The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Yo-Ho-Ho and a Bottle of Rum Affair”
Illya and Napoleon hang out at the docks in Hong Kong, being all delightful and charming while spying on a ship chartered by THRUSH. Illya sneaks on board to search for THRUSH’s latest fiendish device, a contraption that can generate deadly tidal waves. Displaying his usual level of competence, he somehow accidentally ends up locked in the hold. The ship sets sail while Napoleon remains behind on shore.
This is the last scene Illya and Napoleon will share together until the final seconds of this episode. It’s not a terrible episode or anything—by the grotesquely lowered standards of season three, it’s pretty darn watchable—but it does make the key mistake of keeping Napoleon and Illya separated the whole time, thus depriving viewers of this show’s major strength, i.e. the magnificent chemistry between the leads. This is the first episode Norman Hudis wrote for the series, and, despite some problem areas, he did a decent job of it: The pacing is sluggish, but the characterizations are good, the plot is solid, and the dialogue often has at least a faint echo of the signature snappy banter of early episodes. Alas, Hudis would go on to write a handful of the worst episodes in the show’s history, episodes so relentlessly terrible and tedious that I dread the day when I finally have to get around to recapping them: “The Five Daughters Affair”, “The J Is For Judas Affair”, and, most craptacular of all, “The Seven Wonders of the World Affair.” This episode isn’t strong enough to mitigate that dire legacy.
In U.N.C.L.E.’s Hong Kong office, Mr. Waverly and Napoleon fret about Illya’s fate. Ever since the ship sailed, they’ve heard nothing from him, and they’re both fearing the worst. They’re unaware of the ship’s destination, so Waverly orders Napoleon to pose as Professor Powers, inventor of the tidal wave generator, and make contact with THRUSH operative Jenny Janus (Peggy Taylor) to grill her for information as to where the ship might be headed. As Jenny is a criminal mastermind who also happens to be a sultry nightclub singer, Napoleon happily agrees to the assignment.
Napoleon spends this scene with his upper torso draped weirdly over a low-backed couch, which can’t be comfortable. Probably suffering from inadequate lumbar support, poor fellow.
On the ship, Illya is still trapped in the hold, unnoticed by the crew. Even though he suspects the ship’s sensors are jamming his communicator signal, he sends a series of mournful messages into the void, announcing his intention to bomb the ship and blow up the tidal wave device. As this will likely result in his death, he makes a series of grim requests: “I therefore hereby officially apply for an H1 classification—Hero Class One—when my file is closed. If you can hear me, please note that the stage here is set for noble tragedy. On the other hand, if I’m taking to myself, the situation is merely one of lunatic farce.”
“Lunatic farce” is actually a pretty good way to describe much of season three.
Eventually, Illya is discovered by pompous, rum-soaked Captain Morton (Dan O'Herlihy) and the ship’s sole passenger (Kevin Hagen), a nameless THRUSH goon in charge of transporting the tidal wave generator. The passenger is instantly suspicious of Illya, but Illya wins over the captain by claiming a love of the sea and quoting a little John Masefield at him (“Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack / Butting through the Channel in the mad March days…”).
Napoleon, meanwhile, pops up at Jenny Janus’s glitzy Hong Kong nightclub, introduces himself as Professor Powers, and bats his lashes at her. She takes him back to her swanky quarters, where they sip gin cocktails out of fancy stemware and tumble into bed together.
On the ship, Illya is subjected to some light bondage and rough treatment, because it’s not U.N.C.L.E. if Illya doesn’t get tied up and slapped around a little.
Illya sets about charming everyone on board, including the engineer, a voluble yet soft-hearted Scotsman named Scotty (Eddie Quillan), because we’re all of a sudden watching a Star Trek episode, and a crewman named Hank (Robert DoQui). Hank fills Illya in on all the fun gossip: Captain Morton is a reckless and dangerous drunk, and the crew has been plotting mutiny for months. Illya asks Hank where he can get his hands on some explosives. Sensing nothing at all weird or suspicious about this out-of-the-blue request, Hank helpfully points him in the direction of Captain Morton’s quarters.
Meanwhile, Napoleon and Jenny have shacked up together and are having sex all over the place.
Illya breaks into the captain’s quarters, where he’s caught in the act of stealing explosives by Captain Morton. Drunk and belligerent, the captain regales Illya with his sordid history: He was court-martialed by the Royal Navy for stealing rum and stripped of his command. Dan O’Herlihy is a wonderful actor (check out his work in the far-superior “Fiddlesticks Affair”), but holy moly, this scene goes on forever. As the captain drones on and on, Illya looks increasingly exhausted and vaguely traumatized.
Anyway, the captain ends his long soliloquy by having Illya arrested for stealing his stuff. Fortunately for Illya, the ship’s engine randomly explodes while the captain is in the middle of yelling at him. Illya leaps into action and, at great personal risk to himself, effortlessly fixes the engine. The captain deems him a god among men and promotes him to first mate, much to the alarm of the THRUSH goon on board, who is pretty sure Illya is an enemy spy
Jenny and Napoleon continue to have enthusiastic sex. When Napoleon tries to discreetly grill her as to the ship’s destination, she dodges his questions. Then, as armed THRUSH goons burst into her quarters and apprehend him, she triumphantly announces that she’s been aware of his true identity all along, a tidbit she presumably failed to disclose several days earlier because she was having too much fun banging him. Jenny is evil, but I find it difficult to fault her for this.
Illya shows Captain Morton his U.N.C.L.E. identification and reveals himself as a spy. The captain is enraged by this, for some damn reason, and orders him imprisoned below deck. Hank promptly breaks Illya out of his cell, whereupon Illya rallies the crew and leads them in a raucous mutiny. He locks up the captain in his quarters, then engages in a shootout with the THRUSH passenger and his henchmen.
Jenny Janus and the real Professor Powers take Napoleon up in a plane, intending to rendezvous with the ship on an island and activate the tidal wave device. Napoleon attempts to hijack the plane and ends up crashing it into the ocean.
Upon seeing the plane go down nearby, Captain Morton orders his crew to put the mutiny on hold long enough to the rescue the crash survivors. After subduing the THRUSH goons, Illya surrenders control of the ship back to the captain. The sole survivor of the crash is Napoleon, who floats by on a life preserver.
With THRUSH’s plan scuttled and the tidal wave device destroyed, Mr. Waverly boards the ship to announce that he pulled strings with the Royal Navy and had Captain Morton’s dishonorable discharge expunged from his record. He offers him a job with U.N.C.L.E. Why? Why would he do this? Sure, Captain Morton did Napoleon a solid by coming to his rescue, but we’ve had ample evidence that he’s unforgivably awful at his job:
1. He spent the entire episode drunk.
2. He was dismissed from the Royal Navy for stealing rum.
3. He worked for THRUSH.
4. His entire crew cheerfully aided an unknown stowaway in a mutiny because they loathed him so much.
5. He’s unpredictable, unstable, and relentlessly incompetent.
Which, come to think of it, probably means he’ll fit right in at U.N.C.L.E. Never mind, Mr. Waverly. I withdraw my objection. Carry on, good sir.