The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Love Affair”
Illya waits at the airport for the arrival of a flight carrying Dr. Margaret Armindel, a renowned physicist from M.I.T., whom U.N.C.L.E. suspects has been recruited by THRUSH for her iconoclastic work in the field of nuclear propulsion. She’s whisked off the plane on a gurney, having suffered a massive fatal heart attack in the air. Illya bats his pretty eyes at a flight attendant and sweet-talks her into giving him Dr. Armindel’s personal effects, which include strips of microfilm containing photos of her research.
At U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, Illya and Napoleon are briefed by Mr. Waverly on their new assignment. Over the past few years, several high-profile scientists have mysteriously vanished; U.N.C.L.E. suspects they’ve been either kidnapped or bribed by THRUSH to work on their latest nefarious project, a nuclear-powered spaceship designed by missing Polish scientist Dr. Janos Hradny. Among Dr. Armindel’s possessions is a ticket to see a popular revivalist preacher known as Brother Love. Waverly instructs a female U.N.C.L.E. employee, Sarah Johnson, to pose as Dr. Arundel and attend the revivalist meeting to see if THRUSH approaches her.
Sarah Johnson, by the way, pops up in a small handful of early episodes; according to U.N.C.L.E. lore, her official position is Napoleon’s secretary, though here she seems more like a full-fledged field agent. She’s played by Leigh Chapman, who later made a name for herself as a writer of action films and television shows, including The Mod Squad, Mission: Impossible, and Walker, Texas Ranger. Competent and smart, Sarah is a welcome presence on this show.
Napoleon and Sarah arrive at the revivalist meeting, where Brother Love (Green Acres star Eddie Albert) is preaching eternal salvation. Dr. Armindel’s seat is occupied by a young woman, so Napoleon decides to find out what she’s doing there. When Sarah protests that Napoleon is hijacking her assignment, Napoleon smugly brushes her off: “She’s a girl, I’m a boy, and that’s the best reason I can think of for striking up a conversation.” Then he sails down the aisle to flirt with the pretty stranger, while Sarah slinks to the back of the auditorium in defeat, no doubt thinking dark thoughts about the difficulties inherent in being a female employee of a patriarchy-entrenched organization like U.N.C.L.E. Sarah isn’t around for many more episodes after this one, so it’s probably logical to assume she defected to THRUSH, lured over to the dark side by their lack of a glass ceiling and their stellar track record for employing brainy women in high-powered positions.
Anyway, while Sarah sits in the back and glowers, Napoleon slips into the empty seat beside the young woman. The woman, a Hunter College student named Pearl Rolfe (Maggie Pierce), tells Napoleon she’s attending the revivalist meeting as research for a term paper; she stole Dr. Arundel’s assigned seat to get a better view of the stage. Napoleon pokes her legs and flirts with her and tries very, very hard to get into her tights, all in the name of duty. Pearl seems to dig him, but seriously, back when I was a college student, I would’ve been super creeped out if a thirtysomething dude had plopped into the seat next to me at a ticketed event and started poking my legs with his fingers.
After the meeting, Pearl agrees to go out for coffee with Napoleon. First, though, Napoleon has a clandestine consultation with Sarah at a bank of pay phones. Sarah, who seems weary and long-suffering about the amount of crap she has to put up with from Napoleon (though she does refer to him as “Papa Bear”, which suggests a, ah, certain level of familiarity between them), agrees to head back to the office and run an identity check on Pearl to confirm her story. “It’ll take me about two hours,” Sarah says, her tone dripping with icy contempt. “Can you keep her interested that long?” Napoleon gives a hilarious little snort of disgust and skips off to get lucky with Pearl.
Alas, he’s too late—while he was verbally jousting with Sarah, one of Brother Love’s robed acolytes kidnapped Pearl. While Napoleon looks around the auditorium for her, Brother Love walks up behind him and whacks him over the head with a pistol, knocking him unconscious.
Bravo, Napoleon! This is one of those rare episodes in which Illya is considerably more competent than his partner. Granted, that’s probably only by default, because Illya is MIA for great stretches of the action. Nevertheless, Napoleon does not shine.
Back at headquarters, Sarah, who is the only U.N.C.L.E. agent who seems to be getting any quality work done in this episode, informs Waverly, Illya, and a wounded and grumpy Napoleon of her discoveries: All of the missing scientists disappeared after attending one of Brother Love’s revivalist meetings. Brother Love is to be the guest of honor at a swanky fundraising party at a mansion out on Long Island; Waverly orders Napoleon to go to the party and look for Pearl.
So Illya and Napoleon park outside the mansion, whereupon we receive this marvelous exchange of dialogue:
NAPOLEON: It’s a pretty expensive party, I’d say.
ILLYA: (gloomily) Suddenly I feel very Russian.
NAPOLEON: That’s just your proletariat blood.
ILLYA: There’s no difference between those people and me!
NAPOLEON: Depends on whether you’re speaking physically, financially, or psychologically.
ILLYA: And what makes you so superior? You don’t rate exactly yourself with Dun & Bradstreet.
