The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Master’s Touch Affair”

In Lisbon, Illya poses as a cabbie and drives Napoleon along a winding mountain road in search of the current hideout of Pharos Mandor, the exiled second-in-command of all of THRUSH. Following a failed coup attempt, Mandor has turned traitor against his former compatriots, supplying U.N.C.L.E. with vital information about THRUSH’s inner workings in exchange for great sums of cash. Illya and Napoleon are trailed by a THRUSH agent operating under the orders of Valandros (Nehemiah Persoff), Mandor’s former protégé and current arch-nemesis. A squadron of Mandor’s personal bodyguards swoop down the hillside and mount an attack. They murder the THRUSH agent, kidnap Napoleon, and leave poor Illya stranded on the side of the road with his totaled cab.

Napoleon is whisked off to a lavish gated villa to meet with Mandor, who is played by Hawaii Five-O’s effortlessly sleek and cool Jack Lord. This is a season four episode, which is another way of saying it’s really not any good—the pacing is sluggish, the script is sloppy, and nothing quite makes cohesive sense—but Lord’s Mandor is pretty consistently terrific. Much of the first half of this episode just features Napoleon and Mandor hanging around the posh villa together, sipping cocktails and looking handsome in their nice suits and exchanging veiled threats while trying to outclass and out-cool each other. As fond as I am of Napoleon’s easy sophistication and unruffled charm, I have to give the edge to Mandor.

Mandor has already given U.N.C.L.E. crucial information that has led to the elimination of THRUSH outposts in Turkey and South Africa. Now, he wants U.N.C.L.E. to kill Valandros, who is hell-bent on wreaking terrible vengeance against his old friend for betraying THRUSH. In exchange, Mandor will give Napoleon a vital piece of intelligence: the names of the THRUSH leaders in Moscow, London, and New York. Napoleon refuses to kill Valandros, on the grounds that U.N.C.L.E. is not in the assassination business.

Somewhere nearby, Valandros lurks in his lair, plotting his revenge on Mandor. Valandros is in possession of a staggeringly powerful, quasi-magical computer, which has carefully synthesized all known facts about Mandor and, following an in-depth analysis of his personality traits and behavioral patterns, has produced a series of snazzy dot-matrix images of the disguises Mandor is most likely to don whilst in hiding:

Mandor is probably not losing much sleep worrying that THRUSH’s supercomputer is going to track him down anytime soon.

Mandor, who is a crafty fellow, is actually playing U.N.C.L.E. against THRUSH: As soon as U.N.C.L.E. uses the leaked intelligence to eliminate all his enemies within THRUSH, Mandor plans to stage another coup and take complete control of his former organization. As the next stage in his plan, Mandor calls up Valandros and anonymously tells him where he can find a cute, helpless blond Russian U.N.C.L.E. agent.

So Valandros sends some THRUSH goons to kidnap Illya, who is still waiting patiently by the side of the road with his totaled cab. (Illya flags down the THRUSH jeep and tries to hitch a ride, then seems stunned when a cluster of uniformed goons pull guns on him. Where are your survival instincts, lad?). The goons drag Illya to Valandros’s lair, where Valandros orders his men to brutally torture him into telling them where Mandor is hiding.

Cue the gratuitous Illya torture! Why, we could almost be back in the lurid heyday of season two’s peak Illyasploitation, back when Illya was getting tied up and/or stripped and/or tortured pretty much every single episode.

Back at the villa, Napoleon hangs out in the courtyard, catching some rays and half-heartedly flirting with Mandor’s pretty female companion, a fashion model named Leslie (Leslie Parrish). Napoleon urges her to leave while she can; Leslie explains that she’s a prisoner in this place. She was lured to the villa to attend what she thought would be a fancy jet-set party, but instead found herself trapped. It’s not quite as unsavory as it sounds: Of Mandor, Leslie quickly points out, “He never even made a pass!”

Wow. Let’s discuss Napoleon’s sunbathing outfit. This is… well, this is something. It’s some kind of matching two-piece patterned shorts ensemble, complete with terrycloth collar and cuffs, and it is amazing. Since Napoleon didn’t pack a suitcase for his unscheduled vacation at the villa, we can assume it’s a loaner from Mandor. The outfit is almost bizarre enough to draw attention away from the unprecedented amount of leg Robert Vaughn is flashing in this scene. Almost.

So much leg, Vaughn. So much.

Mandor (who is wearing a seersucker bathrobe with an ascot knotted over his bare chest, because everyone at the villa has, in the greatest possible way, gone sartorially batshit), takes Napoleon aside for a friendly chat. He cheerily informs him that he turned Illya over to Valandros for a little recreational torture, and if Napoleon wants his partner back in one piece, he’s probably going to have to do Mandor a solid by killing Valandros. Once again, Mandor rocks. Between his genial sophistication and his diabolical scheming, he seems more like a Bond character than a run-of-the-mill THRUSH baddie, which makes total sense; after all, Jack Lord was the first of many actors to play James Bond’s longtime ally, CIA spook Felix Leiter, back in 1962’s Dr. No. Mandor, truly, is living the THRUSH dream: He’s keeping an U.N.C.L.E. agent as a pet, dressing him up in weird and vaguely emasculating outfits while manipulating U.N.C.L.E. into serving as his unwitting patsy in his war against his arch-nemesis. There are the bones of a truly rip-roaring episode here, hidden beneath season four’s signature layers of tedium and bloat.

