The Secrets Broker (Episode 03-19, February 1964).
The Secrets Broker is an odd episode – I return to it time and again in the hopes that I can bring myself to fully enjoy it. It’s not a bad episode per se, but it lacks a certain something to draw it into a cohesive whole.
The death of an agent prompts Steed and Cathy into investigating a wine merchant and a spiritualist circle in connection with the potential theft of necessary plans for underwater navigation. Steed discover some excellent claret and a sinister wine merchant, while Cathy hangs out at the design facility in the hopes of picking up some information, where she discovers that the chief designer’s wife is having an affair. The viewer is unfortunately subjected to far too much of the latter, turning the episode into a domestic melodrama for a good portion of its runtime. Steed’s investigation into the wine merchant angle turns up far more interesting results, narratively-speaking, with a gang of villains using blackmail and faux spiritualism to gather information and pass it on to “the enemy.” It all culminates in several deaths, a wine-tasting, and a séance.
All of that makes The Secrets Broker sound more interesting than it is. The episode has many ingredients that should form one of the best entries into the season, but it somehow manages to fall short. I’ve mentioned the domestic melodrama angle, with the lovers played by Patricia English and Ronald Allen. English is usually more dependable than this – she played Carlotta in Mission to Montreal, and reappeared in the Emma Peel episode Never Never Say Die, and was a highlight in both. But here she’s forced into the part of a whiny, self-pitying wife, passionate about her singularly uninteresting lover who forces her into cutting alarm wires at the design facility, all to avoid the embarrassment of having to explain their affair to her designer husband.
Avengers writers seem more at home with pseudo-science than with pseudo-spirituality – both this episode and Warlock make very little out of their supernatural elements. The spiritualism angle is never fully developed, although it did have promise. Mrs. Wilson (Avice Landone) and her daughter Barbara (Jennifer Wood) run a spiritualist circle that works next door to the wine shop, helping to funnel information via Barbara’s “trances.” While Mrs. Wilson herself is one of the better, nastier female villains in The Avengers, the use of the circle is never made clear. The pair are charlatans, but it’s difficult to grasp why they need to use spiritualism at all – everything seems to be done very effectively at the wine merchant’s.
The episode does have some strong points, however, including Jack May as the creepy wine merchant Waller. Waller feels like a villain without an episode: his sinister voice and demeanor could have been used to much greater effect, but the episode pops when he’s on the screen. The same goes for our two heroes, who manage to get in some nice repartee and even an edge of flirtation while feeling their way through. Cathy’s “what makes you think I have depraved tastes?” response to a bottle of apricot brandy Steed gives her evokes a knowing smile from Patrick Macnee and a near giggle from Honor Blackman. Steed has some of his best scenes with Waller as they verbally spar via an ostensible discussion of wine. Cathy has the least to do, but she does get in a few nice judo throws in a short but intense fight in the wine cellar.
I’ve now written more about The Secrets Broker than I have about almost any other episode. I still struggle with this one – I want to like it more than I do, and perhaps in time I will discover even more to say about it. In any case, it’s worth a look, and hardly boring, if only just for that apricot brandy joke.