miki drags Illya off for a wild evening of go-go dancing. Dr. Matsu seems totally cool with this, which is some good parenting.
Whew! So many bad decisions in this episode, and yet it still manages to be delightful and charming. Just don’t try to spank any more teenagers, Illya, and all will be cool between us.