NAPOLEON: Yes, but I have that elegant air of decadence.
Aw, these two are wonderful. I love it when Illya goes full-tilt Soviet, and when Napoleon acknowledges his own intoxicating brand of sophisticated sleaziness.
While Illya sulks in the car, Napoleon mingles at the party. He’s ambushed by a society columnist named Magda (Tracey Roberts), who snaps photos of him and peppers him with questions: “Who are you? Where are you from? What do you do? Are you rich, or famous?” “Just put me down for a little of everything,” Napoleon tells her cheerfully before swiping her camera, casually yanking out her film, and strolling off.
He accosts Brother Love and demands to see Pearl. Brother Love’s acolytes bring out a visibly terrified Pearl, who insists she sought refuge with Brother Love of her own free will. Flabbergasted by this development, Napoleon tries to leave the party, but is lured into a trap by Magda.
So Brother Love and his acolytes hustle Napoleon into the backseat of a car and drive off. Brother Love announces his intention to kill him; Napoleon manages to convince him he’s Dr. Armindel’s lab partner, sent as a last-minute replacement when she suddenly fell ill. His story fails to explain why he was at the party demanding to see Pearl, but Brother Love shrugs and decides to believe him.
Illya trails behind their car at a safe distance. Brother Love spots him and hurls a grenade at him, causing him to crash. Because this is a first-season episode, back when Illya was unequivocally second banana to Napoleon, back when he used to routinely disappear halfway through assignments, this is the last we’ll see of him until the final scene.
Then we get a vaguely unnecessary interlude in which Mr. Waverly bawls out Sarah for returning late from her lunch break because she’d stopped by the hospital to check on poor wounded Illya. Yet again, we're reminded that Mr. Waverly is, on occasion, kind of a dick.
Convinced Napoleon is an ally, Brother Love flies him to his compound in Los Angeles. Left to his own devices, Napoleon sneaks around the premises and finds Dr. Hradny (Robert H. Harris), the scientist recruited by Brother Love to work on the nuclear spaceship, which apparently is just sitting there, right smack in the middle of the laboratory.
This isn’t an especially notable episode. There’s nothing precisely wrong with it, and to give the creative staff credit, they’re trying to add hints of sleaze to the otherwise straightforward proceedings—in the shot below, that’s Magda, the gossip columnist, giving Brother Love a massage while they spy on Napoleon via hidden camera—but honestly? It’s pretty flat.
Ah, well. As this show progressed over the seasons, it got much better at shoehorning in tawdry, sensationalistic shenanigans. If this were an episode from, say, late in season two, Illya would be chained up in the compound somewhere, shirt off, getting worked over by a sexy THRUSH villainess with a bullwhip and/or cattle prod. But this is season one, so all we’re getting is a profoundly un-erotic massage combined with some mildly voyeuristic behavior. Disappointing.
Napoleon and Dr. Hradny stage an escape from the compound. They stop by Pearl’s prison cell and try to rescue her, only to find that Brother Love has laid a trap. Instead of finding Pearl, Napoleon is ambushed by Magda, who whips out a squirt gun and sprays him in the face with some kind of chemical. Napoleon collapses in an unconscious heap. He awakens to find himself bound with wire and locked in the cell with Pearl and Dr. Hradny. Brother Love taunts Napoleon for a while, then promises to give his captives a painless death—he’s going to flee in a helicopter with Dr. Hradny’s research after setting explosives to blow up the compound and everyone in it. I don’t mean to quibble, and I do understand that Brother Love doesn’t seem to be a textbook sadist, but by what standard of measurement does getting blown to pieces constitute a painless death?
Thinking fast, Napoleon whips out some explosive material hidden in the heel of his shoe, which, he explains to Pearl and Dr. Hradny, he can use to set himself free. “The explosion will melt the wires on my wrists,” he assures them. It probably won’t do the skin on his wrists any good, either, but desperate times call for desperate measures, so I guess I understand his reasoning. He blasts through the wires and frees himself.
He unties Pearl and Dr. Hradny, then hides Brother Love’s bomb in a box containing Dr. Hradny’s research. He and Pearl don robes and, posing as acolytes, load the box onto Brother Love’s helicopter as he prepares to leave the compound. Because murdering your enemy is no fun unless you get to taunt him a little first, Napoleon and Pearl make sure to drop the hoods of their robes and blithely wave at Brother Love while the helicopter lifts off, just before it explodes in a ball of fire.
His mission a rousing success, Napoleon flies back to New York. At the airport, he makes out with Pearl for a while, and then he spots Illya, injured but steadfast, waiting for him at the arrivals gate. They compare injuries—Illya has a broken arm and a banged-up forehead (“It always hurts when you break up a love affair,” Illya quips weakly), while Napoleon has indeed managed to badly burn himself from melting the wires around his wrists.
A strangely toothless episode, with not much to distinguish it save for a snippet of sparkling banter between Illya and Napoleon and some good work from the intrepid and long-suffering Sarah Johnson. It’s not terrible, but the script needed to be wittier or, failing that, sleazier. Either would be an improvement.