The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Yukon Affair”

Napoleon saunters down the sidewalk, scoping out the backsides of attractive women, which is something he does rather often on this show. Has anyone ever edited together a supercut of Napoleon casually ogling asses? I feel like that’s something that should exist. When he pauses to stare at a potted pear tree in a shop window, a window washer drops a large sponge on him. Napoleon dodges in time to avoid being hit by the sponge, which lands beside him with a thud and shatters the sidewalk.

At U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, Napoleon and Mr. Waverly discuss the incident. The pear tree is the calling card of Napoleon’s old nemesis, the diabolical yet gentlemanly G. Emory Partridge (George Sanders), last seen tormenting our heroes in various tawdry ways in his private dungeon in “The Gazebo in the Maze Affair”. Illya arrives, straining to push a cart bearing the object that was hidden inside the sponge: an ingot of Quadrillenium X, which, per Illya, is the heaviest and hardest material in the world, and which can generate an electromagnetic field powerful enough to render all navigational instruments useless. “Anyone who could lay his hands on a large enough supply of Quadrillenium X could control the earth and the seas!” Mr. Waverly exclaims. From this, he concludes that Partridge must be working in cahoots with THRUSH. This seems like a wildly unsubstantiated guess—after all, it could just as easily mean Partridge had a spare ingot of Quadrillenium X lying around and decided to drop it on Napoleon’s handsome noggin for kicks—but it turns out to be 100% accurate, so who am I to criticize his thought process?

An analysis of the ingot shows it came from the Yukon, so Mr. Waverly sends Illya and Napoleon up north to find and destroy Partridge’s stockpile of Quadrillenium X. Or… I don’t know, it seems like any substance as heavy and durable as Quadrillenium X could be used for good as well as for evil, right? I get how it’s important to keep iconoclastic scientific discoveries out of the hands of global terrorist organizations, but seriously, Waverly, maybe your first instinct shouldn’t be to blow it up. Why not instruct Illya and Napoleon to swipe the Quadrillenium X from Partridge and bring it back to headquarters, whereupon a well-informed and thoughtful decision could be made as to what to do with it?

Nah. That’s not the U.N.C.L.E. way. Well-informed decisions are for also-rans. U.N.C.L.E. is all about blowing stuff up.

Illya and Napoleon head to the Yukon, where they’re immediately nabbed by harpoon-wielding members of an indigenous tribe, all of whom are depicted with nuance and complexity and respect for their culture… nope, I’m lying. You knew I was lying, right? I mean, you’ve all seen this show. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. has many strengths, but “sensitivity to other cultures” is not one of them. The tribespeople are depicted as a gaggle of bloodthirsty savages, mindlessly obeying the commands of some rich old white English dude, who is very plainly not acting in their best interests. They capture Napoleon and Illya, tie them up in an igloo, and head off to fetch Partridge.

Soon, a beautiful young woman (Tianne Gabrielle) enters the igloo. Napoleon and Illya attempt to communicate with her by trotting out greetings in multiple languages (“Bonjour!” “Guten tag!” “Shalom!”). As it turns out, she speaks English just fine, thank you very much, but I was nonetheless heartened by the suggestion our heroes are polylinguists. It’s so rare to see any indication they possess skills that make them useful as spies, apart from their pretty faces and sparkling personalities.

The young woman, Murphy, takes an immediate shine to Illya. “I’ve always adored blond men,” she tells him cheerfully as she frees them from their bonds. A graduate of McGill University, Murphy is also the daughter of the tribe’s sadistic headman, who has been inexplicably serving as Partridge’s lackey. Partridge and the headman burst into the igloo, which sends everyone scrambling to escape. Partridge captures Napoleon and sends the headman after Illya. The headman half-heartedly stabs his harpoon through a pile of furs. Assuming this means he’s killed Illya, he shrugs and wanders off.

Partridge brings Napoleon back to the bustling community he’s established in the middle of nowhere (there’s a general store, and a jail, and an old-timey saloon with can-can dancers), which he has modestly dubbed Partridgeville. As his sweet-natured yet sadistic wife Edith is off visiting relatives in Sussex, he’s been staying with his lovely young niece, Victoria (Marion Thompson). At Partridge’s request, Victoria measures Napoleon for a new outfit. “How do you keep so fit, Mr. Solo?” she asks. “I play games,” he purrs in reply.

