The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Birds and the Bees Affair”
In Switzerland, Illya and Napoleon visit the local U.N.C.L.E. branch, which is located inside a watch repair shop, because there’s no country this show can’t boil down to one salient characteristic. Upon entering the offices (via a secret passageway behind a grandfather clock, naturally), they find all the Swiss agents sprawled on the floor, dead from unknown causes. While they’re reporting the deaths to Mr. Waverly, a THRUSH goon breaks into their tiny, adorable car and drizzles honey everywhere. Napoleon climbs into the car, realizes his seat is sticky, and immediately licks it, which is a totally rational and hygienic thing to do after discovering some kind of mysterious fluid smeared inside your rental vehicle. “Honey,” he solemnly informs Ilya.
The THRUSH goon releases a swarm of bees in their general direction. Attracted by the honey, the bees surround the car and bombard the windshield. To evade the bees, Illya is forced to drive the car straight into a lake. Their adorable car bobs on the water for a moment, then sinks beneath the surface, dragging Illya and Napoleon down to a watery grave.
Next thing you know, Napoleon and Illya are back in New York, safe and sound, having just regaled Mr. Waverly with a zesty account of their daring adventure. “A most remarkable escape, I must say,” Mr. Waverly remarks. We’ll have to take your word for it, Mr. Waverly.
Per Waverly, the Swiss agents died from being stung hundreds of times by a new breed of super-small, super-lethal bees. “The punctures were so tiny they were invisible to the naked eye, indicating that the bees themselves were almost invisible,” he says. Invisible killer bees! It’s an episode about invisible killer bees! You know what this means? We’re going to get to see actors pretending to be chased by swarms of invisible bees! I can’t wait. This is going to be amazing.
Waverly zeroes in on a likely culprit behind the bee attacks: Dr. Swan (John Abbott), noted entomologist and compulsive gambler. Illya nods in approval, saying, “He published an article not long ago advancing the theory of breeding a new super-bee.” He turns to Napoleon and asks, “Did you read it?”, which earns him a look of withering scorn tinged with a smidgen of self-doubt.
Ha! This is a ridiculous episode (invisible killer bees), but as always, the genius of this show lies in the little moments between Napoleon and Illya. “Did you read it?” is a fleeting joke, but there’s a ton going on inside of it: Illya reads entomological journals recreationally, Illya knows damn well Napoleon is unlikely to read entomological journals recreationally and thus is deliberately busting his chops, Napoleon feels superior to Illya for being far too cool to read entomological journals recreationally, and yet at the same time he hates admitting Illya knows something he doesn’t. I’ve now grotesquely over-explained this throwaway line, but I felt it was important to let everyone know exactly why David McCallum’s innocent delivery of “Did you read it?” sends me into fits of giggles every time I watch this episode.
Waverly theorizes that Dr. Swan’s gambling debts have made him vulnerable to exploitation by THRUSH. He orders Napoleon to track down Dr. Swan; meanwhile, Illya will be questioning all retailers of the special brand of honey found smeared inside their car. Illya’s task sounds like meaningless busywork, like something designed to keep him out of everybody’s hair while Napoleon tackles the important and dangerous part of the assignment. Given Illya’s formidable ability to muck up even relatively straightforward missions, this is probably a wise decision on Waverly’s part. Surely Illya should be able to chat with a few shopkeepers without bringing destruction and ruin down upon all of U.N.C.L.E., right?
Hot on the trail of the honey, Illya visits a health food store, where he witnesses the lovely young clerk, Tavia (Anna Capri), selling great quantities of the stuff to Mr. Mozart (John McGiver), a THRUSH agent-slash-killer bee aficionado who also happens to own a bustling dance studio. After Mr. Mozart leaves, Illya approaches Tavia and reveals his identity to her. “I’m with the U.N.C.L.E,” he says. “I’m Hungarian,” Tavia replies, because “Hungarian” is the only personality trait the writers have given her.
Tavia is… well, she’s very sweet and docile and maybe a little bit dim; despite all this, Illya becomes hopelessly smitten with her at first sight, because every once in a great while the U.N.C.L.E. writers feel the need to convince viewers that, despite his counterculture leanings and his Bohemian oddness and his ongoing flirtation with Napoleon, Illya is a red-blooded heterosexual Lothario at heart. Illya convinces Tavia to go undercover as an instructor at Mr. Mozart’s dance studio to find out what he’s doing with all the honey, because why should Illya do any dangerous spy work when there’s a perfectly good untrained civilian available to do it for him?
Napoleon visits a THRUSH-owned casino and befriends Dr. Swan, who is losing all his money at roulette. The games are rigged to ensure Swan continues losing, which in turn ensures that Swan remain indebted to Mr. Mozart, who is financing his gambling habit in exchange for all his valuable research into the development of invisible killer super-bees. The casino owner spots Napoleon and instantly identifies him as an U.N.C.L.E. agent (which makes sense; as we’ve seen often enough, there’s a whole section dedicated to Napoleon in the official THRUSH manual). At the casino owner’s urging, a sexy cigarette girl saunters up to Napoleon and gives him a poison-laced boutonnière. Fortunately for Napoleon, some poor slob sitting next to him at the roulette table borrows the boutonnière for good luck, then immediately drops dead.
