We all know that organised crime exists, but I have no idea if there’s anything like the “intercrime” featured in this episode of The Avengers. It seems unlikely, but it’s certainly an entertaining idea for an episode. It reminds me a bit of the Thieves Guild in the Terry Pratchett Discworld books, where crime is normalised and regulated. This isn’t regulation, as such, but it mimics a legitimate organisation to the extent of having rules that must be followed, an international hierarchy of leadership, and when the “chairman” visits they discuss figures and statistics as if they are having a business meeting. There is even a system for justice that is basically a kangaroo court.
That allows part of the episode to turn into a sort of courtroom drama, which is a bit bizarre as it is such an absurd imitation of justice, but certainly livens up an episode that otherwise drags quite a lot in its first two acts. Cathy (undercover as Hilda) takes on the role of a sort of council for the defence, while the evidence for treachery is presented, including the discovery of an “airline ticket for Rio de Janeiro”, and then the killer question to seal the traitor’s fate:
“Just one more question. Where does your brother live?”
Cathy provides us with the best of the entertainment this week, going undercover as an assassin named Hilda Stern, who is currently stuck in prison, to infiltrate the local arm of “Intercrime”. There is a coup going on, with local leader William Felder (a calm and menacing performance from Kenneth J. Warren) going after the leadership of the whole organisation. Cathy is of course as brilliant at infiltration as we would expect, completely convincing the others that she is a German assassin, and playing the role so well that the others even remark on her cold demeanour behind her back.
And then the real Hilda Stern turns up.
This really brings the episode to life. We have already seen Stern escape, so we know what’s going to happen. By the way, Bettine Milne as the prison office doesn’t have a lot to do in this episode, but her most important job was probably the moment she had to convincingly play a dead body, killed by Stern. Literally the very first thing she does when her head is uncovered is blink. Oh, for the luxury of a second take!
Anyway, Stern shows up and then it’s edge of the seat stuff. Cathy has done her homework well enough that the two of them can’t be separated based on knowledge, so it all comes down to a test of who will pull the trigger and kill a (relatively) innocent man. Now, we’ve seen a streak of ruthlessness from both Cathy and Steed before, but quite rightly they have to retain some kind of morality in order to keep the viewers on their side, so this is a line Cathy cannot cross. I loved the twists and turns that followed. I was just thinking “dude, you’ve just handed her a loaded gun – she’ll turn it on you”, when this happened:
“I’m afraid that gun isn’t loaded Mrs Gale.”
I’m starting to get a little jaded with the format of this show, which always has a big fight at the end, leaving me with the nagging question of why Steed and Cathy can’t just show up at the start, get captured immediately, and have a big fight then instead, dispensing with the need for everything else they do in the episode. But as fights go it’s a good one, with Cathy and Steed dealing with separate attackers. Interestingly, Cathy has more trouble with fighting Hilda Stern than she ever normally does with the male criminals, but Stern is just about the most ruthless, coldly effective killer of a criminal we have ever seen in The Avengers. The gender equality in this show extends to the good guys and the bad guys. I’m not sure if Britain was better in that respect than I had assumed in the 60s, or if The Avengers was years ahead of its time, but either way it’s a show that’s worthy of admiration and respect. Watching this at the same time as the original Star Trek, with its soft focus conquests for Kirk, the contrast is astonishing. RP
The view from across the pond:
Well thank goodness Cathy Gale is back! She adds such a level of excitement and adventure to the show I think it’s a different experience to what we saw last week. And just know that I wanted to like last week’s episode by the mere fact that it took place in my adopted home of Ireland. But this brings Cathy back and actually hints at something I’ve speculated about before: a criminal organization that might be behind many of the adventures Steed has gone on so far.
The story starts with a crime in progress which is interrupted by another criminal who shoots the two robbers, then leaves the bodies and the loot. Didn’t see that coming! Lo and behold, the shadow organization Intercrime is behind it. It’s a fraternity of criminals complete with a code of ethics and those who betray the code don’t do well! Cathy has to get information on the organization and infiltrates a prison. Once again, Gale is exceptional. She deftly overcomes her main opposition within the prison, the formidable Stern. I have to say, I was quite taken by Stern. She exuded this powerful confidence that was truly hard to ignore. Meanwhile, Steed infiltrates the actual organization (showing us that he is an excellent shot) and later, a prison to play the part of a lawyer. Cathy also gets her chance to play lawyer as well, helping determine the fate of one of the criminals. It’s all very exciting spy stuff!! She even puts on an accent that seemed remarkably natural.
Having said that, there’s one sequence that I didn’t buy and depressingly, it had to do with the great Cathy Gale. After the real Stern shows up, who Cathy has been impersonating, she is asked to kill the man she was defending earlier in the episode, to prove she is who she claims to be. The first flaw isn’t hers: the newcomer can no more prove who she is and Cathy has already proven herself, yet the bosses put the onus on Cathy. Sure, they are right, but realistically, it’s flawed writing! Then, and this is the part where Cathy gets it wrong, she fails to shoot the man. Here’s why I have an issue with that: Cathy is an expert in her field but she neither notices that the gun isn’t loaded, nor does she maintain cover to protect the mission. See, at that point, she needed to casually shoot the man in some area to do the least damage, maybe his arm. The point was, she needed to prove herself or risk the mission and potentially death. If they accused her of not trying to shoot him to kill, that simply comes down to the fact that she had already said he should be judged innocent of his crime and only shot him to prove her loyalty. Yes, it might not work, but it would have been worth the risk. Instead, she is nearly killed and the mission would have been over. So I was disappointed that Cathy was brought down a notch. I guess you can’t have a perfect record after all.
In the land of computers, we have SaaS (Software as a Service) along with any number of other “as a Service” options. What Intercrime offers is Crime as a Service (CaaS). There might just be something in that! While Steed and Gale win the day, I couldn’t help but wonder if my idea is still sound: there might still be other branches. At least it gives me something to ponder on the slower episodes. This wasn’t one of those. In fact, the final battle was shockingly harrowing. Stern gets… I don’t know… thought of by a bullet? It certainly didn’t hit her, but even when she loses her gun, she nearly beats Cathy, who was still in possession of her own weapon. Cathy can usually overpower her attackers with ease, so Stern taking her on, even after potentially being shot, really drove home how dangerous she was. We need good villains in shows like this and Stern really felt like a strong one. Even Steed’s battle nearly ends badly, which is so out of character it really made the menace feel real.
Across the board, this was a quality spy episode full of twists and turns that actually enhanced the overall episode. I am convinced that they probably all have been of this caliber, but without Cathy, it just doesn’t feel the same. The duo is what makes this series; the plots are just bonus material! ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Avengers: Immortal Clay
How organized crime has been fictionally portrayed in our entertainment, certainly for shows like The Avengers, may be easily open to clever creativity. If it makes the villains more interesting and consequently the heroes as well as they learn to deal with the villainy, then it may give us a feeling that people can be quick enough to adapt in facing new kinds of adversity. Seeing it made realistic enough for the span of one hour-long TV episode, as much as it works in Star Trek, Space 1999 and The X-Files, can challenge us to wonder if we could be that powerful in our own real lives. That’s a most traditional enjoyment in our TV and movies which may in certain ways still hold up today. In the nostalgic appreciation for the old good-vs-evil shows like The Avengers, the sense of something creatively new for its time has always been adventurously appealing for me. So it’s good to always learn more about such classics thanks to your reviews on the Junkyard.
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