The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Tigers Are Coming Affair”
In India, the sinister Prince Panat (Lee Bergere, slathered in a generous coat of brown face paint), accompanied by his right-hand man, Colonel Quillon (Alan Caillou, who also wrote the episode), and a beautiful French woman named Suzanne de Serre (Jill Ireland, again), hunts tigers on the grounds of his lavish estate. A ragged young man, whom Suzanne recognizes as the prince’s private pilot, interrupts the hunting expedition by hurrying up to Suzanne and gasping out something about poison. At Prince Panat’s orders, guards knock him unconscious and drag him away. The prince calmly explains to Suzanne that the man was only an escaped prisoner and therefore nothing for her to worry about (“It does liven up rather a dull day, doesn’t it?”).
Suzanne visits U.N.C.L.E. headquarters in New York and explains her predicament to Mr. Waverly and Napoleon: She’s a chemist/botanist, who’s been working in India to introduce technological advances in farming techniques to the locals. At this, Napoleon interjects, with his tone laden with skepticism and a smug grin on his lips, “You’re interested in farming?” Oh, oink. I adore you, Napoleon, but please try not to be a sexist jerk, okay? Suzanne explains that her most recent shipment of pesticides went missing shortly before Prince Panat’s pilot disappeared. She suspects the prince of stealing her pesticides for some diabolical reason.
Suzanne, it should be pointed out, is a nails-on-chalkboard irritating character, complete with a brain-manglingly dreadful French accent. One of the few negative side effects of binge-watching The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is that it’s made me realize my Jill Ireland tolerance is pretty low. She’s lovely, with a certain proto-Sarah Michelle Gellar-esque charm, but after sitting through her four U.N.C.L.E appearances, I’d be totally cool with never seeing her in anything else ever again. To be fair to Ireland, though, U.N.C.L.E. mostly saddled her with horrible, underwritten, paper-thin ingénue roles, all courtesy of the aforementioned Caillou, who, I’ve noted before, had a tendency to turn his female leads into flighty, illogical ciphers. Poor Ireland suffered the most for it.
In any case, Napoleon seems to dig Suzanne. He sets about trying to telegraph his interest in his usual subtle manner.
(And yes, this does mean Napoleon will spend most of this episode trying to bed his co-star’s real-life wife, and yes, it’s awkward.)
So Napoleon and Illya head off to India, posing as travel journalists writing a feature on the prince’s tiger hunt. In tried-and-true U.N.C.L.E.-villain style, Prince Panat and Colonel Quillon identify them as spies on sight. When Napoleon and Suzanne head into the village to talk to the missing pilot’s wife, Colonel Quillon sets an army of knife-wielding lackeys after them. Napoleon tosses a brazier of hot coals at their attackers, then fends them off with some well-placed karate chops.
I don’t like this episode very much, so I’m going to have to make a serious attempt to find favorable things to say about it. I’ll start with this: The outfits, from Suzanne’s darling pith helmet to Napoleon’s entire I’m-a-serious-journalist ensemble, complete with natty pink patterned scarf knotted at the neck, are often wonderful.
Napoleon and Suzanne confront the prince about the attack in the village. Absolutely nothing useful to the plot happens here, though we do get some delightful footage of Robert Vaughn eating grapes in a provocative manner and seductively fondling a water pitcher, so it’s worth it.
Back at the prince’s estate, Illya bribes one of the locals, Julali (Ken Renard), into taking him on an expedition up the river. When he arrives at their meeting spot, however, he finds Julali’s murdered corpse tied to a tree. Colonel Quillon springs out of the bushes and ambushes him. Okay, here’s another thing I genuinely like about this episode: Illya’s white shirt, which he wears with a few too many buttons unfastened. It’s nice.
The nightly tiger hunt commences. A rifle-toting Napoleon sits up in a tree with Prince Panat, unaware that Illya is lying in the grass directly beneath him, bound and gagged, left by Colonel Quillon as very fetching tiger bait. See what I mean about the shirt? It’s good, right? It’s almost worth sitting through all this nonsense just for that.
