"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!


Update, August 2015: Henry (Superman) Cavill and Armie Hammer look good in the official trailer and posters! The Guy Ritchie-helmed movie premieres on August 14th!

(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!)

Monday, January 18, 2010

"The Terbuf Affair" (ep. 1/14)

This, Alan Caillou's third MfU script and the 17th filmed, is very different from any other episode (with the exception of "Secret Sceptre").  Here, Solo is not "merely" doing his job, but has a personal stake, his affection for Clara Richards, in the events. This kind of motivation for the hero has always been common in novels, but was less common in series TV in those days.  By the `70s and `80s, it was used as the motive spring for any number of pilots -- the heroes so often got involved by helping out/avenging an old friend or girlfriend. It's a little startling to see on U.N.C.L.E.  (How neat it would have been if we'd had a "personal" story like this every year!)

More than that: the script, whether Caillou intended it or not, bears a resemblance to . . . "Casablanca"! Before you laugh, think about it.  It's true Solo is not like Bogart's cynical "I stick my neck out for nobody" Rick; and overdressed ninny Stefan Valdar is nothing like Paul Henreid's freedom fighter. And probably any eternal triangle story where one man makes a sacrifice for the happiness of his former love and her husband will resemble the Warners classic.

But the resemblance is especially visible with Illya.  So many of his lines here would have been perfect for Claude Rains's wry, worldly police chief Louis Renault.  "Ah, love, love . . . the danger it leads men into!"  "We will allow my friend the luxury of an occasional weakness."  "So be it; we all swim in the soup together."  And the famous exchange (see below) between Solo and Illya on the boat -- one can just hear Rains and Bogart saying the lines. . . .

Aside from that, this marks Illya's true debut as the character we've loved these many years.  He states his full name for the first time, I think, and we glimpse his range of abilities and knowledge, different from but complementary to Solo's, which will be crucial to their adventures from now on.

I don't think that Solo and Illya being on vacation together in Rome necessarily means a slash interpretation.  After all, they were already in Rome for the previous adventure, "King of Knaves."  Perhaps they both had some leave time coming, and decided to spend it together, as two friends will.

Yes, Illya seems suspicious of Clara and her request.  The interpretation does not have to be that Illya is jealous of Clara's relationship with Solo.  I've always read it as his natural "Slavic" fatalism, reinforced by his work.  In Solo and Illya's world, things can be very different from they way they seem, and Illya is, sensibly, wary.  His willingness to come along and watch Solo's back, even at the risk of censure from Waverly, is a precursor to Captain Kirk's willingness to get Spock to Vulcan despite orders to the contrary.

We're told that Terbuf is on the Adriatic coast.  A glance at a map suggests that in U.N.C.L.E.'s alternate universe, it could be at the junction of Albania and Greece, opposite the island of Corfu.

Amazing, isn't it, how many Eastern European or Iron Curtain countries on TV in the `60s used modified Wehrmacht uniforms?

The scene in the cellar of the café, when Solo and Illya kick back and share a bottle of wine, would have fitted right into an episode of "I Spy."

My only problem with the firing squad scene is when Clara says she's sorry (for getting Solo into this), and he makes a flip retort, "You're not half as sorry as I am."  How much better if he'd looked steadily at her, smiled, and said, "So am I."  That can be interpreted several ways, and would lend it a little darker tone, too.  Also, in the last scene before the tag, Solo should have told the captive Major Vicek, as he waves the soldiers' stolen trousers, "Major, looks like your army's *flanks* have been exposed."  Makes a better pun.

The script also contains an iconic Solo moment, staged neatly by Richard Donner, as he catfoots into Clara's bedroom.  We see him in the mirror, then as he pauses, scanning and listening for trouble, before he steals to Clara's bedside.

Verdict: Had it been a regular mission, "Terbuf" would have been a good political intrigue story.  It's raised to the level of "special" because of the back story between Solo and Clara, and this great bittersweet moment at the close:

Illya (as Solo attempts to rub his forehead, and sees that he and Clara are still handcuffed):  "We'll break the chain when we get to Italy."
Solo (studies Clara as she comforts her husband):  "There's no rush.  It's really not holding anything together."

Solo:  "Illya, believe me, this man does not cook food, he makes love to it."
Illya:  "Well, they should put people like that in asylums, not restaurants."

Illya (to Solo, about Clara):  "Don't think too much about what might have been.  Things are what they are.  She is married."

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