After changing into a fancy three-piece suit, Napoleon settles in for a gentlemanly hand of cards with Partridge. Midway through their game (in which Napoleon is playing with one hand quite literally tied behind his back), the headman bursts in and informs Partridge that he killed Illya. Partridge flies into a rage at the news—he’d wanted to keep both Napoleon and Illya alive to sell them to THRUSH, and also maybe for some recreational torture. While Partridge and the headman squabble, Napoleon stages an escape attempt, which is thwarted by a gun-toting Victoria.

Meanwhile, Illya hides out with Murphy. They have crazy sparks together, even though he’s kind of an ass about her generous offer to feed him seal blubber.

They’re soon captured by one of Partridge’s lackeys. Partridge locks them up in his personal jail, which is guarded by a uniformed Mountie. Hey, let’s leave the RCMP out of this, okay? Everything U.S. pop culture has ever taught me about Mounties suggests they’re universally handsome and adorable and incorruptible. Anyway, Illya feigns a knee injury, which gives him the opportunity to smuggle a miniature aqua-lung he’d been toting about to Murphy. He explains the injury to Partridge: “Trick knee acquired in an Olympic trial. I didn’t make it.” “Persons of your caliber rarely do,” Partridge tells him snootily. “The team did,” Illya says, his tone laced with acid. As soon as Partridge leaves, Illya does a quick Russian dance for Murphy to demonstrate that there’s not a damn thing wrong with his knee.

My goodness. Earlier in the episode, Mr. Waverly makes a passing comment about how Illya’s past experience in cold climates will suit him well in the Yukon. Combine that with Illya’s oblique yet proud reference to Soviet domination in Olympic sports and his display of Russian dancing, and all of a sudden we’re dangerously close to actually learning something personal about Illya. We won’t, of course—over four seasons of the show, we’ll learn damn close to nothing about Illya’s shadowy past and his private life—but I still feel a giddy rush at this deluge of almost-information.

Meanwhile, to punish Napoleon for his escape attempt, Partridge subjects him to a little gentlemanly bondage and flogging. Partridge is, of course, an awful old man with a thoroughly noxious colonialist streak (and boy howdy, he sure does get lecherous in “The Gazebo in the Maze Affair”), but I kind of like him anyway. He always seems to maintain a high level of personal investment in both Napoleon and Illya, which is an excellent quality in a villain.

Also? He's unapologetically kinky. Again, an excellent quality in a villain.

In the prison, Illya retrieves the aqua-lung from Murphy. To disguise their activities from the Mountie’s prying eyes, Illya pretends to smooch her (in a splendid display of Canadian manners, the Mountie very politely turns his back during their feigned display of affection). Illya frees them from the cell (I’d explain his escape in greater detail, but it was weird and confusing and needlessly complicated; suffice it to say it involved Murphy’s Quadrillenium X pendant, a lamp, a narcoleptic Mountie, the aqua-lung, and some judiciously delivered karate chops), then heads off to Partridge’s lodge to free Napoleon from Partridge’s clutches.

With Partridge incapacitated, Illya and Napoleon trace his stash of Quadrillenium X to the saloon. While Illya searches the premises, Napoleon stages a distraction by challenging a burly lumberjack (Charles Horvath, also seen in “The Bat Cave Affair”) to a wrestling match. The lumberjack is disinclined to take him on, but Napoleon is insistent. “You’ll never know unless you try,” he says, which seems like the sort of thing he often says to strangers in bars after a few drinks.

Napoleon, being Napoleon, manages to escalate a friendly wrestling match into a full-tilt brawl. Bottles are smashed, chairs are thrown, shots are fired. In the chaos, Illya manages to find the secret entrance to the vault where the Quadrillenium X is stored. Napoleon, Illya, and Murphy head into the vault, which locks shut behind them.

