"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!)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

"The Shark Affair" (ep. 1/4)

I first saw this one during the spring/summer '65 reruns, and recalled the basic plot of it (though not who played Shark) for many many years.  Robert Culp's Capt. Shark is that rarity on MfU or many other shows of the period, a fully-realized antagonist rather than a villain, with a motivation other than power, money, or revenge.  I'm reminded of what the Romulan commander says to Kirk in that early "Star Trek" episode:  "In a different reality, I could have called you friend."  Solo and Shark could have been friends as well.

Have you noticed how many first-year shows have the villain/antagonist's name as the title -- "Shark," "Vulcan, "Love"?  Shades of Fleming's "Dr. No" and "Goldfinger."  Of the remaining years, I can only think of "Alexander the Greater," "Thor," and "Gurnius."

CBN, I believe, cut the first part of the raft scene in the '80s.  It explains pretty neatly how Solo and Illya got there.  Also a nice touch: Illya refers to a radio as a "wireless" -- a British term, and one I could imagine Illya having picked up.  Or did the Soviets call it that too?

This story also has the first indication of what a stout trencherman Illya is.  He seems quite boyish and excitable ("We are both at the same dead end together!"), and we see he is prone to seasickness.

Also, I think, CBN ditched the bulk of the scene where Shark shows Solo around his ship and explains some useful details, such as having supplies stored on various islands.  This makes it more plausible.  One of the reasons piracy became so difficult to make pay after the Age of Steam began is that ships needed to refuel with coal or oil, which meant the pirate vessels were much more dependent on ports for repair and supplies than sailing vessels had been; and the law could grab them at those ports.  If Shark was stockpiling supplies, he could probably operate out of the law's reach for quite a while.

Today, Solo and Illya would have been able to cross-reference the names of the people kidnapped from Shark's target ships with their relatives or loved ones, and come up with the answer faster.  In '64, however, before relational databases, it might well have taken some serious computer programming to come up with that answer, and that only after they'd realized their two cases were the same.

Ah, Sue Ane Langdon . . . another comedienne/actress who unfortunately never became a household name.  And it's neat to see James Doohan play a Scots ship's officer, two years before Star Trek.

The final scene aboard ship, with Shark's exec displaying his loyalty, and Solo exhorting Shark to abandon his "nightmare," is a fine one.  I've never liked Solo's flip ". . . buckle my shoe" while Shark applies the cat to his back, but it does serve to set up the "Three, four . . . shut the door" line here at the climax. 

Verdict:  Unquestionably one of the best episodes of the series.

Great Line:

Illya (to The Thug in the White Suit):  "You will have realized by now that this taxi is not in general service.  It belongs to U.N.C.L.E., and is used to transport people to our headquarters with whom we wish to have deep and soul-searching conversations.  Such as, for example, you."


Unknown said...

Just finished watching this one again and I really love this episode. Now this one, unlike the previous QUADRIPARTITE, sings!

Shark is indeed fully realized as an antagonist, though of course he is also quietly insane. The idea that anyone could survive a nuclear holocaust with only six months of uncontaminated supplies (the max the ship carried, and the supplies supposedly hidden on the island ports wouldn't be useable because of possible radiation exposure) is ludicrous. That the people who become part of Shark's little band never put this together is telling. They really are just running away from the problems of their daily lives (as the librarian's wife -- Elsa the name?) says. They had to have at least an inkling that there was no way they would survive an actual nuclear holocaust in that ship.

I do realize this was way before easy access to relational databases, but honestly I don't think it would have been that difficult to put together that the people missing from the ships were related in some way to the ones answering the ads and disappearing. After all, wouldn't the first thing you do in such case be check in with the family/friends/loved ones of the disappearing folk? Solo and Illya do with the librarian's wife, so why not with the others? And of course at that point realize they are missing too?

That's a problem in the story in my view, but I always let it go in context because I believe the script writer just needed a way for it to come as a revelation to Napoleon and Illya and what was done was the easiest way to do that.

I really don't have a problem with the "buckle my shoe" line Solo uses when Shark is using the whip on him. It was, in my opinion, typical sarcastic Napoleon, fitting in perfectly with the fact the two crewmen holding him had their shoes against his face. This was to me very similar to Napoleon's banter whenever Thrush captured or in any way tortured him.

I liked that in the tour of the ship scenes directly after the whipping, Vaughn never once lets us forget that Napoleon is in physical discomfort from that whipping.

You know I also have to comment that I loved Illya's accent in this episode since it was noticeably Russian-tinged. This is the accent McCallum should have kept during the entire run of the series, instead of letting Illya's accent become more and more his own (the actor's meaning) native British one as the show went on.

The final confrontation scene between Shark and Solo is just wonderful, showcasing perfectly Napoleon's idealistic optimism contrasted against Shark's fatalistic pessimism. A diamond sharp and bright contrast that is perfectly played. Though myself I thought the first officer's loyalty bordered on the little-left-of-sane side of fanaticism.

A well-written and thoughtful episode that brought to the fore in a non-conventional way the overriding fear that existed in the 1960s of "impending" nuclear war. It was in a way a means of bringing the Cold War into the scope of the series without overplaying that connection.

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