The Gilded Cage (Episode 03-07, November 1963).
As The Avengers moved into its third season, the series hit a stride that produced some of its all-around best episodes. Still tied down by the necessities of live videotaping, the writers and directors tried to expand their repertoire to involve more locations and more complex plots. Among the best of Season 3 is The Gilded Cage, an episode that eerily foreshadows Honor Blackman’s later foray into the gold trade.
The Gilded Cage has Cathy posing as a gold bullion expert employed at a secret vault that stores millions of pounds worth of gold bars. She and Steed attempt to draw millionaire criminal J.P. Spagge (Patrick Magee) out of retirement using a brilliantly planned robbery (conceived by Cathy) as bait. Things do not go as planned, resulting in Cathy’s arrest for Spagge’s murder. All is not as it seems, however, and Cathy soon finds herself in the company of some nefarious (but charming) criminals, led by Abe Benham (Edric Connor), while Steed tries to figure out just what the hell is going on.
The Gilded Cage has two things going for it: excellent plotting with numerous but explicable twists and turns, and a very strong supporting cast. Edric Connor’s performance as Abe Benham is notable – he’s a charming crook, likable and good-humored, with an undercurrent of ruthlessness that perfectly matches Cathy’s. He’s also one of the only black actors to have a major role in an Avengers episode, happily giving the lie to Brian Clemens’s unfortunate pronouncement that there are no black people in that world. Abe and Cathy have a powerful, amusing chemistry together that makes one almost wonder if Cathy wouldn’t like to chuck in the whole “law and order” thing and have a go at being a criminal mastermind.
The plot of this episode demands a number of location changes and some pretty complicated blocking, most of which comes off without a hitch. The greatest failure in the episode is that lack of Steed and Cathy banter – they’re separated within the first fifteen minutes, and remain separated right until the end. But both get to have their fun: Cathy with Abe and the boys, and Steed as a rather inept crook nonetheless admired by Spagge’s butler Fleming (Norman Campbell). Listen carefully as Fleming delineates Steed’s wardrobe, where he got it, and how much he paid for it: it’s a beautiful litany of male sartorial appreciation.
The Gilded Cage is a high point of Season 3, right up there with The Wringer, The Nutshell, and Don’t Look Behind You. The Avengers would be cleaner in the future, but you can’t get much better than this.