I have to admit the first two acts of this episode had quite a soporific effect on me. In fact, I’m not entirely sure I didn’t doze off for a bit. The story seems like a good one, with Steed trying to figure out who is the traitor in the midst of the organisation he works for, but not a lot happens to change that status quo for about half an hour, and it’s all very talky and slow. It doesn’t help that Steed is basically working alone most of the time. Dr. King’s part in the story is of little relevance until we get to the final act, so we are missing much in the way of the edgy interactions we are used to between Steed and his (often reluctant) colleague, whether than be King, Venus or Cathy. That’s made up for to a certain extent by his uneasy working relationship with One Twelve, who Steed clearly dislikes and distrusts in a way that was certainly not the case with One Ten. In fact, he asks to liaise with One Ten instead, but he’s out of luck. The boredom of the first couple of acts is also ameliorated by the location filming, which has been a rarity so far, and brightens things up a bit.
As we move towards the conclusion the episode finally picks up the pace and kicks into gear, and surprisingly left me with the feeling that I had watched a pretty decent episode in the end. There is a great moment where both our heroes seem to be in serious danger. Steed finds the operative who has been tailing him dead, and it appears that One Twelve might have been the “sell-out”. He was actually my best guess all along, as I was working on the assumption that the higher the rot goes the better the story you have. In the end he is the red herring, of course, but it does lead to a fascinating discussion about who can be trusted in an organisation of that nature.
“A question of who’s to guard the guards themselves… the problem was bound to arise in our line of business from time to time.”
King has to face the real villain, and before the confrontation there is a magnificent bit of dramatic irony, with Harvey waking up while King is rummaging through his papers. As soon as King gets on the phone to Harvey’s doctor, the pieces fall neatly into place. Harvey is a dying man, and there are “no retirement benefits” in his line of work. He is trying to secure his wife’s financial future. It is interesting that his motives are not selfish, and he is driven only by love for his wife.
“I’m only interested in one life.”
That motive really makes a lot of sense of the story, and also makes it an episode without a moustache-twirler of a villain, although we can’t feel entirely sympathetic towards a man who is willing to murder for what he wants, even if his ultimate goal is relatively noble. But Harvey’s sad motive, wrapped up in love and his imminent death, makes it hard to watch the cold-hearted nature of his defeat. He is shot dead by Steed and his body is left in his driveway, presumably for his wife to find (and bear in mind she seems to be entirely unaware of the true nature of how exactly Harvey has been living his life). You can’t blame Steed, because he has to get to the airport urgently, to save Roland, but it’s a cruel ending for the Harveys, and it brings home the unpleasant side of Steed’s job. At least there is a running joke that raises a smile at the end, with Roland’s arrogant denial of the danger he has been facing.
“I told you there was nothing to worry about. Au revoir!”
But this is far from being a cheerful episode, and leaves us with that nagging question: “who’s to guard the guards?” Who can you trust? Who is the “sell-out” in your organisation? RP
The view from across the pond…
I think The Avengers has an immense amount of potential as a spy series, but I have only seen glimpses of its greatness so far. Gale and Steed are great, but the episodes leave something to be desired. This is largely due to the unfortunate quality of the filming. I know it’s a side effect of the time it was made and I don’t fault it; there’s still merit in the stories, but take 112 for example, played by Arthur Hewlett. I was calling him Major Mike Mumbles because I’d say a good 75% of what he said I could barely make out. This is one of those situations where having surround sound might be a bad thing because it sometimes gives too much feedback. But I also watched the man move his mouth as he spoke, trying to determine if the problem was strictly a technical one and I notice he’s one of those Top Secret men: they move their mouths as little as possible as if it somehow makes them cooler. “Oh, look, no one can lip read what I’m saying. Ventriloquist lessons at 10pm!”
The thing is, I liked Major Mumbles. It took me a few minutes to realize how I recognized him; I kept thinking about botany when I saw him and struggled to recall why. Eventually plant creatures, gyms and the Hyperion popped into my head and I knew I’d seen him in Doctor Who. He’s a kindly old man who looks exactly the same 20 years later! I also loved the way they built the suspense around him: he seems to be one of Steed’s superiors, but was he also a villain? That element of the episode was years ahead of anything I expected in an early 60’s spy show.
Another thing I loved about this episode, and indeed the series, is that there’s a sense of a bigger community. The Sell Out has Steed looking into a member of his own organization that may be corrupt. Making him a decoy carried a sense of danger that I was surprised to find myself actually worried over. (A testament to good writing, indeed!) We’re lead to wonder who that individual is, which might be Steed’s very superior, 112. But the larger community is becoming commonplace. We’d seen it with The Happy Singer, Venus Smith, and now we see it with Dr. King. There’s a sense of a bigger world. I remember doing miles of research on The Prisoner when I’d become a fan and there are theories that #6 was John Drake, from Secret Agent/Danger Man. One of the points they use to support this is a chap named Potter, a friend who shows up in The Girl Who was Death, who is played by the same actor and maintains the same name. Whether or not you buy that in the land of #6, The Avengers has started creating a community. I feel like we can get to know the world Steed inhabits through the people. Perhaps I’ll see Major Mike Mumbles again. I’d like to hear more of what he has to say next time, but more importantly I’d be happy to see the expanding universe of Steed and Gale. (Or King, in this case!)
Not to mention, and perhaps in slightly more mundane areas, I was surprised and impressed to see a dead man bleeding from the mouth at the start of the episode. Oh, I don’t need blood to enjoy a show, but I was just taken aback that it was shown on screen considering what I know of Doctor Who! I was also really impressed by a most believable tackle performed by King on a rogue agent. I had to rewind because I’d chosen that very moment to sneeze and missed it, it happened so fast! It was actually laughably strong! Good job Dr. King.
Sadly there are other areas that fail, again, due to the limitations of the time. Steed seems to be investigating something when for no reason I could tell, he collapses. 112 walks into a room behind him and things are looking bleak but perhaps it looked even more ominous than I’d realized if I could see what happened. What dropped him? Here again, I rewound, but after 3 attempts, I was left to assume that Steed just had an aneurysm. As for the story, I really struggle when I see the good guys do bad things, like watching Steed drug Mark. He may have a justifiable reason, but since when do the ends justify the means? (Actually, when Mark comes to and sees King rummaging through his stuff, there was something terribly unnerving about it. I think it was the look on Mark’s face!)
I did like this episode because of the way it was crafted and some of the little surprises along the way. I liked that Steed works for a Prisoner-like organization where his superior is named 112. Been to the Village, Mr. Steed? (There’s even a sign at the end of the story that prominently displays “fire point #6”. Make of that what you will.) I even like that this episode makes us question the age old question of “who watches the watchers”. But I have definitely been coming to understand why Amazon US only has everything post season 3: the quality must suddenly improve with color television. I’m never going to turn down the opportunity to watch black and white television, but I can long for the time when we get into better filming techniques! Alas, I have a way to go. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Avengers: Death on the Rocks