The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Minus-X Affair"

Once again, THRUSH has been wreaking its usual brand of malicious yet nonsensical havoc: After capturing a hapless U.N.C.L.E. agent named Louis (Robert Doyle), THRUSH scientists shoot him up with an experimental serum and release him. Back at U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, Mr. Waverly, Illya, and Napoleon stand behind a glass partition and grimly observe Louis, who is now experiencing both super-charged senses and wild fits of anger due to the serum. After hurling insults at Mr. Waverly (“You in the middle—you smoke pipe? It’s a pretty foul tobacco you got!”), Louis turns his attention to Napoleon: “You on the right, you been out with a blonde? I see a blonde hair on your coat.” Everyone looks amazed by Louis’s newly souped-up eyesight and sense of smell, but come on, it really doesn’t take superpowers to predict that Waverly has been smoking his beloved pipe, or that Napoleon has been nuzzling with a blonde. Nuzzling with blondes is what Napoleon does.

To find out what THRUSH has been up to, Illya and Napoleon visit Professor Stemmler (Eve Arden), a brilliant chemist who’s been working on a senses-heightening drug known as Plus-X. Stemmler denies any knowledge of THRUSH, though she admits her laboratory was recently ransacked. While questioning Stemmler, Napoleon and Illya discover THRUSH agents in the process of raiding her lab. Illya gets into a gunfight with them while Napoleon races to cover the back exit.

In the alley, Napoleon spots two men escaping out of the laboratory. There’s an overdubbed shout of “That’s an U.N.C.L.E. agent! Kill him!”, which was probably added later to make it seem a little less cold-blooded and vicious when Napoleon shoots one of the men in the back as he’s climbing out the window. The other THRUSH agent hops in a getaway van and runs Napoleon down while speeding away from the scene.

Napoleon survives the hit-and-run with only a few bruises, though his fancy suit suffers extensive damage (“That’s the third suit in three days,” Illya cheerfully notes). Illya contacts Waverly to brief him on Napoleon’s injuries: “He was run over by a truck.” “Large truck,” Napoleon pipes in from the background. “A small truck,” Illya gravely tells Waverly.

Oh, you two. Napoleon and Illya, for all your jaw-dropping incompetence, I love both of you dearly.

After grousing about all the money he wastes on reimbursing Napoleon for his damaged wardrobe, Waverly orders Illya to return to headquarters while Napoleon remains behind to protect Professor Stemmler from THRUSH. Napoleon worries THRUSH might force Stemmler to help them perfect the Plus-X formula by using a close family member—such as Leslie, her secret twentysomething daughter in Acapulco—against her. Stemmler is shocked to discover U.N.C.L.E. knows of the existence of Leslie, whom she hasn’t seen in eleven years. Napoleon promises to keep Leslie safe from THRUSH.

Whoops! It turns out Napoleon has already broken that promise, because THRUSH didn’t know anything about Leslie until he blabbed about her in front of a listening device, which THRUSH honcho Rollo (Theo Marcuse) had planted in Stemmler’s laboratory. Great job, Napoleon! No fool, Rollo immediately makes plans to kidnap Leslie to use her as leverage against Stemmler.

At a swanky nightclub in Acapulco, a tuxedo-clad Illya keeps a covert eye on die-hard party girl Leslie (Sharon Farrell) while she swills champagne and frugs and flirts with the band’s trumpeter, Whittaker (King Moody), who is an undercover THRUSH spy.

Having been warned by Rollo to keep an eye out for Illya, Whittaker cups a photo of his target in his palm. Between this and the last episode, I’m digging this trend of THRUSH agents always carrying around adorable little pocket-sized photos of Illya.

Upon spotting Illya, Whittaker shoots a tranquilizer dart from his trumpet and wings him in the neck.

Ever cool, Illya gives Whittaker a grim little smile of acknowledgment—“ha ha, okay, you win, I guess I’m going to die now”—then slips a tracking device onto Leslie’s dress before collapsing in an unconscious heap. With Leslie now in THRUSH hands, Rollo contacts Dr. Stemmler and demands she join forces with him to save her daughter’s life. Over Napoleon’s protests, Stemmler surrenders herself to Rollo, whereupon it’s revealed that she’s been a THRUSH agent all along. Yet again, I’m forced to admire THRUSH’s willingness to recruit women for high-level scientific positions.

Back at U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, Illya and Napoleon use the tracking device to pinpoint Leslie’s current location: She’s being held at Rollo’s company, Rollo Chemical Works, which is located suspiciously close to a top-secret U.S. government facility for producing synthetic plutonium. Suspecting Rollo aims to use the Plus-X formula in an attempt to steal plutonium, Illya and Napoleon make a plan to invade his lair. “Wear a less expensive suit this time, will you?” Mr. Waverly growls at Napoleon.

At Rollo Chemical Works, Professor Stemmler assures Rollo the Plus-X serum has now been perfected. She’s also been working on a companion serum, Minus-X, which stunts the brains of test subjects. As Stemmler explains to Rollo, “To get the Minus-X to work, I have only to reverse the chemical processes inherent in the Plus-X.” Well, obviously. That’s just science.

