"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, February 4, 2010

"The Nowhere Affair" (ep. 2/24)

Once upon a time on the Channel_D Yahoo! Group, we compiled a list of "essential" MfU: those episodes which are original, well-written, or important to the MfU universe.  Dr. Cindy Walker suggested adding this one, and I agree.  It provides an original twist to the ancient wheeze of amnesia, some clever lines -- and a window of understanding into the character of Napoleon Solo.

Scripter Robert Hill opens with the elegant figure of Solo, in a modern Chrysler ragtop, picking his way across the Nevada desert  in a sandstorm.  Next we get J. Pat O'Malley (who in the `60s was the Go-To Guy when you needed an Old Coot) as "The Old Prospector," the episode's Innocent, looking like Walter Huston in "Treasure of the Sierra Madre."  He must really be attached to Sophie the mule.  Nowadays prospectors would drive a Jeep or a truck.  But it helps set up the surreal contrasts here.  On the one hand, the tumbleweed-swept ghost town and the black-clad Thrush cowboys; on the other, the ultra-modern Thrush computer installation.  The name of the town, the odd angles on Solo in the teaser, and the stage-like computer room later all create a flavor of disorientation.  This foreshadows and echoes the disconnection of Solo from the world of U.N.C.L.E.

I do wonder, though, how the Thrush cowboy knows who Solo is.  And there seems to be one too many watches -- the one Illya finds behind the saloon painting (?), and the one Solo finds with the map in it.

About David Sheiner's Parviz in "Alexander the Greater," I wrote, "You get the impression that he is tightly wrapped . . . and if things get beyond him, like a deep-sea fish brought to the surface, he'll explode."  Here, as impatient Thrush project leader Longolius, he does great work showing us that explosion of rage as Mara fails him and Solo breaks loose to smash his plans.

Lou Jacobi's Tertunian is clearly unenthused about helping Thrush, excited by the capabilities of his computers, and amused by Longolius's growing exasperation.  (Though why would he have developed a truth serum, as Longolius says?  He's a cyberneticist!)

Okay, let's tackle the central problem here.  Though Diana Hyland's Mara is charming and good-looking enough, the script never gives us much reason why she would be the perfect match for Solo.  A woman who could get "distracted by differential calculus" seems an odd match for a "swinger" like Solo (and hasn't that term changed meaning in forty years!).  Take into account, though, that 48  minutes isn't enough time to tell this sort of story and have an action-adventure plot.  We've been spoiled by multi-episode story arcs in modern shows, in which the characters' background is shown in flashbacks, and we can see their relationships grow.  What we see here is a kind of shorthand, a short story rather than a novelette or novel.

Robert Vaughn's performance is terrific: comic when Solo first wakes, almost shy and frightened when he comes to Mara's room, and at the climax, snarling in anger.  We've seen Solo irritated, urgent under pressure, and pretending to be a "homicidal maniac" to get a Thrush to talk . . . but never this kind of fury.  That it's clearly fueled by Mara's betrayal provides us a clue to his personality.  And that shot of Solo as he ranges through the computer room, gun in hand, the tiger loose and intent on ravaging the Thrush base, is iconic.

For his part, Illya has several character-defining moments: his ignoring the Old Prospector as he searches the mule's saddlebags; his polite "Excuse me, Madam" to the painting of the lady in the saloon; and his gleeful laugh as the dynamite brings down the Thrush setup.

You'd think Waverly would have sent both Solo and Illya on such a big job, to retrieve the map and get Tertunian out.  I think it just emphasizes the reason for the show's title.  You might need an entire squad of FBI or CIA agents for a job like this, but you only need one man from U.N.C.L.E.  As a former boss of mine, a one-time Army sergeant, used to say, "One riot, one Ranger --"

Verdict: Though it lacks background on Solo and Mara to make us believe they would fall in love (and for that matter on the Old Prospector, to let us see why he has chosen such a life), this one is, considering the constraints of the times, an U.N.C.L.E. classic.

Memorable lines:
Illya: "Oh! That's the new capsule the research boys were bragging about in the cafeteria!"
Waverly (sternly): "Were they!  It was supposed to be top-secret."
(The chastened look on Illya's face: priceless)

Solo (on being told his name, after taking Capsule B): "There hasn't been anybody named Napoleon since the Battle of Waterloo!"

Mara (examining Solo's fascinatingly thick dossier): "He's classified here as a `swinger.'  What's that?"
Longolius: "A manic-depressive who is never depressed."

Tertunian: "I thought all Thrush girls went through some course of, uh, an elementary man-woman relationship.  What's it called?"
Mara: "I had measles that semester.  I meant to make it up, but somehow I got distracted by differential calculus."

Illya (to Waverly, about the source of the radioactivity in the saloon): "It appears to be coming from a lady's abdomen, sir."


Unknown said...

There aren't too many watches. The one Illya finds is the same one Napoleon left under the skull and which the old prospector found. The prospector removed the map from the watch and only kept that and then apparently left the watch itself, sans map, where Illya found it.

You know though after watching this episode again recently (because I writing an aftermatch story based on it), I tend to doubt that Solo was actually in love with Mara. He was attracted to her and fond of her and he trusted her (which is why the revealed betrayal hurt so much). But actually love her? No, it really didn't seem so.

She was in love with him no question, and that was really the reason she took Capsule B, to be more within the realm of someone he could love. But I think Napoleon's feelings were not that far advanced. With more time with her, they could have become so, but where the story ended, no, they weren't.

Though despite my misgivings there, in my aftermath story I am going to go with the usual idea of the love between them being real and quite mutual. [chuckle]

ARH said...

I have to disagree with the opinion that this is an "essential" episode. The character moments are nice, and the acting good, but having THRUSH agents running around in cowboy attire - complete with lassos! - is too jarring visually. That one aspect is so pervasive that the episode as a whole just doesn't work for me.

joey said...

Definitely some quirks in this episode and it ranks as one of the more salacious tales (reminded me of Harlan Ellison's story A Boy And His Dog) but I did find new details about Thrush interesting, for instance, the fact that the computer went through the files of 2,000 female agents...on the West Coast alone! How big was this evil organization anyway?