"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!)

Monday, February 22, 2010

"The Pieces of Fate Affair" (ep. 3/23)

This, Harlan Ellison's second and last script for the series, is fun.  Though it's a little simplistic in some of its details, and its pacing is oddly slow and measured, the Ellison Wonderland touch is evident in the great lines.

Theo Marcuse's Ellipsis Zark (cf. Count Zark of "Bat Cave"; it would have been interesting had they been related) is not as colorful, despite his Reynolds Wrap hand, as his Season Two characters Valetti and Rollo.  Zark kills one of his henchmen, to show us how tough he is, and we find that he and Solo have encountered each other before; and that's all.

Nice detail, that April Dancer was an Enforcement agent in 1965.  "Moonglow," which appeared to be her first mission, aired in 1966.  If we take the view, as some fans do, that the events chronicled by the episode occurred earlier than the episode’s air date, then the previous year could be correct.

I loved having Mr. Waverly go undercover in the adventure, with his "Mission: Impossible"/DC Comics mask.  Unfortunately it comes as no surprise.  If they'd planted the character a little earlier, had another actor, not Carroll, dub the voice, and given some reason why Waverly was away from the office, we'd have had a thunderbolt for sure.

Despite the almost comic music, the sequence where a turtleneck-clad Illya and windbreaker-clad Solo take Jacqueline back from Thrush is well done, with a Season Two flavor.

Once again we are shown that Illya's English teachers were, well, English.  He pronounces "clerks" in the British fashion, as "clarks."

Besides Zark and his punctuational first name, we get the strangest character names ever, in a series not noted for bland monikers: Oedipus Buck the bookseller, for instance, and Judith Merle (a play on the name of SF author and critic Judith Merrill, a friend of Ellison's -- the source of the legal flap that kept this episode off the air until the 1980s).  "Jacqueline Midcult" is no doubt a play on best-selling author Jacqueline Susann of "Valley of the Dolls" fame.  "Joe White," the abrasive interviewer in the teaser, is probably based on Joe Pyne, who pioneered the confrontational style of talk show and frequently insulted his "guests."  Intriguing, too, that, in the episode, White's show is being broadcast live -- which would have been rare by 1967.

The names Charles and Jessie Coltrane sound horribly familiar, but I can't Google up anybody famous with those names, now or back then.  (Except John Coltrane the jazz artist.)  Leave it to Ellison to make you think he's working in a gag when he's really not.

Verdict:  Despite slow pacing -- in some scenes it appears the actors are trying to remember their lines -- and a lack of real suspense, it features satire, colorful settings, and deft exchanges like those between Solo and Illya in Act IV.  (Illya: "I wonder if I'm not in the wrong business.")  This would have been a good "change-of-pace" story if sandwiched between strong episodes with danger, say "Concrete Overcoat" and "Thor," or between "Project Deephole" and "Very Important Zombie."

Memorable lines:
Announcer (at the Joe White show): "Joe will have as his guests . . . an American Nazi; a man who claims to have spent last weekend in a flying saucer . . ."
Solo: "That's what I like about Joe.  He comes to grips with the burning issues of our times."

Zark (reminiscing): "When I was thirteen years old, I made my first genuinely original decision.  I killed a playmate because he wouldn't trade me two bubblegum cards to complete my collection. . . .  [T]here are two kinds of people in this world, Spinard . . . those with bubblegum cards, and those without."

Zark (to Judith Merle): "You usually work in bed?"
Judith (striking a languorous pose): "Only in the daytime."

Solo (in the "coal" cellar): "Well, we're not dead yet."
Illya (through his gag): "I'm overcome with awe at your grasp of the situation."

Solo: "If ten tons of coal comes down on us, it's likely to muss up my hair a little."
Illya: "It's unlikely."

Illya (as they sit in the Turkish bath): "Humor is the gadfly on the corpse of tragedy."
Solo: "Pushkin?"
Illya: "My grandmother."
(A truly great exchange, character and humor at once)

Illya: "With a mentality like that [of a seven-year-old], she could really write a best-seller!"

Solo: "It took you long enough to get here; what took you so long?"
Illya (grimly): "Someday I'm going to leave you on your own, just to see how you do."
Solo (equally grimly): "Well, into each life a little rain must fall --"


bj said...

For a detailed explanation of the Tuckerism issue that prevented this from being repeated for several years, see http://www.peterdavid.net/2014/04/28/guest-column-harlan-ellison-on-mcfarlane-vs-twist/

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