The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Waverly Ring Affair”
Napoleon saunters into a midtown drugstore, which doubles as a THRUSH courier drop. After observing a THRUSH agent picking up prints at the photo counter, he picks up his own photos, which are filed under the alias “Watson Silvernagel.” Ha! Watson Silvernagel! That’s almost as preposterous of a name as “Napoleon Solo”! Anyway, while the THRUSH agent and the counterman have a secret discussion about the photos, Napoleon picks up a birthday card and reads it aloud in a theatrical manner while adopting a bizarre old-timey mid-Atlantic accent, as befitting a man named Watson Silvernagel: “Holy smoke, yumping yiminy, have a birthday that’s wine-y and women-y. Ha ha, boy, they really turn out the lulus these days!” Okay, so it’s already clear that: a) this episode is going to be totally bonkers, and b) it’s all going to be Robert Vaughn’s fault. Excellent.
After creating a suitable distraction, Napoleon swipes the photos from the THRUSH agent and heads for the exit. A well-dressed lady pulls a gun on him, whereupon Illya pops up from behind a display of postcards and knocks her out. A joyous brawl ensues. Napoleon and Illya throw punches and leap over counters, beating up THRUSH goons and couriers and probably some innocent bystanders who just darted into their friendly neighborhood drugstore to buy Alka-Seltzer or pick up a Valium refill.
Illya and Napoleon triumphantly waltz into U.N.C.L.E. headquarters with the stolen THRUSH photos. Illya flips through them, searching for intel about THRUSH’s latest diabolical scheme, which is code-named Project Windfall. “Here’s a plan to sabotage the Olympic games,” he says of one photo, before shrugging in disinterest and shuffling it back into the pile.
One photo grabs Illya’s attention: Somehow, THRUSH has managed to photograph File 40, which contains U.N.C.L.E.’s plans for top-secret weapons. As nobody is permitted to remove File 40 from the building, and as only a few top-ranking U.N.C.L.E. agents even have access to it, this means THRUSH has a high-placed mole somewhere inside the New York office. Sure, why not? It’s happened before; I’m sure it’ll happen again.
Illya licks the photo of File 40: “It’s genuine,” he tells Napoleon solemnly. Illya, sweetheart, that’s not how you check… oh, never mind. Skip it. Go ahead and lick the photo, if it makes you happy.
Alarmed, Mr. Waverly decides to conduct rigorous tests of U.N.C.L.E.’s security system to make sure it hasn’t been compromised (again). Napoleon waggles his foot in front of a scanner and sets off an alarm, whereupon everyone concludes the system is working just fine. An agent named George Dennell (Larry Blyden) offers to demonstrate the backup system, but Waverly yawns and assures him it isn’t necessary. Mr. Waverly, sir, you’re setting a very bad example. Take the extra ten minutes and order a test of the backup system. This sort of grotesque inattention to detail is exactly how your top-secret files end up in THRUSH hands, you know.
Waverly puts Napoleon in charge of hunting down the mole. He equips Napoleon with a fancy signet ring, known as a Waverly Ring, as a symbol of his faith in his top agent. Waverly Rings can only be removed by Mr. Waverly himself—if Napoleon tries to take it off his own finger, it’ll explode, killing him. Why? No reason. Here’s the difference between U.N.C.L.E. and THRUSH in a nutshell: THRUSH gives lethal exploding pocket watches to retiring agents who’ve outlived their usefulness, whereas U.N.C.L.E. gives lethal exploding signet rings to their most valuable agents. Neither organization really gets to claim the moral high ground here.
So Napoleon sets about trying to ferret out the mole. During a security check, George is caught carrying a document typed in THRUSH code on U.N.C.L.E. stationery out of the building. George insists he’s not a double agent—he has no idea who slipped the document into his pocket—but Waverly boots him out of U.N.C.L.E. anyway, with orders to have his brain wiped of all memories of high-security matters. Yep. This is a thing U.N.C.L.E. does to its employees on a semi-regular basis. The civil rights violations are staggering.
So Illya and Napoleon escort George to the brainwashing department, where an U.N.C.L.E. doctor forcibly hypnotizes George into forgetting everything he knows about the company.
But! It’s all a ruse to lure the real mole out into the open! At Waverly’s suggestion, George was wearing opaque contact lenses to block the effects of the brain-wiping hypnotic rays. A newly-fired George heads to a swanky bar, accompanied by his sometime girlfriend Carla Drosten (Elizabeth Allen), who works in U.N.C.L.E.’s personnel department (and who is also Napoleon’s sometime girlfriend, but that’s neither here nor there). Over cocktails, George makes a big drunken spectacle of himself by ranting loudly about getting fired from U.N.C.L.E.
When Napoleon arrives and tries to hush him up, George punches him out. Napoleon seeks solace in the cleavage of the nearest attractive woman.