Mandor pats Napoleon on the head and sends him off to rescue Illya. He even gives him a cute, sporty red convertible as a parting gift. Mandor is evil, yet awesome. While Napoleon zips away from the villa, Leslie pops up from the backseat and surprises him. Mandor, who has a soft spot for the ladies, tells Napoleon via a hidden microphone that he’s decided to let Leslie escape.

Over the course of this show, there are moments when it becomes blatantly obvious that Robert Vaughn circa 1965 is the exact same person as Kyle MacLachlan circa 1991. While this discovery can be momentarily disconcerting, I for one am delighted and dazzled by this incontrovertible evidence that time travel really does exist.

Napoleon and Leslie head to U.N.C.L.E. headquarters in Lisbon, where they meet up with Mr. Waverly and Lisa Rogers. Napoleon frets that Leslie is still at risk from Mandor, so Lisa volunteers to guard her in the penthouse suite of a fancy hotel. When Leslie scoffs at Lisa’s capacity to protect her from harm, Lisa dumps out the contents of her purse and shows off her arsenal of secret weapons: She’s got a poison-tipped lipstick, an adorable little gun, and a perfume atomizer filled with a gas that will, as Mr. Waverly discreetly puts it, “curb one’s aggressive instincts.” Lisa coolly reveals that she’s had to use it six times, but only twice in the line of duty. Napoleon looks chagrined at this.

The implied joke here is that Lisa has whipped out her spray to ward off Napoleon’s unwanted advances on four occasions. This is not so much a joke as it is deeply horrific and unsettling—“Ha, ha, our much-loved protagonist is a predatory rapist!”—so I prefer to interpret this scene thusly: Lisa can’t stand Napoleon, and thus sprays him with mace at every possible opportunity (“Hey, Lisa, did you happen to find that file… holy crap, woman, why do you keep doing that?”).

Then Lisa and Napoleon diffuse the tension by engaging in a weird, lengthy competition as to who can make the goofiest facial expression.

Then Napoleon finally heads off to rescue Illya. About damn time, Napoleon.

Because this is a season four episode, and because all season four episodes are bloated and flabby and padded out with unnecessary filler, most of Act Three is devoted to following Napoleon as he slooooowly breaks into Valandros’s lair: He sloooowly approaches a barbed-wire fence, then he sloooowly wriggles under the fence, then he sloooowly climbs up the side of the wall, then he sloooowly makes his way through Valandros’s mansion, then he sloooowly takes an elevator down to the prison level… At long last, Napoleon finally—finally!—arrives at the cell where Illya is being kept.

Napoleon breaks into Illya’s cell. By this point, Illya’s brain has been turned into scrambled eggs from all the relentless torture, so he stumbles around and babbles nonsensically and gets underfoot while a long-suffering Napoleon tries to free them both. Napoleon literally ends up taking Illya by the hand and leading him to safety. “Illya? Is my name Illya?” Illya wonders aloud. “Who cares?” Napoleon snarls in reply.

Mr. Waverly, with Leslie in tow, meets up with Illya and Napoleon, who have escaped from the lair in Napoleon’s sporty little red convertible. Meanwhile, THRUSH Intelligence finally manages to locate Mandor’s villa, so all of Valandros’s goons jump on their scooters and zip off for an invasion. While both U.N.C.L.E. and THRUSH converge on the villa, Mandor bops on over to Valandros’s now-unprotected lair and calmly murders Valandros.

It finally dawns on Napoleon that Mandor has been manipulating U.N.C.L.E. every step of the way. He returns to Valandros’s lair and, with Illya’s help, tries to apprehend Mandor. Illya’s brain is still cabbage, so Napoleon once again has to physically take him by the hand and lead him into the lair. This is very sweet and kind of sexy and absolutely ridiculous. Hey, Napoleon? Maybe Illya should sit this one out. Leave him in the car with Mr. Waverly and Leslie, and handle this on your own. Just as Napoleon and Illya arrive on the scene, Valandros rises up and, with his dying breath, shoots Mandor in the back.

And then the episode ends with a weird and borderline nonsensical scene in which Napoleon shows up in a tux to take Leslie out on a date. For no reason other than to provide fanfiction authors with valuable fodder, Illya poses as Napoleon’s chauffeur and accompanies them. Napoleon presents Leslie with a book listing the names of all the millionaires in the United States and Europe; ignoring the suggestion that she’s a gold-digging floozy, Leslie seems genuinely happy to receive the gift.

Season four, man. You are a strange and deadly beast, season four.


I was just watching this one last night. Poor Illya is about the only reason to watch it. His taxi driver's hat is kind of cute, in a weird way. And I do like hurt!Illya but I'm more than a little disconcerted by potentially-brain-damaged!Illya. It's cute, Napoleon's slightly rough frustration at Illya's condition, and the hand holding, but DMcC does the brain damaged impression too well. The only other two things that make this episode worthwhile are Nehemiah Persoff, who is wonderful in other things I can appreciate him in this, and that sun bathing suit of Napoleon's (and his very white legs.) That's one of those moments when you just stare at the screen and try to work out what you're seeing. I mean, someone actually made that thing. Either it was a one off, or there was a production line them. Either way, it's baffling.
I wondered why Napoleon took Illya back in with him rather than leaving him in the car. It is sweet, but ill advised. But at least I get to see more Illya, and in that woeful and depressing season I'll take what I can get.
Morgan Richter said…
Oh, this episode is terrible, but Napoleon's odd terrycloth sunbathing outfit is so fascinating that it almost makes it worthwhile. And poor, poor brain-damaged Illya...
vintagehoarder said…
One year later, and I finally got around to watching this one. I've got to say, I'm struggling through the fourth season. The plots make more sense than most of the fourth season, but the spark is no longer there.

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