The Outside-In Man (Episode 3-22, February 1964).
I am a staunch defender of John Steed, especially in these early seasons where he’s typically dismissed as manipulative or callous. In general, he’s neither manipulative nor callous, usually acting on what he believes are his best instincts, and keeping his partner (and others) out of immediate danger. Then there’s The Outside-In Man.
The Outside-In Man begins with Steed put in charge of security measures to protect visiting diplomat General Sharp (Philip Anthony), a former British soldier who defected to the enemy country of Abarain and proceeded to become a target for assassination. Now he’s back to do an arms deal with Britain and Steed, despite having been part of a team who fought Sharp’s forces back in the late 50s, has to protect him. Complications arise in the form of Mark Charters (James Maxwell), a recently released prisoner of war originally tasked with assassinating Sharp. He’s captured, tortured by Sharp’s men for years and then suddenly, inexplicably released back to Britain. Steed and his superior officer Quilpie (Ronald Radd) fear that Charters is going to try to complete the mission he failed at and finish off Sharp.
There are so many problems with The Outside-In Man that it’s difficult to decide where to begin. While the initial premise is intriguing, the plot soon gets lost in convolutions that include Steed going dark and refusing to speak with Cathy, Cathy tracking Charters across the English countryside, and the machinations of Sharp’s embassy. The whole thing culminates in a confusing, final act reveal that makes no sense with what has come before, and forces one to wonder if the entire British government are a pack of imbeciles.
Plot issues aside, The Outside-In Man loses points with me for the character of Mark Charters, a sneering, unsympathetic figure who spends most of his time making obscene passes at Quilpie’s secretary. Worse things come when Cathy appears to try and talk him out of assassinating Sharp – not because she cares about Sharp’s life, but because she doesn’t want to see Charters back in prison. Charters proceeds to first make fun of her and then threaten her, finally forcing her out of the room at gunpoint. Why Cathy cares what happens to this man is beyond me. Meanwhile, Steed is giving his own performance of manipulation and meanness, ignoring Cathy’s questions and trying to order her about while keeping her entirely in the dark. It’s one of the few times that I wonder why Cathy continued to stick it out with Steed.
There are points of interest in this mess, however. The scenes in Quilpie’s headquarters at a butcher’s are humorous, especially when Cathy is brought in. Her disdain for the secret organization that she nonetheless works for becomes evident, and I quite sympathize with her this time. But those moments are few and far between, and there are very few scenes with the typical Steed and Cathy banter that make this season otherwise so enjoyable.
The Outside-In Man does manage to evoke strong emotions – the only character I find halfway sympathetic is Cathy herself. Frankly, given the ending of this episode, I hope she locked Steed out of her apartment for a few days.