Waverly is summoned to Japan to investigate the murder of the head of U.N.C.L.E.’s Tokyo office, leaving Napoleon as acting head of the New York office. Napoleon carries out these duties to the best of his abilities, i.e. he immediately commandeers Waverly’s office, slouches in Waverly’s chair, and bosses Illya around.
Sure enough, George’s loutish behavior at the bar was observed by THRUSH agents, who recruit him to their team. Deeply entrenched in THRUSH, George asks Napoleon to bring a copy of File 40 to a manufacturing plant out on Long Island. Suspicious by nature, Illya assumes this means George is now legitimately working for the enemy; Napoleon, however, still believes the best of his former co-worker. With Illya’s help, he sets about smuggling File 40 out of the building.
Ah, but Napoleon won’t deliver the real File 40 straight into THRUSH hands, I told myself smugly upon first watching this. Even Mr. Waverly isn’t allowed to take the real File 40 out of the building, because it’s too much of a security risk. Surely Napoleon will hand over a dummy file to George. Surely Napoleon’s smarter than that.
As it turns out, Napoleon is not smarter than that.
So Napoleon strolls out of U.N.C.L.E. headquarters with microfilm containing File 40 hidden in his jacket sleeve. When the security alarm goes off, he claims it was an innocent mistake—he’d scribbled down a woman’s phone number on a piece of U.N.C.L.E. stationery, which set off the alarm (to be fair, this does sound like something Napoleon would do). The technician asks Napoleon to walk through the scanner again, whereupon Illya hisses and snarls and bites his head off. In the face of Illya’s wrath, the technician backs down and allows Napoleon to leave the building.
“Too bad. I’ll have to report him for allowing me to bully him out of doing his job properly,” Illya says cheerfully to Napoleon. Illya, you are a terrible, frightening, magnificent beast.
Anyway, Napoleon arrives at the manufacturing plant, which turns out to be a secret THRUSH base. He’s betrayed by George, who captures him and steals File 40.
What’s more, it turns out George and Carla are in cahoots—Carla, in fact, recruited George to THRUSH’s side. Carla and George fill Napoleon in on Project Windfall: Now that THRUSH has successfully lured Waverly out of the country, they’re going to take over U.N.C.L.E.’s New York headquarters, using all the top-security information gleaned from File 40.
Napoleon escapes from captivity by threatening to blow everyone up with a fake exploding cufflink. Pfft. Big deal. I bet Illya has real exploding cufflinks.
While on the loose, Napoleon manages to send an emergency distress call to headquarters. Illya takes a break from his favorite recreational activity—hissing and snarling at harmless U.N.C.L.E. switchboard operators—to go and rescue his partner.
George and Carla recapture Napoleon. Carla wants to test THRUSH’s new disposal system—a machine that wraps bodies in plastic and shoots them out into the bay—on Napoleon, so he bats his pretty eyes soulfully at her, which distracts her long enough for him to wrestle her gun away. Now that Napoleon has the upper hand, Carla and George each insist they’ve been secretly working with Waverly to smoke out the real traitor. Carla and George show Napoleon their respective Waverly Rings. There’s a very long scene in which Napoleon tries to decide whether his old buddy George or his occasional girlfriend Carla is telling him the truth; it’s kind of tedious, so I’ll cut to the chase: Carla’s the mole, and her Waverly Ring is a fake. Unfortunately, even with Carla as a hostage, Napoleon and George are trapped in THRUSH’s lair with no way out.
Meanwhile, Illya breaks into the manufacturing plant and faffs about with a blowtorch for a while, accomplishing exactly nothing. Have we learned nothing from “The Fiddlesticks Affair”? No good ever comes from giving Illya a blowtorch.
Fed up with waiting around for his partner to rescue him, Napoleon sets the building on fire.
Illya crawls through the vents and follows the trail of the smoke to Napoleon. A messier-than-usual gunfight ensues, in which Carla is shot and killed. And then George reveals to Napoleon that it really doesn’t matter that THRUSH now has a copy of File 40—as it turns out, U.N.C.L.E.’s top-secret weapons don’t work anyway, so the plans are all worthless! Joke’s on you, THRUSH!
…I don’t know. It’s a happy ending, I guess?
Back at headquarters, Mr. Waverly takes away George’s and Napoleon’s Waverly Rings without blowing anyone up, so that’s all good. Then he beams approvingly as Napoleon casually beats the crap out of George for having the temerity to suggest his recent exploits prove he’s good enough to join Napoleon and Illya as one of the elite enforcement agents.
I swear, this is the weirdest show. I mean that in a good way, mostly. Question: Which powerful and well-funded global organization is less competent, THRUSH or U.N.C.L.E.? Write your answer in the form of an essay in the comments below.