The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Bow-Wow Affair”

A well-dressed man in a dark cloak (Paul Lambert) lurks in the shadows outside a mansion, glowering malevolently and doing his very best Dracula impression. He climbs through a window into an empty bedroom, where he spreads out a pair of polka-dot pajamas on the bed and stabs a jewel-handled dagger through them.

Back at U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, Napoleon is undergoing rigorous physical therapy at the capable hands of lovely agent Sarah Johnson. Apparently Napoleon blew out his knee when he tripped over the office cat, which means he’ll be taking a backseat for most of this episode. This makes it the first-ever episode to focus primarily on Illya instead of Napoleon, but really, the big takeaway here is that U.N.C.L.E. has a cat wandering around headquarters, whom we will never see and who will never be mentioned again. As a cat lover, I count this as a huge missed opportunity. Mr. Waverly interrupts Napoleon to ask for a personal favor: The stabbed set of pajamas belongs to his cousin, Quentin Baldwin, who has asked Waverly for help uncovering the perpetrator behind the attack.

After inspecting the dagger, Napoleon summons Illya on the intercom: “We’re in need of your talents. Are you free?” “No man is free who has to work for a living,” Illya replies glumly, “but I am available.” Ah, yes, wonderful. There’s something delightfully off-kilter about the first-season depiction of Illya, who was prone to drifting in and out of episodes while delivering enigmatic statements and looking glamorous.

Illya, who is 1963’s answer to Wikipedia all wrapped up in an attractive turtleneck-clad package, identifies the jeweled knife as a ceremonial dagger used by the Roma. Mr. Waverly fills Illya in on the situation with Quentin, whom he calls “…a carefree, happy-go-lucky sort of fellow. Family weakness, you know. Bit inclined that way myself.” This episode has plenty of clever dialogue—it was written by Alan Caillou, who has a nice touch with snappy banter—but the funniest moment might be this unspoken bit here, in which Illya and Napoleon lock eyes with each other while struggling to keep their expressions completely neutral at Waverly’s claim of having a carefree spirit.

Mr. Waverly goes on to describe Quentin as “a handsome man. Much too handsome for his own good, really.” Cut to Quentin, who is played by Leo G. Carroll in a dual role. He’s in his mansion, playing host to an assemblage of well-dressed dinner guests, including his scatterbrained young niece Alice (Susan Oliver) and an attractive Roma woman named Delilah Dovro (Antoinette Bower). Delilah leads the guests in an impromptu fortune-telling session, in which she predicts imminent doom for Quentin.

Illya arrives at the mansion and is greeted by Alice, who immediately commences flirting with him. She leads him over to the table, where Delilah is still foretelling death and destruction. “Do you believe in gypsies?” Alice asks Illya. “No, of course not. They’re just a figment of the imagination,” Illya deadpans, which is exactly the sort of smart-ass response that question deserves. “That’s what I thought,” Alice replies, taking his snark at face value, because Alice is a dim bulb.

Alan Caillou, man. As I mentioned above, episodes written by Alan Caillou tend to have pretty snappy dialogue. You know what they also have, though? Terrible female characters. Or, to be more precise, female characters who fail to behave in a recognizably human manner and who seem to exist solely so men can shake their heads in amusement at how women are unpredictable and unfathomable. I mean, Lisa D’Amato in “The Re-Collectors Affair” isn’t bad, but insipid Heavenly in “The Hong Kong Shilling Affair”? Dour Clara in “The Terbuf Affair”? Shrill Marion Raven in both “The Giuoco Piano Affair” and “The Quadripartite Affair”? Despite being played by capable actresses, the aforementioned all rank among U.N.C.L.E.’s worst supporting characters (which is a damn shame, because U.N.C.L.E. also features a bunch of kick-ass and awesome female characters: Cricket Okasada in “The Cherry Blossom Affair”, Bryn Watson in “The Odd Man Affair”, Angelique in “The Deadly Games Affair”). Alice, sadly, is a dud.

Quentin leads Illya into his study, introduces him to his stalwart Great Dane, and briefs him on the situation: Whoever broke into the mansion and stabbed the pajamas was most likely looking to steal a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of stock in a company called Andram Consolidated. A Roma man named Andre Delgrovia recently offered to buy Quentin’s stock for a paltry ten grand, then threatened his life after he refused. Quentin suspects the break-in was Delgrovia’s attempt to scare him into dumping the stock.