Posing as a prospective client, Illya visits Mr. Mozart’s dance studio for a lesson with Tavia. As he and Tavia dance together, he grills her on her progress in finding the bees. Tavia has made no progress on that front, because: a) she’s not a trained spy, and b) she doesn’t seem terribly quick on the uptake. I hate to harp on Tavia, because she’s quite lovely, but this episode keeps trying to make Illya + Tavia happen, no matter how awkward and forced it seems, and wow, these two have a sad, soggy, dismal lack of chemistry together.
You want to see some chemistry? Mr. Mozart spots Illya, immediately identifies him as a spy, and sends an evil, sexy dance instructor (Lorri Scott) to lure him into a trap. Boom! Chemistry! In their brief scene together, Illya and the dance instructor manage to create some genuine sparks, right up until the point where she stabs him with a poisoned needle from a record player and knocks him unconscious.
Mr. Mozart ties up Illya and Tavia and threatens to subject them to a machine that emits agonizing eardrum-shattering high-frequency waves unless Illya tells him how to access the ventilation system of U.N.C.L.E.’s New York headquarters, so he can flood the offices with invisible bees.
Illya refuses. Mr. Mozart activates his machine, which gives Illya and Tavia a chance to trot out their very finest oh-no-my-eardrums-are-being-shattered expressions.
After far too long of this nonsense, Illya agrees to cooperate. So Mr. Mozart packs up a suitcase full of invisible killer bees, and he and Illya saunter off to U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, ready to murder everyone in the building.
Napoleon’s search for Dr. Swan leads him to a secret laboratory underneath the dance studio. Suspicious of Napoleon’s intentions, Dr. Swan sends his bees to attack him, which means we get to see Robert Vaughn pretending to fight off invisible bees, which makes this otherwise lackluster episode totally worth it. Robert Vaughn was born to pretend to fight off invisible bees.
I think he’s planning on shooting the bees. I love you, Robert Vaughn.
After swaying Dr. Swan to the side of good, Napoleon rescues Tavia, then heads over to U.N.C.L.E. headquarters. He’s just in time to watch via hidden camera from Waverly’s office as Illya leads Mr. Mozart into the building through the top-secret back entrance.
After beating up one of his fellow agents to steal his security badge, Illya guides Mr. Mozart through a million labyrinthine traps and puzzles—electrified fences and hidden elevators and whistle-operated grates and disguised keypads—and leads him straight to the ventilation shaft. The first time I watched this episode, I was pretty sure Illya had a plan up his sleeve to trap Mr. Mozart. Nope. He doesn’t. He’s just leading a THRUSH agent into U.N.C.L.E. headquarters and showing him the best way to murder everyone in the building with invisible bees.
It’s not Illya’s strongest episode, frankly.
Before Mr. Mozart can release the bees, U.N.C.L.E. agents surround him. Mozart forces them to back off by threatening to open the suitcase, then escapes unscathed. Dr. Swan suggests tracking him down by using sonar to locate the bees by the vibrations of their buzzing. While Napoleon and Dr. Swan drive around the city in a sonar-equipped van in search of the bees, Illya, who somehow still has a job after aiding and abetting in the attempted murder of all his coworkers, heads back to Tavia’s store to see if Mr. Mozart will pick up more honey to feed his bees. This is an episode about invisible killer bees, so I don’t feel I should nitpick too much about how the bees subsist on commercially-prepared honey instead of making their own, or how the bees only eat one particular brand of honey which is only sold in a couple of stores in all of New York; yes, the sloppiness is irksome, but if I start focusing too much on any of this I’ll go mad, so it’s best to just forge ahead.
Anyway, Illya and Tavia, who now has her old job back, engage in some more soggy attempts at flirting, and then Mr. Mozart saunters into the store, clubs Illya unconscious, steals a case of honey, and kidnaps Tavia.
Illya. Babe. Sweetheart, sunshine, light of my life, what’s going on with you this episode? You are not at your sparkling best here.
Upon regaining consciousness, Illya immediately alerts Napoleon, who seems downright cheerful about how badly his partner has been botching things lately. “This isn’t your day, is it?” Napoleon chirps merrily, then informs Illya that they’ve located the bees via sonar.
So Illya and Napoleon head to the roof of a nearby building, where Mr. Mozart, with Tavia as a hostage, is waiting for a helicopter to take him and his bees to safety.
A gunfight ensues. The suitcase smashes open, releasing all the bees, who conveniently kill all the bad guys. Illya shoots the case of honey, which distracts the bees and saves the world or whatever. “You saved us,” Tavia tells him breathlessly. “Yes, I did, didn’t I?” Illya smugly replies.
Back at headquarters, Tavia continues her attempts to form a one-woman Illya Kuryakin Appreciation Society: “I owe everything to Mr. Kuryakin. We all do!” she tells Napoleon, who looks vaguely nauseated.
The episode ends just before Mr. Waverly (presumably and hopefully) places Illya on a lengthy unpaid suspension for grotesque incompetence. Illya, you are an amazing, dazzling creature, but in this episode, you got outsmarted and outclassed by your partner, who tried to shoot invisible bees. Raise your game, my love.