This seems to be a really popular episode, and once again I find myself out of step with popular opinion. That happens so often that sometimes I wonder if my television is showing me the same thing as everyone else, but my guess is that a lot of reviewers fall into the trap of reading the opinions of other reviewers before they watch things, which is never a good idea. You end up with a herd mentality at best, and at worst you get episodes that are fashionable to like or dislike among fans, and then every article you read just says the same damn thing. I prefer not to spoiler myself and to make my own mind up instead, so here’s my honest impression of this episode: it’s a boring mess.
For a start, The Avengers is great at coming up with interesting locations for stories, but this is simply globe-trotting on a budget, something that is all-too familiar for fans of the spy genre and is best left to the film industry. The story is a confusing mishmash, and is interminably slow-paced. The praise for the episode that baffles me the most is the acting, for an episode that is packed with OTT performances, and dodgy attempts at vaguely foreign sounding accents. The exceptions are Eric Pohlman as Archipelago Mason (seriously, the writer thought that was a good name for the character? If we’re choosing geographical terms as names, I’d have gone with Peninsula Peters, or maybe Sedimentary Rock Hudson) and Frank Gatliff as Dr. Pitt-Norton, both of whom are larger-than-life characters in the right way.
The episode entertained me the most when it was being unintentionally funny, such as the password question to recognise agents:
“What have I got in my pocket?”
… but there is one good thing about this episode, and it’s a really good thing: Venus Smith, in her final performance (sob). OK, her song performances are wearing a bit thin now, with yet another fourth wall break, and those are just getting cheesy. This week she was singing about how she doesn’t like kippers and, I kid you not, her song included the following line:
“Though you swear to be true ’till your beaver turns blue.”
For once, the blue-beavered Venus is really annoyed when Steed turns up. This is actually some much-needed character development, because Steed is forever showing up to mess up her life, and it brings a frisson of tension into their relationship at the last minute. It reminds me a bit of Doctor Who, where the Doctor eventually gets blamed for bringing the monsters into people’s lives, and people start mistaking the remedy for the malaise, accusing him of bringing death wherever he goes. There is a similar misunderstanding in Venus’s reaction to Steed. If he shows up that means there are dangerous criminals around, so she should be pleased to see the person who is going to fix the problem, but from her point of view he is repeatedly a disruptive element in her professional and private life. The truth of the matter is of course that Steed has much more of a right to be frustrated with Venus. After all, he is there for a reason, to right a wrong, but she is just in the wrong place at the wrong time… again. This does illustrate why Venus is unsustainable as a character, without making her a fully-fledged colleague of Steed (which of course would have been a simple thing to do if they wanted to retain her as a regular). Too many times she has just happened to be at the centre of criminal activity, and that level of coincidence is starting to cost The Avengers its credibility. Venus has been a really fun character, but it’s the right time to say goodbye. For the foreseeable future, the series now belongs to Cathy and Steed. RP
The view from across the pond:
There are a number of things that have bothered me about The Avengers. I’ve disliked the quality of the sound (although this could be a personal issue) and I find the fight scenes a mess and the gun fights a joke. I also think some of the plots are just ridiculous. But there are some things I really like about this series and this episode captures a lot of those and it doesn’t even have the great Cathy Gale in it. That alone should speak volumes: an episode with the Happy Singer, Venus Smith, and I’m praising it? A Chorus of Frogs was music to my ears!
To be clear, Venus has grown on me. I could do without her singing, especially when she uses it to smash through the fourth wall, but I’ve really enjoyed her exuberance as a character. I like the playful no-nonsense relationship she has with Steed too. But typically we need Cathy Gale to make these stories great, and Steed just never quite cuts it. Sure, the plot is a bit silly – it’s another one of those where I have to ask, “why is British Intelligence interested in this case?” A diver, one of a group called Frogs, has been found dead, having suffered a nitrogen embolism or “the bends”. I don’t know, but that seems like a criminal case, not an international spy case. Still, Steed goes to investigate and finds there’s a lab on a yacht that is experimenting with gas mixtures to allow divers to survive underwater longer and make submarines safer. Now that might warrant international investigating but from the start, that wasn’t known. Still, from there out, there’s a ton to appreciate and it’s all in the characters.
First off, Mason (played by Eric Pohlmann), the man financing experiments is not a “cold blooded scientist” but rather a pragmatic businessman with an outstanding voice. Even when his associate Anna takes over the experiment, he remains cool, calm and collected throughout even considering how to make money off the situation. Speaking of Anna, having recently completed another viewing of classic Star Trek, this series really drives home just how sexist Trek was. When you compare the women in this show to Star Trek… well, frankly, there is no comparison. Anna is brilliant and a dangerous villain, killing a man in cold blood when she realizes he was planning on spying on their activities. And Helena, one of the “frogs” is equally a force to be reckoned with, far more than her 3 male counterparts. Even Venus remains very calm at gunpoint; this is no damsel in distress. (Yes, when the gunshots start, she dives under a table, but she’s no spy. That’s just smart self-preservation!) Furthermore, Helena offers us some brilliant moments as well, with her overactive desire to wield a gun, but that’s where Steed actually comes in as a confident hero. In fact, there are a few solid wins for Steed. First, when he first makes the acquaintance of Mason, Venus tries to cover for him, but Steed doesn’t play games: he admits to being a stowaway and apologizes, winning Mason’s respect. There is an instant likable chemistry between Mason and Steed. When Helena pulls a gun on him, he’s smooth as silk, “Put that away, young lady. There’s no time for that!” He even manages to get the gun away from Helena and Ariston at one point, removes the bullets, then gives it back, getting a hearty laugh from Ariston, who sees Steed as a potential ally.
“He keeps fish? And they’re delicate?!” There are a few comical moments in this episode, like when Steed has to hide in Smith’s room, he tells her he will be out all night. She replies, “too right you will!” And I love the Frogs, with their Three Stooges routine, and this great line, “If you get in our way, we shall probably kill you!” Probably, eh? You guys really know how to sell a threat! Plus there’s a lot of fun with Venus using all the wrong terms for the ship, like bed instead of bunk, room instead of cabin, etc. There’s a story here and they managed to have some fun while making it. That’s excellent work.
Across the board, this was one of the most enjoyable episodes I’ve seen in a long time. I had honestly teetered on the edge of quitting with Season Two because the previous episode was just so weak, but this delightful experience has made me want to dive into another one. With only two left to this season, I’ve now got the momentum I need to see it through. I hope the writing, especially for Steed, remains as strong as it was in this one. Meanwhile, I understand this was the last episode to feature Venus Smith, and while it will be good to get Cathy Gale in more consistently, I will miss my Happy Singer. She certainly managed a great episode for her swan song. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Avengers: Six Hands Across a Table