Last week we had to bid a fond farewell to Venus Smith, and with her departure The Avengers escaped from a rut it had fallen into: the need to involve one of the main characters through coincidence. Venus never worked for Steed as such, so she tended to be in the wrong place at the wrong time just by chance. That was obviously only going to be sustainable for so long, before things started to seem a bit silly. Having cast off the Problem of Venus, it seems odd that the next thing to happen would be to replicate that very problem with Cathy. She just happens to have a childhood connection with the family of the villain in this episode and, perhaps stirred by memories of a childhood crush (who knows?) she falls in love with him. As a one-off experiment for an episode this is absolutely fine, but the timing is unfortunate.
The Cathy-in-love storyline skews the Cathy/Steed relationship quite a bit. Gone is the repartee, tinged with attraction, and instead Steed is the one to provide an unwelcome wakeup call to Cathy. For once, there is an edge of meanness to their interactions (“go out and come through the front door like a civilised human being”; “you’ve got a voice like a saw.”) but the usual status quo is restored beautifully at the end. For the first time ever we see Cathy troubled by deep-seated emotions, with her love interest taken away by the police, and Steed clearly sees what’s going on and deals with it by making her laugh. He knows his Cathy.
The plot this week is really, really engrossing. It takes Steed ten minutes before he even turns up in the episode, but I was so absorbed in the story that I had forgotten he was even supposed to be in this show. There are definitely holes in the logic of the villains. For example, surely they would realise that bumping off old man Collier would simply result in his son continuing the same course of action? But it kind of works anyway, and here’s why: this episode shows us how one bad deed leads to another, and then things can spiral out of control.
It’s all just about money and power to start with, perhaps with an unhealthy obsession with patriotism. Oliver, George and Sir Charles want to keep shipbuilding in this country, and to do that they need to control the industry and form a large enough cartel to keep Johnny Foreigner out of the game. So their plans start long before we join the action, with the frankly very clever idea of manipulating strikes within other companies so the share prices drop, and they can buy up the competition. Over time, their companies have got bigger and bigger. Standing in their way is Collier, who has a very different philosophy to them when it comes to Europe. So we are into very familiar territory there, and a topic that has found its way into drama productions for decades, either directly or allegorically: our relationship with Europe. And once Waldner and his cartel have gone far enough down the path of bad deeds, they can’t stop, and somebody resorts to murder. That’s the interesting thing about this episode. It refrains from showing us moustache-twirlers. In fact, the most ruthless person here is not actually one of the villains: the magnificent Philip Madoc as the cold and calculating Julian Seabrook. Madoc sure knew how to do menacing looks. But the members of the cartel are two-thirds out of their depth, swept along by the tide of wrongdoing, and one-third… well, a man who at least has enough of a good side for Cathy to fall in love with him.
So these all come across as real people, very convincingly. The writing is even mature enough for Sir Charles to recognise and acknowledge his own character flaws:
“I’m weak you see and superficial, that’s my trouble, and greedy most of all.”
The man who sees his own weaknesses is the one who recognises they have gone too far, and is ready to call a halt to their schemes. If there’s one important message this episode has, it’s this: sometimes life ends up sweeping you along in the wrong direction. That’s when you have to take a step back and take a long, hard look at the direction of travel. RP
The view from across the pond:
Roger reminds me that I repeat myself a lot. Whether comparing Buffy to Babylon 5, lamenting the absence of logic in Doctor Who, or whining about the audio of The Avengers, I guess I have been known for the occasional repeat comment. But I don’t feel so bad, because The Avengers seems to also repeat itself. There are a few plots that just get reused: we know the writers must have hated big corporations, for instance, as this episode feels like a “been there, done that” scenario. Ok, got it: corporation A uses some tricky spy tactics to get one over on corporation B… One uses subterfuge and potentially murder to take out a key shareholder, thus claiming dividends… whatever. I was disappointed by the plot following so closely on an episode I really enjoyed. So the episode has to be held together by the characters. Luckily, we’re not let down…
#6: What’s it all about?
#2: Sit down and I’ll tell you!
-The Prisoner, Arrival
Hands down… in fact, probably 6 of them… the strength of this episode lies in the cast and who better to rise to the top than Cathy Gale. What sells this episode is that she actually seems to fall in love with the chief baddie, Oliver Waldner, played by the first #2 in the Village, Guy Doleman. I have to say, he does have a certain appeal. Barring Leo McKern as #2, he was always among my favorites and I think it’s his calm, soothing demeanor. Add to mix a bit of Dr. Solon, Philip Madoc, and we’ve got a cast that is strong enough to make this work well. Then add some unintentional comedy, and you have an episode that is salvaged from a tedious plot. The comedy, for me, came from Brian Collier, the son of the murdered man, who is killed off-camera at the start of the episode. Unlike his father, Brian is invincible: he has a heavy weight dropped on him, which appears to crush him… but he lives. Then he’s jumped and murdered… only he’s ok from that too. Many moons ago, I’d seen The Last of the Mohican’s with Daniel Day Lewis. One officer seems to be equally resilient. I had been with a friend at the time who commented, when the officer took a mohawk to the head, that he was surely dead now after a number of failed attempts on his life. When he turned up later, I just looked at that friend and said simply: “must have been blunt.” My friend roared and could not stop. When Brian survived the second attempt, I remembered that moment as if it were yesterday. And Brian became the new recipient of the “Must have been blunt award”. That alone probably brought me enough joy to recover my initial dismay at the episode. But also funny was that every time Cathy and Waldner went to kiss, the camera cut away.
I’m always raving about Cathy and it seems that Steed had better start picking up the slack because I know Cathy is not with the series until the end. Over some horribly clang-y music, she again fights off an attacker (which Mr. Blunt couldn’t do). She shows real emotion over Guy Doleman, and even screams when the heavy object is dropped on Brian. She also tells Steed off for climbing in through a window with a perfectly delivered line, “What are you doing here? Go out and come through the front door like a civilized human being!” If she has a flaw, it was that god-awful hairdo at the start of the episode. What was that thing?!?! That belonged on one of Roger’s horrifying hats in Doctor Who articles, and it was supposed to be her hair!! Meanwhile, Steed hardly features, makes noise when sneaking out of a house, disrupting Cathy’s plans, and needs her to drive him around! Dude, really? At least he made her laugh when she really needed one.
The resolution happens a bit too conveniently and quickly with… no surprise here… Cathy kicking the gun out of the hand of Doleman, and helping Steed arrest the villain, to her own sorrow. It’s very rushed, but the character development of Cathy was all we really needed to carry the story. Do I care about the nuclear pipeline story or who made money? Nope! But meeting a childhood friend of Cathy’s and watching her fall in love… that was entertaining. And who knows? Maybe after his arrest, someone used a get-out-of-jail-free-and-run-a-Village card for Waldner. You never know! Be seeing you. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Avengers: Killer Whale