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


This episode inexplicably kicks off with some random footage of Illya and Napoleon on a train, which is shamelessly recycled from “The Adriatic Express Affair” and haphazardly shoehorned into the opening teaser even though it makes zero sense in context. We haven’t even reached the front credits, and it’s already abundantly clear everyone involved with the creation of this episode is going to be phoning it in. You know what? It doesn’t matter. Even with a paper-thin, underwritten, overly-padded plot, this episode, which comes from somewhere in the middle of season three, still manages to be mostly delightful.

Illya and Napoleon are doing a half-assed job of providing security for Dr. Fazir Nahdi (Harry Davis), the Gandhi-like president of an unspecified South Asian country. As Nahdi gives a triumphant speech announcing that all the world’s leaders have agreed to attend a conference to discuss nuclear disarmament, a sniper lurking atop a nearby building aims a rifle at him. Luckily for Nahdi, Napoleon and Illya spot the would-be assassin in time and wrestle the rifle away before he can fire it at Nahdi.

Ha ha, no, that doesn’t happen. See, that would require competence, which is in short supply this episode. Napoleon and Illya arrive on the scene too late to stop the sniper. Fortunately, a stray cat strops against Nahdi’s legs just as the gun is fired; Nahdi, who is deeply allergic, ducks his head to sneeze, and the bullet narrowly misses him.

Back in New York, Mr. Waverly makes a few withering comments about the ineptitude of his two star agents, then orders them back out in the field to watch over Nahdi during the peace conference, which will be held in Switzerland. Napoleon and Illya whine and moan about their economy-class plane tickets, whereupon Waverly points out that U.N.C.L.E. is approaching the end of its fiscal year and thus expense accounts have to be tightened. Napoleon and Illya’s continued consternation with the penny-pinching frugality of U.N.C.L.E. is one of this show’s many small joys.


So Napoleon and Illya jet off to Geneva. In keeping with the level of competence on display thus far this episode, they fail to notice when a crooked Customs inspector plants a bomb in Napoleon’s suitcase.

Due to the peace conference, their hotel is egregiously overbooked. While slipping the desk clerk a bribe in exchange for a room, they encounter Nellie Canford (Linda Foster), a schoolteacher from Newport News, who has been unable to find a cab to the airport because of the conference. Napoleon and Illya invite her to have a drink with them in the hotel bar while they wait for their room to be ready, promising to get her to the airport in time for her flight.

Meanwhile, Nahdi arrives in Geneva. He’s met at the airport by Brutus Thor (Bernard Fox), a wealthy munitions dealer/toy manufacturer, who has invited Nahdi to stay at his luxurious villa for the duration of the conference. Thor, who masterminded the earlier assassination attempt, schemes to plant a bomb at the conference to take out all the world leaders at once. The best thing about Thor? His gorgeous, unruly stinker of a cat. This cat is a scene-stealer. This cat has no patience for the tedious minutiae of television production and thus spends all of his onscreen time desperately trying to get away from all the stupid humans who keep picking him up and petting him.


At the bar, Nellie gets liquored up on far too many daiquiris. “You know something? You’re cute,” she drunkenly tells Illya. Illya looks weary and long-suffering, like he’s heard this sentiment too many times from too many people for her words to even register.


Upon receiving word that Nahdi arrived in Geneva ahead of schedule, Napoleon and Illya fly into a panic. As well they should: Their only job at the moment is keeping Nahdi safe and unharmed, and they’ve been swilling daiquiris in a bar while Nahdi has walked right into the hands of his would-be killer. They hustle Nellie into a cab, then set about trying to track down Nahdi. Their efforts mostly consist of sitting in their nice hotel room and making phone calls to Nahdi’s embassy while grousing about the limitations on their expense accounts.


Meanwhile, Thor’s villainous henchman Kiru (Arthur Batanides), who has been secretly spying on Napoleon and Illya, contacts Thor on his secret wristwatch communicator to tell him he’s ready to detonate the bomb in Napoleon’s suitcase.