Even though Quentin insists he’s perfectly safe—after all, his Great Dane can protect him from intruders—Illya decides to spend the night at the mansion. Quentin retires for the evening, safely locked in his bedroom with his dog. Once again, Alice tries to flirt with Illya (“I won’t sleep, thinking about you”), which, because Illya is made out of equal parts ice and vinegar, goes nowhere. “If you should want anything…” Alice purrs at him, before trailing off seductively. Illya is having none of this: “Everything I want, I have.” Ouch.

While Quentin and Alice sleep, Illya prowls around the mansion. He’s alerted by a sudden terrible ruckus in Quentin’s bedroom; when he breaks down the door, he finds Quentin dead, having been savagely mauled by his beloved pet. Illya shoots the dog with a tranquilizer dart, then comforts a traumatized Alice.

At headquarters, a still-sidelined Napoleon plays with the now-docile Great Dane while Illya and Mr. Waverly mull over the next step. An Andram Consolidated shareholder named Clothilde Willard was recently hospitalized after being mauled by her Chihuahua; sensing a pattern, Illya heads to the hospital to interview her.

Clothilde explains to Illya how Delgrovia tried to intimidate her into selling her stocks shortly before the dog attack. Clothilde, who is a good-natured, garrulous lady, complains bitterly about the crummy hospital food. “Would you be the kind of man that might carry a flask of something with you?” she asks optimistically. Illya, who has a soft spot for lonely middle-aged ladies, promises to send her orchids and a fifth of gin. Charmed, she asks if he’s married. Ever enigmatic, he quotes a little Andrew Marvell at her (“Had I but world enough, and time…”) before drifting away on a cloud of glamorous intrigue.

An orderly working for Delgrovia steals Illya’s raincoat at the hospital. Delgrovia, who turns out to be the cloaked man seen in the opening scene, orders his pack of attack Dobermans to tear apart a dummy dressed in the coat, which is presumably infused with Illya’s personal scent, to train them for future slaughter. Hey, what do we think Illya smells like, anyway? I’m going to guess… strong black tea, vatrushka, and gunpowder.

Illya returns to the mansion to protect Alice, who is now the owner of Quentin’s valuable Andram stock. “Are you going to bodyguard me?” Alice asks coquettishly. “Or should I say… guard my body?” Yes, Alice, we got it the first time. Making the exact same double entendre twice in a row doesn’t make it a quadruple entendre.

Spoiler alert: For some unfathomable reason, Illya will hook up with Alice in this episode. This was apparently a controversial development at the time; after the episode aired, viewers wrote to the network to object, evidently disliking the idea of icy, aloof Illya swooning over a pretty blonde love interest (this would not stop Caillou from giving Illya a pretty blonde love interest the following season in “The Re-Collectors Affair”, just like he gave Illya a pretty blonde love interest in both “The Quadripartite Affair” and “The Giuoco Piano Affair”; in Caillou’s personal version of U.N.C.L.E., Illya is an insatiable love machine who, despite his frosty exterior, is irresistibly drawn to pretty blonde women). I could be wrong, but I suspect it’s less that viewers didn’t want to see Illya with a girlfriend and more that they specifically didn’t want to see him with Alice, who… well, as scripted, she’s dumb. It’s galling to see cold, brainy resourceful Illya lose his heart to someone dumb.

While Alice and Illya hang around the mansion, batting their pretty lashes at each other, they become aware of a disturbance: Delgrovia’s pair of Dobermans are inside the house. They advance on Illya, growling and snarling. God, Illya. I gave you a free pass for Quentin’s death happening on your watch, because you really had no way to know that Delgrovia had somehow weaponized the Great Dane. Here, though, you’re specifically at the mansion to protect Alice from a dog attack, and yet you failed to notice when the Dobermans waltzed into the living room.

Illya happens to be holding an antique pot of cayenne pepper (don’t ask me to explain; it makes no more sense in greater detail), so he tosses pepper at the dogs to distract them, then he and Alice make a break for it. Outside the mansion, they secretly observe as Delgrovia summons the Dobermans to him. And then Alice playfully throws cayenne in Illya’s face, because that’s just the kind of madcap free spirit she is, and then they make out in the bushes.

Equipped with photographs of the Dobermans, Illya and Alice visit eccentric dog expert Guido Panzini (frequent U.N.C.L.E. guest star Pat Harrington Jr., here playing a sketch-comedy character he used to perform on the Tonight Show). Panzini traces the ownership of the Dobermans to Delilah Duro, in a scene that exists mostly to see how many dogs can be jammed into a single shot. Fair enough. The dogs are damn cute.

