Bullseye (Episode 02-04, October 1962).
Only four episodes into Season 2, Cathy Gale gets her first opportunity to strike out on her own in Bullseye. Faced with a murder at a small arms company that may be tied to gun-running in Africa, Cathy joins the company’s board of directors as a shareholder, plunging herself into industrial espionage and conspiracy. Steed is on hand but remains solidly in the background for this one, only showing up once or twice to tease Cathy and smoke cigars.
Cathy uncovers a series of nasty coincidences as more fellow board members are murdered, narrowing the range of suspects to about three by the end of it. It’s all tied in with a takeover bid by industrialist Henry Cade (Ronald Radd), who intends to purchase the company and carve it up at a profit. Cade is suspect number one, as each of the directors dies after meeting with him, but there are several others that are equally nasty pieces of work: Doreen Ellis (Judy Parfitt, who pops up pretty consistently through The Avengers), and Mr. Young (Felix Deebank), a ladykiller with a smarminess all his own.
Giving Honor Blackman her own episode this early in the season was a gamble for The Avengers (regardless of production order), and it’s a shame she didn’t get a better one. As with a number of these early episodes, Bullseye suffers from the combination of a preponderance of plot, and dialogue that fails to drive it. Steed’s absence does not have to harm an episode (check out The Big Thinker if you don’t believe me), but in this case poor Cathy has very little to occupy her time. The villains are fairly clear from the outset, and the ending both unsurprising and anti-climactic. Cathy has no opportunity to show off her fabulous judo skills (despite setting up a villain with whom she could easily grapple), and much of the interesting action takes place off-screen.
However, Bullseye is not all bad. On a second viewing I actually found it more enjoyable, with at least two scenes that create excellent tension and remind us that Cathy is quite the badass. Ronald Radd’s Henry Cade is simply delightful, an irascible millionaire entirely at home in his business. The episode pops when he’s onscreen. Finally and as always, the few scenes between Cathy and Steed have an energy all their own, as their combative relationship makes even a friendly meeting into a battle of the sexes.
So put Bullseye in the “miss” category. It isn’t a bad episode by any means, but there’s not a great deal to be said for it.