The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: “The Moonglow Affair”
This is the backdoor pilot for the short-lived spinoff series, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., and man oh man, it is terrible.
Illya, dressed in a fancy ruffled tuxedo, poses as an advertising executive and loiters around a swanky party for Caresse Cosmetics, which is in the process of choosing Miss Moonglow, the new face of the company. The party is teeming with pretty ladies; Caresse’s cofounder, Jean Caresse (Mary Carver, the mom from Simon & Simon), asks Illya for his opinion as to which one should represent her company. “Personally, I would prefer a woman of accomplishment,” Illya says. This bit of straightforward common sense alarms Jean, who is a seasoned THRUSH agent. Jumping into action, she grabs a henchwoman and alerts her to her suspicions that a cute blond U.N.C.L.E. agent has crashed their party. Illya snoops around and ends up captured by Jean’s evil brother, Arthur (Kevin McCarthy).
Meanwhile, Napoleon, who is lurking outside the party in his own fancy tuxedo, takes a blowtorch to a chain-link fence, punches a guard in the face, and breaks into Caresse’s top-secret basement laboratory. He’s ambushed by evil THRUSH scientist Andy Watson (Woodrow Parfrey), who bombards him with mind-altering radioactive rays.
Stoned off his gourd by radiation, Napoleon staggers outside. “IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIILLYA!” he bellows to the heavens, before getting hit by a car. This is a wretched mess of an episode, sure, but I will always love watching Robert Vaughn shred the scenery to pieces.
Back at U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, a barely-conscious Napoleon babbles nonsensically in his hospital bed. A doctor grimly tells Waverly that Napoleon has only a couple days to live (“The radiation will reach his spleen in forty-six hours!”). With Napoleon incapacitated and Illya still missing, Waverly calls in seasoned agent Mark Slate (Norman Fell), who is breaking in a brand-new partner, April Dancer (former Miss America Mary Ann Mobley). Mark is highly disgruntled about having to work with, y’know, a woman (the horror!), but he and April agree to infiltrate Caresse Cosmetics to uncover the diabolical connection between the THRUSH-backed Miss Moonglow competition and a top-secret upcoming space expedition known as Project Moonglow.
Ah, April Dancer and Mark Slate. By the time The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. went into production the following season, both roles had been recast: Mobley, lovely and sweet but with an unfortunate tendency to deliver all her dialogue in a soft baby-doll lisp, was replaced by Stefanie Powers, and Fell, every bit as relentlessly charmless here as he was as Mr. Roper on Three’s Company, was replaced by the smoldering Noel Harrison. Prudent upgrades, both.
Anyway, there’s a lot of chatter about how Mark is secretly violating U.N.C.L.E. protocol by remaining in the field, as agents are supposed to be automatically relegated to desk duty when they hit the creaky old age of forty, but as a hale and hearty lass in her forties, I choose to pretend this whole plotline doesn’t exist.
Meanwhile, poor Illya gets repeatedly bombarded with radiation by his THRUSH captors, which scrambles his brain in various entertaining ways.
Posing undercover as a secretary at Caresse, April breaks into the lab and effortlessly fools Watson into believing she’s his new assistant. Already she’s doing better on this assignment than the seasoned pros; after all, Jean Caresse correctly pegged Illya as a spy after a single brief exchange of cocktail party banter. Watson immediately becomes grossly amorous with her, which poor April nonchalantly shrugs off as the price of duty.
Anyway, when Arthur Caresse catches a glimpse of April, he immediately pronounces her the company’s new Miss Moonglow. Arthur also becomes grossly amorous with her (“I’ll see you on my yacht at eight o’clock. Then we’ll see how grateful you are!”); April, who is nothing if not a trooper, continues to take all this harassment in stride.
Having successfully fried Illya’s brain, Watson orders his THRUSH henchmen to smuggle him out of the building in a cart of dirty laundry and dump him in the river. Mark chases away the THRUSH goons, then, when the laundry cart is picked up by a garbage truck by mistake, he slips the driver a few bucks to deliver Illya, who, let’s not forget, is lying unconscious and dying in the back of a garbage truck, to U.N.C.L.E. headquarters. Oh, hey, don’t knock yourself out to save Illya, Mark.
On Arthur Caresse’s yacht, April and Mark drink champagne and compare notes on their mission. “This is no business for a girl,” Mark tells his partner, who has thus far demonstrated far greater resourcefulness and aplomb on this assignment than he has. Mark Slate, how I despise you. They’ve discovered that THRUSH is planning on breaking into a secret lab owned by the US space program and bombarding the astronaut food supply for the upcoming Moonglow mission with radiation. The astronauts will crash the rocket and die upon eating the irradiated food, whereupon THRUSH will have a key advantage over the United States whenever they get around to building their own rocket.
Bad THRUSH scheme, or worst THRUSH scheme of all time? Discuss.
Arthur summons April to demonstrate Caresse’s hotly-anticipated new product: Moonglow lipstick, which is infused with radiation to make the lucky wearer’s lips glow in the dark. I can think of so very many reasons why radiation-infused lipstick should not be a thing, but you have to admit, that special effect is hilarious.
Mark dons a scuba suit, impersonates a THRUSH goon, and joins Watson on a mission to infiltrate the space program’s laboratory, which for some reason is located under a school gymnasium where a basketball game is taking place. Mark sabotages Watson’s map, so they end up breaking into a boys’ locker room instead. Watson is arrested, and the space program is saved from certain disaster.
Arthur Caresse gets handsy with April back in his office, until Jean bursts in and informs him that April is an U.N.C.L.E. spy. April hastily smooches Arthur to rub off her radiation-infused lipstick on him, then turns off the lights. Stumbling in the dark, Jean spots Arthur’s glowing lips and, assuming he’s April, shoots him in the gut.
That special effect they use for the radiation-infused lipstick is my very favorite thing about this episode.
Jean blasts April with radiation, whereupon April stumbles around in confusion, shooting wildly at Jean. She tries to throw herself over the balcony, until Mark bursts in and rescues her.
And back at U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, Mr. Waverly assures Mark and April that both Illya and Napoleon have made a complete recovery from lethal doses of radiation. To prove his point, he shows them footage on a monitor of Napoleon and Illya walking down the corridor, very plainly taken from some other (likely better) episode.
Napoleon’s expression pretty much sums up my thoughts on the preceding fifty minutes of misery.