From the backseat of a taxi headed to the airport, Nellie urgently orders her cabbie to return to the hotel. She bursts into the hotel room, grabs Napoleon’s suitcase, and hurls it over the balcony (Napoleon murmurs softly in sad confusion, “Those were my shirts…”), whereupon it explodes.

Nellie tries to rush off, but Illya and Napoleon stop her and demand an explanation. According to Nellie, the metal fillings in her back molar turn into a radio receiver whenever they come in contact with certain acids, such as the rum in her daiquiris. While she was in the taxi, she picked up the signal from Kiru’s communicator and overheard him talking about the bomb. Upon hearing this, Napoleon and Illya order her to stay with them—since the entire hotel is booked, she’ll be forced to share their room—until the end of the peace conference. She suspects them of having improper intentions; Napoleon soothes her concerns by insisting they’re only interested in her tooth. “And nothing but the tooth,” Illya says gravely, whereupon Napoleon gives him an appropriately withering glare.


Upon discovering Nahdi is staying with Thor, Napoleon, Illya and Nellie show up at the villa. Thor greets them warmly, offers them drinks, and shows off his company’s line of stuffed toys. At Napoleon and Illya’s urging, Nellie guzzles rum to keep her back molar primed to receive radio transmissions. Poor Nellie will spend the episode getting drunker and drunker while our callous and irresponsible heroes ply her with a continuous supply of liquor. Napoleon and Illya can be amazing jerks sometimes.


Napoleon meets with Nahdi, who assures him he’s in no danger from Thor. When Napoleon tries to insist on moving him to a more secure location, Nahdi puts his foot down and refuses. While he remains gracious and polite, he does manage to throw some shade in Napoleon’s direction about how U.N.C.L.E. has been pretty useless up to this point—after all, he was only saved from the sniper’s bullet by his allergy to cats. Having no suitable response to this, Napoleon and Illya slink back to their hotel room in defeat.


At the villa, Nahdi’s personal physician and trusted friend, Dr. Diljohn (Ken Renard), overhears Thor and Kiru discussing their plot to kill everyone at the conference. In a panic, Dr. Diljohn calls Napoleon. Before Diljohn can spill the beans about Thor’s scheme, Thor injects him with a serum that causes a massive coronary. Illya, Napoleon, and Nellie rush back to the villa and find Diljohn dead. When Nellie recognizes Kiru’s voice as the one she overheard on her molar, Thor and Kiru attack and overpower our heroes.


Kiru drags Napoleon, Illya, and Nellie to a deserted lake cabin. The usual improbable and vaguely kinky bondage games ensue.


Back at the villa, Thor puts the finishing touches on his scheme to blow up the peace conference. He saturates a page of Nahdi’s typewritten speech in what he describes as “essence of cat” (ha ha, ew), which will trigger Nahdi’s allergy. He also laces Nahdi’s handkerchief with a heavy-duty explosive that detonates when it comes in contact with moisture. When Nahdi wipes his allergy-induced runny nose, the handkerchief will explode, killing everyone at the conference.


Just to recap: This scheme hinges upon snot and secretions from the anal glands of a cat.

That cat, though. That cat is a star.

Through a demonstration of some impressive contorting skills, Nellie and Napoleon and Illya manage to free themselves from their bonds, then punch and karate-chop their way past their captors to freedom. Battered and weary, they try to hitch a ride back into town, to no avail. “If you saw three seedy-looking characters standing on a road, would you pick them up?” Napoleon asks in disgust. It’s meant rhetorically, but I’m going to answer in the affirmative: Yes, I would totally give a ride to Napoleon, Illya, and Nellie. They look like fun!

So Nellie stands on the side of the road and, while Napoleon and Illya hide in the bushes, flashes some thigh at an unsuspecting pervy motorist. When he stops to give her a lift, Napoleon and Illya pop out and pile into his car.