Here’s the plan: Rollo’s going to inject a team of THRUSH agents with Plus-X. Using their newly-enhanced senses, they’ll break into the government facility and steal all the top-secret plans for developing synthetic plutonium. To aid them in their objective, they’ll drug the guards with Minus-X to turn them into blithering morons. Above Stemmler’s protests, Rollo tests the Plus-X serum on Leslie.

So Napoleon and Illya break into Rollo Chemical Works, climbing around on rooftops and scaling fences and punching out guards while trying not to set off any alarms. Illya is dressed for the occasion in sensible cat-burglar black; Napoleon is dressed in… an expensive suit. Not that Mr. Waverly doesn’t have a point, but I’m with Napoleon on this. Just because your job sometimes requires you to get down and dirty doesn’t mean you should compromise your personal style.

Upon overhearing Rollo mention Minus-X, Napoleon stays behind to investigate while Illya heads off to the plutonium laboratory to stop the invading THRUSH agents. Napoleon is promptly captured, probably because he’s strolling around a chemical factory in an expensive suit and wingtip loafers instead of wearing head-to-toe black and sticking to the shadows. Rollo tries to torture Napoleon into telling him everything U.N.C.L.E. knows about THRUSH’s diabolical plans.

The torture session is interrupted by the arrival of Leslie. Now that the effects of the Plus-X have kicked in, now that all her senses have been heightened to superhuman levels, Leslie has decided she’d like to join THRUSH in their raping and pillaging and general illogical mayhem: “It’s immoral and indecent, of course, but I haven’t been raised too well myself.” That’s the spirit, Leslie!

Rollo orders Professor Stemmler to test the Minus-X on Napoleon. Stemmler pretends to inject Napoleon with the serum, then secretly begs him to rescue her daughter from the evil-yet-appealing clutches of THRUSH.

So Napoleon plays along with Professor Stemmler’s plan and pretends his mind has been reverted to childlike levels. He sings happy songs to himself and babbles cheerfully about peanut butter and choo-choo trains and cookies with jam. Credit where credit is due: Robert Vaughn is sort of brilliant and hilarious at pretending to be an imbecile. If I had to sum up Vaughn’s acting style in a single phrase, this would be it: weirdly entertaining.

THRUSH goons disguised as soldiers infiltrate the government facility, where they lace the coffee and soup with Minus-X. Illya, also disguised as a soldier, breaks into the lab right behind them. He’s promptly captured by the military police, who are (understandably) alarmed at finding an unidentified Soviet wandering around a U.S.-operated plutonium refinement facility at the height of the Cold War. “That’s a pretty weird name, Kuryakin. Where are you from, fella?” snarls one of the MPs. Hey, it’s beloved character actor Paul Winfield, who seems to be cropping up in everything I review these days!

Illya gets locked in a cell while the THRUSH goons freely wander around the facility. Luckily for Illya, he’s able to free himself as soon as the Minus-X kicks in and scrambles the brains of his guards.

With Professor Stemmler’s help, Napoleon escapes from Rollo’s clutches. He and Stemmler head to the plutonium facility, where Rollo has already taken Leslie. The usual messy climactic battle ensues, during which Stemmler is shot while trying to protect her daughter, whereupon a wrathful Leslie kills Rollo by shoving him into a… I don’t even know what that thing is supposed to be. A plutonium synthesizer, maybe? Point being, Rollo’s dead. Stemmler, too.

And it all ends with Illya industriously inspecting the damage to yet another of Napoleon’s suits. “Mr. Waverly’s going to love that,” he remarks as he scrutinizes Napoleon’s destroyed pants.

Perfectly adequate stuff. A lesser accomplishment from the pen of U.N.C.L.E.’s premier scribe, the great Peter Allan Fields, but still plenty entertaining.


vintagehoarder said…
Back in Season One, if Napoleon had to do something strenuous like hike through rugged terrain or break into an underground vault, he'd wear something suitable for the job. I don't know what happened to change that. Maybe he decided he had to look debonair at all times in case he encountered an Innocent he wanted to flirt with?
Morgan Richter said…
My guess is it has something to do with Robert Vaughn looking awfully dashing and handsome in his nice suits, so he'd continue to wear them even when he was hiking or breaking into places. And you're right--in case Napoleon ran into a beautiful woman, it was far better for him to be dressed in a suit for flirting purposes.
Laika said…
I just discovered your magnificent reviews amd am now binging on them when I could be studying.

By the way, in the opening scene after the drugged agent's "blonde hair" comment, Napoleon seems to glance nervously at Illya... makes one wonder what was going on there!
Morgan Richter said…
Aw, good to hear you're enjoying the reviews, Laika!

Well, as we know from Girls of Nazarone, Napoleon sure does like blondes...
M'lady said…
At least someone realised illya wasn't American. Lol!

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