Posts Tagged ‘avengers episodes’

The Secrets Broker (Episode 03-19, February 1964).

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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.

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Conspiracy of Silence (Episode 02-23, March 1963).

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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.

Immortal Clay (02-16, January 1963)

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I mostly prefer to think of this episode as the one with the Turkish Bath, because that’s pretty much the highlight of the whole thing. Steed and Cathy are once more on the job, this time investigating a man’s death in a pottery that has been developing (maybe) an indestructible clay. The danger is that this will fall into the wrong hands, so Steed’s superior dispatches him to learn everything there is to know about pottery in 24 hours. Meanwhile, Cathy already knows everything.

They enter into a family melodrama of epic proportions. The pottery is run by the Marling brothers, one of whom has a wife who may have been having an affair with the dead man. The other is stuck on Mara, a beauty-pageant runner-up who dreams of marrying rich so that she can become an actress. She’s being pursued by one of the potters, who is so violently jealous that he might kill her, himself or anyone else at a moment’s notice.

The plot within itself is a good one – the idea of an unbreakable ceramic with worldwide implications, the little battles of intrigue going on in the pottery – and might have paid off. Unfortunately, far too much time is spent with the frankly dull secondary characters and not enough with Steed and Cathy. The success or failure of an Avengers episode usually depends on how much time the leads spend in the same space, and this one gives them very little to do together. There’s a good villain in the form of De Groot (Steve Plytas, an early-season doppelganger), but he appears late and does not do much until the end.

I mentioned the Turkish bath scene, though, which provides a few minutes of watching Steed strip off and rub himself down with a towel … which for me is worth the price of admission. There are also one or two scenes between Steed and Mara that have a bit of pop. Cathy is sadly underused, doing little aside from smoking a few cigarettes and glaring at Steed when he makes a pun.  Even this late in the game, the uses of her character seem to elude the writers, who sometimes give her plenty to do and other times push her off to the side in favor of other character development that won’t really matter in the long run.

But there is that Turkish bath…

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Warlock (Episode 2-18, January 1963).

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Warlock is a curious episode. Technically, it was supposed to be the introduction of Cathy Gale, but due to reshuffling in airtimes it wound up coming in the middle of the second series. Steed and Cathy’s first introduction was re-edited to make it appear as though they already knew each other. Nevertheless, I prefer to think of it in light of its original intent.

Warlock hints at some of the weirder aspects of The Avengers that will become more prevalent, particularly in the Emma Peel series. Steed goes to pick up some papers from a scientist, only to discover that the man has slipped into a coma and the papers are nowhere to be found. But it’s a bizarre sort of illness, and Steed quickly learns that it’s linked to an interest in the occult and black magic. This leads him, naturally, to the British Museum, where he meets Cathy Gale and learns a thing or two about the ‘realities’ of the occult. The episode cannily glosses over the supernatural elements with a psychological explanation: if you believe in black magic, you can be affected by it. Cathy joins Steed, finding herself in a black magic circle run by a warlock (Peter Arne), who hires out his services to shadowy figures and has apparently been involved in possessing the scientist.

The plot is flimsy enough, with a bit too much coincidence to make it all worth while. The episode unfortunately fails to follow through on some of the possibilities of a cult, including human sacrifice, bizarre incantations and Cathy’s potential possession by the warlock. Like one or two later episodes, it’s difficult to give credence to the pseudo-psychological explanations, and equally difficult to accept the apparent supernatural power of our neighborhood warlock. The finale, in which Steed has to rescue Cathy from the dastardly clutches of this terrible black magic circle, should have been exciting, but falls flat as well.

Still, Warlock can qualify as a middling episode. Steed and Cathy discover their rapport: Steed is impressed by her audacity in investigating things for herself; Cathy seems attracted to his profession and personal insouciance. There is a lovely little scene where a drunk Steed attempts to entice her up to his apartment to ‘discuss the case.’ Had this aired as the first Cathy episode, Warlock would have provided a lovely little blueprint for their future sparring sessions, as their tension and mutual dislike/attraction leaps off the screen. As it is, the episode falls flat in many ways, but paves the way for later and better incarnations.

“When I find a hunt worth joining, Steed, I like to be in at the kill,” she tells him. And she will be, for the foreseeable future.