By the time they return to their hotel, there’s only a few hours left before the conference begins. It’s worth noting that at no point do Napoleon and Illya make any attempt to apprehend Thor, or to try to get Nahdi out of Thor’s clutches. Nope, they just proceed on the assumption Thor won’t kill Nahdi before the conference (even though Thor has already tried to murder Nahdi). This is their entire plan: Keep Nellie drunk on rum and hope she manages to pick up some more information about Thor’s plan on her molars.


Napoleon and Illya keep pouring more and more rum into Nellie, who drunkenly bops around the hotel room, half-dressed, while boldly proclaiming that if she drinks any more, she refuses to be held responsible for her actions. Nellie is pretty wonderful. Illya and Napoleon are pretty despicable, but in a wonderful way.


While Napoleon and Nellie head to the conference, Illya sneaks into Thor’s villa to see if he can uncover anything more about the assassination plan. He gets trapped in a room full of Thor’s automated stuffed animals and talking baby dolls, all of which start firing tiny guns at him. Yep, Illya gets his ass handed to him by a bunch of toys. Eh. It’s not great, but it’s probably not his most incompetent move this episode.


He climbs up to the ceiling and hangs out in the rafters while the toys bombard him with itty-bitty bullets. He tries to call Napoleon for help, but drops his communicator down to the floor below. Yeah, that would be his most incompetent move this episode.

The peace conference proceeds smoothly. As Nahdi begins his speech, Napoleon feeds Nellie a steady supply of rum cookies to keep her back molar primed to receive transmissions.


Thor captures Illya and forces him to watch the peace conference on live television. While making small talk with Thor, Illya tries to befriend Thor’s magnificent cat, who wants nothing to do with him. That cat is this episode’s clear MVP.


Finally, Illya hurls the cat at Thor, then lunges at him. After beating Thor unconscious (while the cat casually strolls about the living room, monumentally unconcerned with anything going on around him), he uses Thor’s wrist communicator to tell Nellie, via her molar, that the explosives are hidden in Nadri’s handkerchief.

Napoleon springs into action. Just as Nahdri reaches the anal gland-soaked page of his speech, Napoleon tackles him and bodily prevents him from sneezing by jamming a finger under his nose.


Their mission a rousing success, Illya, Napoleon, and Mr. Waverly visit Nellie at her classroom in Newport News, where they all behave like loons: Napoleon bounces up and down on a rocking horse, Illya strips and dissects a baby doll to check for hidden weaponry, Mr. Waverly makes some tactless and condescending comments about how teachers sure don’t get paid very much, and Nellie confesses that she’s developed a disconcerting fondness for rum.

Wonderful stuff. These are the worst spies in the world, and I love them to pieces.


Comments

I don't know how to express how much I love these episode recaps. They are utterly brilliant. Our poor, gorgeous, boys.
Morgan Richter said…
Aw, thank you, Aconitum!
vintagehoarder said…
Nellie is an absolutely brilliant Innocent - particularly when she joins Napoleon and Illya in tossing goons overboard. She took a crash course in self-defence before she went on her holiday!

(Maybe Mr Waverly should consider giving her a job? She's certainly no worse than his regular agents!)
Morgan Richter said…
Vintagehoarder--I love Nellie. She's adorable, and far more competent than anyone UNCLE has to offer.
vintagehoarder said…
And kid-wrangling can't be that much different from riding herd on Napoleon and Illya.

I had a couple of additional thoughts overnight--firstly, that the "exploding handkerchief" plot was a callback to "The Foxes and Hounds Affair" (yup, THRUSH got there first). Secondly that Illya pulling that doll apart at the end of the episode might be a little in-joke--apparently the props people on MFU had to keep an eye on David McCallum, because he had a habit of pulling their gadgets apart to see how they worked!
Morgan Richter said…
vintagehoarder: Great catches, both of those. I bet you're right with the in-joke about David McCallum dissecting the gadgets...

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