Outside Panzini’s office, Illya is clobbered over the head by Delgrovia’s thugs, who then kidnap Alice. The thugs take Alice to Delilah’s Long Island home, where Delgrovia tries to threaten her into turning over her shares of the stock to him.

Outside Delilah’s home, Illya douses a fox in chemicals that incite dogs to a vicious frenzy. Delgrovia’s pack of vicious killer dogs stop guarding the house to chase after the fox, intending to tear it to pieces. This would be very uncool, were it not that: a) we see at the end of the episode that the fox survives, and b) Illya names the fox “Napoleon”, which is laden with all kinds of hilarious and weird meaning. With the dogs thus distracted, Illya raids the house and tries to rescue Alice. The usual chaos ensues: Delilah snatches Illya’s gun away from him (oh, Illya), more dogs join the fray, the thugs accidentally stab each other, Illya leaps over couches and climbs trees and jumps from rooftops into swimming pools, and the dogs end up eating Delgrovia.

Illya and Alice make it to safety just as Mr. Waverly arrives with a squad of U.N.C.L.E. agents, ready to arrest Delilah and any remaining thugs. Napoleon, who is now cuddling with his namesake fox, offers to give Illya and Alice a ride back to Quentin’s mansion. They refuse his offer, on the grounds that they’d rather make out.

Fun episode. Cute dogs. Not enough Napoleon. More Napoleon and less Alice, please and thank you.


Illesdan said…
Funny thing about this episode: Robert Vaughn was getting burned out on filming and studying for his doctorate at the same time; so the powers that be made an episode where he didn't have a major part.

For me, this episode works, yet doesn't. This episode really highlights Illya's fear of dogs, and turns it into a recurring theme. Where it doesn't work, is the choice of dogs that, according to the script, are 'vicious'. Sorry, but the worst a Great Dane will do to you is drown you in slobber. A reason they have the name 'The Heartbreak Breed'. A Chihuahua? Really? Yeah, I don't care for puntables, either; but I can't see a Chihuahua doing that kind of mayhem.

This episode probably would have been near perfect if not for Alice. I mean, Illya is so much fun here, and then they keep shoehorning in Alice, and it just falls apart for me. The romance makes no sense and is too forced. I liked the part with the fox; it was unexpected and cute. And since foxes are technically more of the feline family than canine, I could see Illya being fond of it.

I like this episode, but it really needed professional help.
Morgan Richter said…
Alice. Yeah. I was talking about Alice with a friend, and about Alan Caillou's female characters in general, and we agreed that if Caillou were alive and writing today, all his female characters would be Manic Pixie Dream Girls. Alice, like Marion Raven, is kind of an MPDG prototype: whimsical, capricious, two-dimensional, exists only as a foil for Illya. Caillou writes terrific dialogue, but has no sense of character development, at least when it comes to love interests for Illya (or Napoleon -- look at Clara in "The Terbuf Affair").
vintagehoarder said…
I've got to say that "the girl of the week" is one of my least favourite tropes from episodic television. She’s either some kind of two-dimensional reward for the protagonist (as here) or the writer is left trying to convince us that this character we've never seen nor heard of before, and we know we'll never see nor hear from again, is somehow deeply important to the protagonist.

That said, this is still one of my favourite episodes!
I actually quite like Alice, but I think that's because I got used to Susan Oliver in a number of Route 66 episodes and grew to like her, so she's a fun familiar face. There are bad bits about this episode, but then there are wonderful bits that pull it up for me. The titbit that Uncle has an office cat. The dog expert flirting with Illya. Pool plunges. The fox called Napoleon (only because it escapes.) And a shed load of Illya. Any episode with a shed load of Illya is good.
Morgan Richter said…
Vintagehoarder -- this episode has some of my favorite exchanges of dialogue. I wish it had more Napoleon to balance it out, but it's pretty solid (apart from my quibbles with the characterization of Alice).

Aconitum -- the office cat! Napoleon the fox! It's just fun. BTW, I've been wondering why your screen name was ringing some bells, and then I was over at the Chrome & Gunmetal Madhouse the other day, and hey, I figured it out! You write some damn fine stuff.
Amused said…
Alice schmalice. She exists only as a placeholder, a kind of [insertyourselfhere] for female viewers who could imagine themselves kissing Illya after being granted his permission, then being rewarded with a reciprocal kiss after a tantalising delay ... ahem, where was I? Character development would just interfere with that process.

I rewound the three-way banter about Napoleon's injury several times.

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