"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!)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

"The Waverly Ring Affair" (ep. 2/19)

This, writer Jerry McNeely's first and most serious script for the series (he would later pen "Bat Cave" and "Off-Broadway"), is a classic I well remember from its first broadcast in 1966.  Like "Never-Never," it gives us a good look at the inner workings of U.N.C.L.E., this time with a true "closed" mystery:  Who is the Thrush mole?

Yes, Thrush has managed to establish an agent within the Command before:  Riley the bomb disposal tech back in "Mad, Mad Tea Party."  This case is different, as I doubt Riley was highly placed enough to have access to File 40 documents -- though I wish we'd had Solo or Illya refer to the earlier case.  I do wonder how Carla, even as (presumably) the head of Personnel, would have access to any ultra-secret documents.  (Is the head of HR in your company privy to top-level meetings and memos about, let's say, the development of a hush-hush new product?)  Maybe it's because Carla is with Security and Personnel?

No matter.  "Waverly Ring" gallops along, gives us a glimpse of how the Command must move to deal with a traitor (possible even among such a high-morale, dedicated workforce), and is truly a Solo story to balance last week's Illya tale.  Technically there's no Innocent:  Stage actor Larry Blyden's Clark Kent-like George Dennell is already a part of the organization, like Mandy in "Never-Never."  He's innocent only in that he's not an Enforcement agent.

What good is a ring that explodes when not removed correctly?  I think the implications here are that (a) Waverly utterly trusts the wearer, (b) the wearer's mission is of the highest priority, and (c) most important, the wearer is ready (as per the oath mentioned in "Brain-Killer") to sacrifice his life for Waverly and U.N.C.L.E.  Sort of like being a courier, having pledged your life and your sacred honor, and bearing your king's or queen's signet ring in the Middle Ages.

The script neatly plants the clue that George is not the mole -- when Waverly asks him to stay behind, obviously (not at the time, but when we think back) so that he can bestow a ring on him.  We needed a scene, though, in which Solo and Illya arrive to find Carla already closeted with Waverly.  At the climax, Carla could then turn that to her advantage, telling Solo that she also is that trusted by Waverly ("I was there when you arrived to talk about George, remember?  Waverly enlisted me and gave me the ring!"), thus ratcheting up the suspense.

Director John Brahm, or his editor, does muff two chances for very effective scenes.  In the teaser, when Solo says in a hollow voice, "Thrush has a man in U.N.C.L.E." and the camera pulls away, the scene snaps too abruptly into the opening credits.  At the climax, too, when Solo pulls his neat trick and Carla begins to scamper off, knowing George's ring is real, the zinger of Carla's "I'm caught!" is somehow lost.  A series of sharp cuts between tight close-ups of the actors would have worked much better.  (On the other hand, Illya's sudden appearance from behind the postcard rack in the camera store is superbly done; the rack does move, hinting someone's behind it, but Illya's presence comes as a total surprise.)

The production also suffers in a couple of places from no-money-in-the-budget disease.  I have trouble believing that U.N.C.L.E. would pay George the highly-placed engineer so little that he's forced to live in such a tiny cheap apartment.  As for the detraining scene -- setting it in a cramped hallway?  Come now.  Surely the Command would have a special chamber for such things.  After all, the hypnotic training scenes in "Neptune" and "King of Knaves" were set in a room clearly dedicated to that purpose.

It was also a mistake to use the same actor in both the camera store and cocktail lounge scenes.  The big pockmarked thug would recognize Solo; he'd just tangled with him.  So the moment he saw Solo hanging around George at the lounge, he -- or his superiors -- would suspect George's detraining and disaffection was a ploy.  Come to think of it, Carla would suspect too.  George would have had a very hard time convincing her that his defection was for real.

I also want to see who held down the big chair while both Waverly and Solo were out of HQ.  Was it Illya?  If so, when he left, who took over?  And why would Illya need to track Solo?  He was right there when George told Solo to come to the Hazard Company on Long Island.  But I love Illya the Resourceful.  Trapped by a metal door?  No problem; just grab the nearest acetylene torch.  (We saw him employ one effectively back in "Fiddlesticks.")

Verdict: Despite some easily corrected plot problems, the verve of the story, the fascinating detail about the Command, and the mystery all carry it to the pinnacle (so far) of Season Two.  This is a good one to show someone who's curious about the series.

Memorable Lines:
Illya: "How sensitive is [the backup system]?"
George: "It can detect a passionate grasshopper passing by."

George (getting into his role as the disgruntled ex-employee): "The great Solo! The Babe Ruth of U.N.C.L.E.-dom!"

George: "The X36 communicator covers a 175-degree arc of the Earth's surface without having to go through a relay station."
(-- Wow! "Overseas direct, London to Port Moresby, New Guinea. And scramble!")

Illya: "Too bad. I'll have to report [the security technician] for allowing me to bully him into not doing his job properly."
( -- Nice to know the Command takes its security procedures seriously!)


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Wastrel said...

Since this episode was about the Waverly Ring, I observed rings: a wedding ring on Illya's left hand and a larger ring on his right ring finger. McCallum was married to Jill Ireland at the time. I also observed a left-hand pinky ring on Solo with what seemed to be a little ruby.