Conspiracy of Silence (Episode 02-23, March 1963).
Circus clowns! The Mafia! Assassination attempts! Knife-throwing! This episode should have it all. So why doesn’t it quite come off?
Conspiracy of Silence starts off well. Circus clown Carlo must assassinate Steed or face dire consequences from the Mafia’s envoy. The assassination attempt fails (as it would) and Steed sends Cathy to hang out at a local circus in a bid to locate the assassin who failed to kill him. There Cathy finds herself (once more) in the midst of family drama, as the wife of the circus clown cum assassin apparently has no idea where her husband is. Meanwhile the Mafia man hangs around in the hopes of finding Carlo and forcing him to do the job.
The drama here takes a front seat to the actual plot, with Cathy trying to be sympathetic to everyone involved. The wife fends off advances from the Ringmaster, the Mafia man threatens loudly, and the various clowns and performers are all suspect in helping to keep Carlo under wraps. Unfortunately this seems to mean that a lot of nothing happens for most of the runtime, with the best action packing into the last ten minutes or so. Carlo is a somewhat sympathetic antagonist, caught between having to commit a horrific crime or be sent back to Italy, where the Mafia will do away with him. Yet I found it difficult to feel any real sympathy for a whiny and weepy character, or his oft-hysterical wife.
What Conspiracy of Silence has, though, are two excellent scenes between Steed and Cathy, highlighting their inherent differences and the development of their characters. When Steed appears at the circus to discuss Cathy’s findings, they stand at odds with each other: Steed wants to force Carlos into the open, while Cathy tries to convince him that it’s better to offer Carlos a deal rather than frightening him. Steed accuses her of idealism, she accuses him of cynicism, and the whole thing ends with Steed shaking his fists and storming off. It’s a dynamic little scene, complemented by the later sequence in which Cathy hears two gunshots and believes that Steed has been murdered. When she discovers that he survived, the pain on her face is real – her fear of losing him shows the chinks in her otherwise impenetrable emotional armor. It’s a brief moment, but it ends the episode with a strange poignancy for The Avengers. Cathy has truly begun to care about Steed, even though she doesn’t want to show it.
At the end of the day, though, Conspiracy of Silence is one of the lesser episodes, despite a setting that offered many opportunities for some campy fun.