The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Sort Of Do-It-Yourself Dreadful Affair”

Napoleon breaks into a THRUSH hideout located inside a pawn shop and steals a file from a safe. He’s stalked throughout the store by a glassy-eyed, inhumanly strong young woman (Willi Koopman), who lurches around with her arms sticking out straight in front of her in classic movie-monster style. The woman, credited as “Agent A-77”, effortlessly rips through a chain-link fence and ambushes Napoleon. He shoots her repeatedly, but his bullets fail to slow her down. 

…This is a really long opening sequence, by the way. Seriously, it lasts for seven minutes, which comprises a significant chunk of a fifty-minute episode. It’s also really draggy: Agent A-77, being a cyborg (spoiler alert: she’s a cyborg), moves at a zombielike, stilted pace, and it’s boring as snot watching her sloooooowly chase down Napoleon. This episode, which was scripted by sci-fi great Harlan Ellison, has huge problems with pacing. It has other problems, too, come to think of it; I’m an Ellison fan (A Boy and His Dog is a tremendous film), but this episode is a big old dud.

Back at headquarters, a flustered Napoleon tries to explain the attack to a skeptical Illya and Mr. Waverly. Dubious of Napoleon’s story about battling a seemingly invincible young woman, Mr. Waverly pulls him from active duty and orders him to take a recuperative vacation at a spa in the Bahamas. He transfers Napoleon’s current assignment to Illya: Find out why THRUSH is attempting to borrow a billion dollars from a Swiss bank.

Illya accompanies a somewhat grumpy Napoleon to his apartment to help him pack for his vacation. Along the way, they pass a photo shoot, in which a beautiful young model named Andy (Jeannine Riley) poses in a trench coat over a polka-dot bikini, the phrase “SPY GUY: Lotion for Men” emblazoned across her abdomen. High concept! The phrase “lotion for men” makes my brain go to weird places, so let’s quickly move along.

While Andy poses, she spots Agent A-77 wandering slowly (slooooooowly) down the sidewalk in lethargic pursuit of Napoleon and Illya. Recognizing Agent A-77 as her long-missing roommate Muriel, who skipped out on the rent and left her with a hefty phone bill, Andy chases after her. Agent A-77 lurches up behind Napoleon and tries to strangle him; Illya shoots her, but once again, bullets are ineffective. 

They’re saved when Agent A-77 abruptly collapses into a lifeless heap. Accompanied by Andy, Illya and Napoleon take her body back to U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, where a loathsome doctor informs them that, as near as he can determine, she’s not human. Or, as he puts it, “This cupcake hasn’t got an appendix,” and really, I feel quite strongly that any doctor who flippantly refers to a dead young woman as a cupcake should be fired immediately.

The doctor goes on to explain that the woman is missing several other organs as well. In addition, her insides consist of a mixture of organic matter, circuit boards, and electrodes. “That’s a robot?” Illya asks, pointing to A-77’s corpse. The doctor corrects him: She’s part living creature, part plastics and electronics. “A composite,” he says, since in 1965 the word “cyborg” hadn’t fully entered the public vernacular. He describes her as “something Burke and Hare might’ve gathered in graveyards, if this were Edinburgh, 18th century.” He goes on to refer to her as “a sort of do-it-yourself dreadful”, in case you were wondering about this episode’s clunky title. As a grand finale, he gleefully yanks A-77’s head off of her shoulders and ogles “this incredibly, unbelievably gorgeous face”, while Andy cries out in horror at the blithe decapitation of her dead roommate.

Illya and Andy retrace Muriel’s steps before her disappearance. They visit a fortuneteller, Madame Hecubah (Naomi Stevens), who speaks in a thick New York accent and complains about her heartburn and, much like the doctor in the preceding scene, is not nearly as dazzlingly hilarious as this episode seems to think she is. Madame Hecubah tells them Muriel was hit by a truck right after having her fortune told and was taken to the hospital.