Here’s a partial list of items we see are stored in the vault:
  • Blocks of Quadrillenium X, the world’s heaviest and strongest material.
  • Several pickaxes
  • Barrels of gunpowder
  • A working jackhammer

Instead of trying to jackhammer and/or blast his way out of the vault, Illya picks up a chisel and half-heartedly taps at the door for a bit, then gives up. They all sprawl out on the floor of the vault for a quick nap before being recaptured.

Partridge floods the vault with knockout gas. By sharing the aqua-lung, Illya, Napoleon and Murphy manage to stay awake and stage a surprise attack when Partridge opens the door. It’s all for naught; Partridge quickly gains the upper hand and recaptures them. Honestly, it’s a little alarming how often and easily our two able-bodied young spies have been overpowered by their septuagenarian foe in this episode.

Partridge brings his captives back to his lodge, where Victoria pulls a double-cross on her uncle. Intending to keep all the cash from selling the Quadrillenium X to THRUSH for herself, she forces everyone to line up against the wall. She prepares to shoot them.

Feigning a sentimental streak, Napoleon asks to switch places with Partridge so he can die next to Illya. A romantic at heart, Partridge agrees to this. Before Victoria can pull the trigger, Napoleon reaches up and casually retrieves some explosives he’d stashed inside the mouth of a taxidermied bear head.

Subtle, Napoleon. Very sneaky.

He chucks the explosives at Victoria, incapacitating her. After gaining control of the situation, he and Illya leave Victoria and Partridge behind for THRUSH to deal with, then head off to blow up all the Quadrillenium X.

They both end up in the hospital, burned and broken and bruised from various dynamite-related injuries, because apparently they’re not very good at blowing stuff up. Murphy, en route to McGill to earn her Master’s degree, pays a quick visit to rub noses with them.

A monstrously silly episode that treads into dubious waters far too often, and yet Murphy is utterly endearing, and even Partridge has kind of a creepy charm to him. Despite my better judgment, I sort of love it.


Hamlette said…
If Solo and Illya were good at blowing stuff up, I might start to worry about the writers. First, some vague information about Illya's Secret Past, and then actual competence at something dangerous and exciting? That would be too much to ask from one episode, surely.
Illesdan said…
Maverick called; they want their wardrobe back.

I'll be nice and not pick on the sets, much to my chagrin. My biggest issue with this episode is the story pacing. Many scenes are too long, or worse; unnecessary. The writer probably was probably working on a vague (fictional) knowledge of Alaska and everyone just smiled and nodded. Canadian Mountie, for crying out loud, really U.N.C.L.E.?
Morgan Richter said…
Hamlette -- yeah, Illya and Napoleon's streak of semi-competence in this episode came to a spectacular end when they blew themselves up along with the ingots. I swear, those two can't get through a mission without botching something in an impressive way.

Illesdan -- this episode has the same pacing problem that I had with a lot of the season four episodes, in which there are a lot of scenes not featuring either Napoleon or Illya (in this case, too many scenes with just Partridge and Victoria, during which very little gets accomplished). It slows everything down spectacularly. I suppose the Mountie makes sense geographically, since they were in Canada (Yukon Territory), but I'm not at all sure why a Mountie would be willingly working for Partridge. I think CBS just had a lot of Mountie costumes left over from Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, and the UNCLE staff was all, "eh, we can probably use them."
I've just finished reading every single one of your amazing Uncle recaps so far and I just wanted to drop in and say how much I enjoyed them. I would like to comment on each and every one, but my internet access is terrible right now. Suffice to say I was snorting with laughter and irritating my husband by constantly reading bits out. I know how much effort needs to be put into these things and I appreciate every one. When you've completed the series I swear you should publish them in a book so I can flick through at my leisure and snort gleefully all over again.
Morgan Richter said…
Thanks so much, Aconitum! So good to hear you've been enjoying the recaps! It's a deliriously enjoyable show.
candle said…
Your UNCLE recaps are truly spot-on amazing.I loved this episode ,mainly because of Tianne Gabrielle's gifted and believable portrayal of "Murphy" .I wonder what ever happened to her as life went on? It would have been nice if she would have been able to appear in other works decades later.
Morgan Richter said…
Candle -- Tianne Gabrielle is gorgeous, and I love her as Murphy. Like you, I wish we'd been able to see her in other projects. Glad you've been enjoying the recaps!

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