"No man is free who works for a living . . . but I am available." (-- Illya Kuryakin, "The Bow-Wow Affair")

These reviews/commentaries on the show's 105 episodes originally appeared in slightly different form on the Yahoo! Groups website Channel_D, from 2008 to 2010. If you're new to MfU fandom, these may give you some idea of the flavor of the series, which is still famous and beloved more than 50 (!) years after its premiere in 1964. Enjoy!

News: Decades Channel is running a "Weekend Binge" of MfU episodes on July 2, 2017. Check the schedule here.

(Except where otherwise noted, images are used with permission of the exhaustive site Lisa's Video Frame Capture Library. Thanks to Lisa for all her work!)

Friday, January 15, 2010

"The Double Affair" (ep. 1/8)

This one's hard to review, since as we all know the film version of  it, "The Spy With My Face," stands in relation to "Double" as a novel does to the novelette it's based on.  Like "To Trap a Spy," the film version of "Vulcan," TSWMF  brings a great deal more to the table: the raid on the Thrush mansion, for example, and the execution of Australian agent Kittredge, showing how ruthless Solo's Double can be.

That said, this episode sports a bravura performance by Robert Vaughn.  Even if the script didn't show us, we'd always know when The Double  is on screen, since in each scene, Vaughn manages neatly to suggest how different The Double is from Solo.  The best example is The Double's entry into New York HQ.  He doesn't even eye the female staffers, including one he almost runs into!  Very un-Solo-like.  Later, on the  plane to Europe with Sandy, when she spills the coffee on him, he gives her an exasperated look that clearly says, "Women! Can't live with 'em, can't tie 'em to the roof --!"  And his glares at her during the climax of the story ("I said, Get out of that car!") are scary.

Did Thrush find somebody with the right skills and training, and slide him under the surgeon's knife?  ("Extreme Makeover: U.N.C.L.E./Thrush Edition"!)  Or did they just grab a rank-and-filer who slightly resembled Solo, rework his face, hair, and voice, and throw him into the field for the August Affair?  ("Congratulations, Mr. Nudelman!  Here's your chance to serve Thrush!")  I kind of wish they'd had Smooth Continental Thrush Guy flick through his dossier.

To me there are two big problems with Clyde Ware's script.  First, Illya not only doesn't tumble to the deception (though I recall he does in the film version), he doesn't even suspect -- though he shoots puzzled glances at The Double on occasion, especially on the plane to Washington.  ("I wonder what's wrong with Napoleon?  Normally he has the number of the most attractive stewardess before we even take off.")  You could surmise that this is early in their partnership, that he is still learning about Solo and vice versa.  But then why does Smooth Continental Thrush Guy say that Illya knows Solo "too well, and therefore represents a danger"?

The other problem for me is that, on the plane to Europe with Sandy the Spaghetti-Tipping Stewardess, The Double does not appear to recognize her.  Yet he must have seen her at the restaurant, when he was there in his Burn Guy disguise!  Perhaps, under the pressure of the mission and the thousand details he had to have at his fingertips, he'd forgotten her . . . which bolsters the theory that The Double was not a super-agent, but was tapped for the mission mostly because the Ultimate Computer matched his physical characteristics with Solo's.

Speaking of the restaurant, I tried to zoom in on the bill, but all I can see is a "9" next to the spaghetti.  Nine simoleons for two plates of pasta in '64?  Ack.  That'd have the same purchasing power as $60 today.  What'd the chef do, grow the wheat and bring the pasta over from Italy personally?

When her fellow stewardess suggests that Solo might be married, Sandy doesn't turn a hair.  Instead of "Married!!??!! Oh, that RAT!", which you'd expect, she shrugs it off with "He'd have told me if he was married."  I can see Sandy circa 1967, settling back in her posh Manhattan apartment, the mistress of a middle-aged executive with a wife and three kids in Scarsdale.

Project EarthSave is a neat science-fictiony idea; I wish they'd mentioned it later in regards to the UFO scare in "Take Me to Your Leader."  Also in this act, Illya is the only one of the four agents who doesn't run his ID through the scanner, and yet he's allowed down to the vault with the rest.

It's been forgotten, thanks to Ralph Nader's bombast, but Chevy positioned several Corvair models, especially the convertible like Serena's, as an "affordable" sporty car.  Perhaps Serena's budget from Thrush didn't extend, like Angelique's, to a Corvette.

Serena seems rather sane and sensible -- for an agent of a supra-nation devoted to ruling the world, that is. Clearly she and Solo have met before this.  I've always thought it peculiar that she seems to refer to Thrush as "him" ("I won't tell him"?) during the last scene.  Maybe it’s her accent?

Verdict: Flawed, but still an exciting story, with Solo's escape, hell-for-leather motorbike ride, and climactic battle. 

Great Exchange:
Serena: "T'rush?  What's that?"
Solo: "Oh, now, you remember, sweet, that international band of renegades that want to rule the world.  Thrush -- you know, where you pick up your paycheck every week."
Serena (with a merry smile): "Oh, we work strictly on commission."


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