With his sanity no longer in question, Napoleon is back on active duty. He poses as a nattily-dressed Swiss banker and meets with THRUSH representatives Margo Hayward (Pamela Curran) and Mr. Lash (Barry Atwater) to negotiate the billion-dollar loan. They take him on a tour of their facility, where Mr. Lash explains why they need the money: They’re building thousands of super-strong female cyborgs to be used for slave labor. He produces another version of A-77 and demonstrates her superhuman abilities by ordering her to drink a glass of caustic acid.

Lash and Margo introduce Napoleon to their bumbling in-house scientist Dr. Pertwee (frequent guest star Woodrow Parfrey), who is wholly unaware that THRUSH plans to use his invention to build an army to take over the world. Throughout this episode, Dr. Pertwee is depicted as misguided but well-intentioned, but… well, while he insists Muriel was dead when she was brought to his clinic, he did hack apart her corpse to use her genetic material to build a slave army, so I’m not entirely sure why the episode is so quick to present him as harmless. It probably comes from pounding back the entire first season of Westworld over the past couple of days, but I’m not feeling too cool with the slapstick-heavy way this episode handles the whole cyborg-slaves-built-from-beautiful-dead-girls issue.

Anyway, Muriel’s trail leads Illya and Andy to Dr. Pertwee’s private clinic. Andy admits she feels guilty for initially worrying more about the unpaid rent than the reason for Muriel’s disappearance. “I was beginning to wonder if there was anything behind that pretty face,” Illya says to her. Ick. Okay, sure, the script is making an attempt to compare Andy to the female cyborg, but it’s also kind of a smugly condescending and thus very un-Illya thing to say. Illya’s whole deal is that he’s outwardly cold and dispassionate; why the hell would he give Andy crap for behaving in the same way? Andy drills the point home further: “Being a symbol of the consumer culture, I sometimes forget to be a human being.” Hey, so does Illya. You two should get along swimmingly. Thankfully at this point, THRUSH goons break into the clinic and capture them at gunpoint.

While touring the THRUSH facility, Napoleon contacts Illya, who is now locked with Andy in a prison cell somewhere in the building (THRUSH has demonstrated their usual level of competence by not confiscating Illya’s communicator after capturing him). Napoleon wraps up their conversation with this epic non sequitur: “All right, keep in touch. And thank your mother for the chicken soup.” Harlan Ellison is an eight-time Hugo Award winner and four-time Nebula Award winner, and no one’s ever going to challenge his bona fides as a well-respected and accomplished author, but damn it all, he flat-out does not have the hang of writing Napoleon and Illya’s signature snappy banter.

Napoleon sets about seducing Margo, which turns out to be not especially difficult. He purrs a few lines about her “keen sharp mind in a soft, voluptuous body”, and she melts in his arms (Margo: “I thought bankers only dealt with one kind of figure”).

Illya and Andy effortlessly break out of their cell. See, not only did the guards not confiscate Illya’s communicator, they also failed to confiscate Andy’s prop handgun, which she stuck in her pocket after her earlier photo shoot. Illya: “It’s not supposed to be this easy.” No. No, it’s not, and just pointing out that it’s a lazy bit of plotting doesn’t excuse it for being a lazy bit of plotting. Try harder, Man From U.N.C.L.E.! I love you dearly, but half-assed scripts like this sorely test that love.

They run into Dr. Pertwee, who insists he only wanted to use his cyborgs for the good of humanity. Of Muriel’s corpse, he says, “I only used her face because it was such a lovely face!” Illya is (somehow) cool with this explanation, so he takes Dr. Pertwee along while they search the building.

Margo and Napoleon head off to a private room for some champagne and hanky-panky. While putting the moves on Margo, Napoleon secretly sends a signal to headquarters to enable them to track his location; he does this by leaving his communicator open, which means Mr. Waverly and the cute female agent manning the communications console, whom Napoleon has been banging on the side, have to sit and listen to him getting it on with Margo. Napoleon’s pre-coital small talk involves quoting Shakespeare (“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways”), while back at headquarters, the hapless female communications agent quietly seethes: “He used that same miserable line on me!”

