Brief For Murder (Episode 03-01, September 1963)
Season 3 of The Avengers got off to what can only be described as a unique start. Brief For Murder opens with the public trial of Wescott (Alec Ross), a man charged with selling government secrets to an unidentified recipient known only as Johnno. Wescott gets off due to the brilliant machinations of his solicitor Barbara Kingston (Helen Lindsay) and the Lakin Brothers, Jasper and Miles (John Laurie and Harold Scott). Cathy Gale is on hand for the verdict, and makes it publicly known that she still believes that Wescott is guilty, and that none other than her erstwhile friend John Steed is the mysterious Johnno. Furious at her insinuations, Steed threatens Cathy and then lawyers up with the Lakin Brothers. The brothers, it turns out, have been making a mint by engineering criminal cases to get their client off scot-free. When Steed appears and asks them to help engineer a case so he can murder Cathy, they’re only too happy to oblige.
Brief For Murder side-steps a problem that some later episodes of The Avengers would have: letting the viewer know more than the characters. Instead, a good half of the episode has Steed and Cathy at murderous odds, the purpose behind their apparent hatred of each other kept unclear. The result is one of the more intelligent episodes in Season 3, beginning a character arc of mutual distrust between Steed and Cathy that would have some sort of conclusion in The Nutshell. Although we’re fairly confident that Steed is not actually trying to murder Cathy, just what he’s up to – and how much she knows – remains ambiguous until the third act.
A competent cast reinforces an original and intelligent plot. Aside from the usual pleasure of watching Patrick Macnee and Honor Blackman verbally fence, there the added enjoyment of the bizarre and gleeful Lakin Brothers, played by John Laurie and Harold Scott. Laurie is one of the best recurring character actors to appear in The Avengers – he already popped up once in Death of a Great Dane, and would return for the Emma Peel episode A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Station. The Lakin brothers are so excited to be able to work out legal arcana in service of their nefarious clients that they can almost be forgiven the whole criminal thing. As Steed quips nearing the end, “I’m going to miss them.”
While Brief For Murder never rises to the heights of humor or eloquence that some Season 3 episodes achieve, it’s nevertheless one of the better ones.