While freeing the tethered goats being used to lure the tigers to the area, Suzanne stumbles across Illya. Just as she unties him, a tiger attacks. They’re saved through the intervention of Julali’s smoking-hot son, Ferak (Jose De Vega, Chino in West Side Story. Sing along with me: Keep away from her, send for Chino/This is not the Maria we know! God, I love West Side Story. I perked up so much at the sight of Chino, I can’t even tell you).
Chests. This episode is mostly about chests.
Napoleon, Suzanne, and Illya hurry into the jungle, with Colonel Quillon in hot pursuit. Napoleon and Suzanne seize the opportunity to cuddle. Yep, it’s still weird. I know actors learn to be coolly professional and look upon this kind of thing as just another job, but even still, why on earth would you cast David McCallum’s wife as Napoleon’s love interest? This strikes me as a recipe for huffy feelings and rampant on-set weirdness.
They’re joined by Ferak, who leads them up the river to a dock, where they discover the prince’s men loading Suzanne’s stolen pesticides onto a boat. Illya swims across the river and launches a stealth attack on the men, which is mostly a thinly-veiled excuse to get McCallum and his clingy white shirt soaking wet. Fair enough.
Anyway, because the whole pesticide plotline seems to be going nowhere interesting, Ferak drops some expository dialogue about how the prince has been forcing the villagers to work in his ruby mine, so everyone heads off to investigate in the interests of keeping the story rolling along. While Ferak distracts the guards, Napoleon, Illya, and Suzanne slip inside the mine. They encounter a group of starving villagers forced into hard labor, including the missing pilot’s wife, Ninea, who takes a game stab at explaining the situation to them. I’ve seen this episode a few times now, and I still can’t quite unravel the garbled excuse for the plot. Bearing in mind that I’m bridging some gaps with logical guesses, here’s the deal: The prince stole Suzanne’s pesticides and ordered his pilot to deliberately oversaturate the crops grown by the villagers, then falsely imprisoned and murdered the pilot to prevent him from going public with this information. The pesticides had the side effect of driving the tigers out of the jungle into the village. With their crops destroyed, the starving villagers were forced to work in the prince’s mine, which is filled with dangerous levels of chlorine gas. Follow that? No? You’re not alone. It’s a nonsensical mess.
Again, though, it’s almost worth it just for that white shirt. McCallum has never looked better.
Anyway, they’re ambushed by Quillon, who tosses Ferak’s corpse at them. Ugh, yeah, smoking-hot Chino from West Side Story just got casually murdered offscreen. Uncool. I really hate this episode. Even McCallum’s chest is not enough to make me feel better about this.
Quillon drags Illya and Napoleon out of the mine to meet Prince Parat, who announces that representatives from the World Congress for Undeveloped Countries have arrived in India and are awaiting for word from U.N.C.L.E. to let them know it’s safe to visit the area. The prince orders Napoleon to lure the representatives into an ambush. Napoleon refuses, so the prince threatens to murder the villagers and rape Suzanne. Seeing no alternative, Napoleon contacts Mr. Waverly and tells him to go ahead and send in the representatives.
While Illya and Napoleon are forced to toil in the ruby mine, the prince takes Suzanne to the dock to wait for the representatives to arrive by boat. The prince ties Suzanne up and gags her and casually tells her about his plans to rape her, all while the episode indulges in a lame-ass running gag about how he makes a tasty goats’-milk frappe. The combination of tawdry and goofy is downright creepy.
Napoleon and Illya escape from the mine. They steal a boat and blow a bunch of stuff up to warn the World Congress representatives away from the dock, then take the prince and Quillon into custody. Illya shows off his chest some more.
And still more. It’s like he forgot how to use buttons. Not a complaint.
Back in New York, Suzanne canoodles with Napoleon and gabs on about how she’s headed to Mombasa to give free dental care to the natives, because she’s also a dentist as well as a botanist and chemist, and gee, it’s funny how this episode treats it as absolutely hilarious that a woman could be any or all of those things.
Ick. At least we had that white shirt.