Napoleon’s shenanigans are interrupted by the arrival of Illya, Andy, and Dr. Pertwee, with Mr. Lash and a squad of THRUSH goons in hot pursuit. In the resulting battle, Napoleon hides behind Margo and lets her die in hail of bullets, and yeah, I know the spy game is a cold and callous one, but it’s still pretty tacky for the hero to use the woman he spent the episode trying to bed as a human shield.

Mr. Lash sets the army of A-77 cyborgs loose on Illya and Napoleon, which means we’re treated to more shots of beautiful women walking sloooooooooowly.

Special effects being what they were in 1965, only one of the ostensibly identical cyborgs is played by Willi Koopman, while the rest are played by women wearing creepy Willi Koopman masks:

Yeah. Let that haunt your dreams tonight.

Dr. Pertwee stops the cyborgs by electrocuting them, killing himself in the process. Mr. Waverly and a squad of agents swarm in to clean up the place. He compliments Napoleon for his quick thinking in leaving his communicator open to help U.N.C.L.E. track his location: “If the circumstances should ever arise again, may I suggest that you play your love scenes with a bit less ardor?” At this, Illya furrows his brow and stares at his partner in clear consternation, as though appalled by the idea that Napoleon would try to bed one of their adversaries. Illya, have you ever met Napoleon?

Later in the season, Harlan Ellison will redeem himself with his second attempt at writing for U.N.C.L.E. with the fun and charming “Pieces of Fate Affair”. Good thing, too. This one is close to an utter disaster.


vintagehoarder said…
Welcome back! I hope you enjoyed the holiday season.

Well, we can't say we weren't warned about this one. After all, it does have "dreadful" right up there in the title. (Though for what it's worth, I did enjoy the seduction scene. This isn't the first time we've seen Napoleon use the same corny lines on different women - see also "The Ultimate Computer Affair". Given he seems to make a habit of it, I've got to wonder how he succeeds in scoring so often!)
DKoren said…
Happy New Year!

The title is highly amusing, but it appears that's as far as it goes. Bummer about a Harlan Ellison script not being up to snuff, cuz I'm quite a fan of his, but hey, can't win them all. This one sounds mostly skippable, however it sure was fun to read the review of it!!
I liked the rather insane doctors on both sides; the self-absorbed mad scientist vibes. I just like intellectuals who are completely absorbed in their subjects, and who better to allow someone like that free rein than Thrush or Uncle? But the slooooooow cyborgs were dodgy all round. Napoleon, just run! I thought the whole Napoleon-is-crazy-and-needs-a-break bit was amusing. Sweet that Illya goes to help him pack. But it's not the best episode. It's really not.
I have to admit, I didn't notice the other cyborgs were wearing masks until my husband pointed it out. I'm not good on faces...
montereysnow said…
Happy New Year. It is good to have you back.

I agree; it is disappointing that this Harlan Ellison episode is not better.

I also find the seduction scene with UNCLE listening in amusing.
I actually feel a little sorry for Margo. I know she is the enemy, but one minute she is in Napoleon's arms, the next she is dead, and he could not care less. Of course, this is not the first time Napoleon has engaged in this kind of hard-hearted behavior.

Morgan Richter said…
Good to be back! Happy New Year, everyone! I'm glad Harlan Ellison was able to rebound with Pieces of Fate Affair later in the season. I'm not sure all of the problems with the pacing in this script are his fault -- that long, long, long opening sequence is almost entirely dialogue-free and thus was probably only a page or two in the script, and thus should've only lasted for a minute or two. Instead, for whatever reason, it drags out for much too long before the opening credits kick in, and the episode ends up being bizarrely top-heavy (the episode is well over halfway through by the start of Act III, and Act IV is extremely short). So I'm willing to give him a pass for that, and I like both Margo and Andy, so the episode does have some redeeming factors. Overall, though, it's disappointing.
Margo's death was so not on. Lazy script writing.
Morgan Richter said…
Matthew Celestine -- Yeah, I'm not a fan of the way the script handled Margo's death, either. Definitely lazy.

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