The Avengers is a very good series at coming up with interesting locations for stories, so I suppose I shouldn’t complain about this episode being set somewhere unusual, but boxing really isn’t my cup of tea. It wouldn’t be so bad if there wasn’t so much time wasted throughout the episode showing bits of boxing matches, which I suppose is there to provide a sort of background atmosphere to the proceedings, but adds nothing to the story. I find that stuff tedious.
The scenes set in Fernand’s tailoring and perfume shop are much more enjoyable to watch, with Steed undercover as a man who wants to buy a custom made set of outfits for his “niece”. When he trots out his niece’s measurements the look on assistant Angela’s face is priceless, as if she’s thinking, “yeah, right… your niece.” As usual, Steed manoeuvrers himself into the life of the person he wants to investigate with great charm and skill, and it’s a joy to watch. I felt sorry for Fernand, although I probably shouldn’t have done, as he was ready to use a knife on Steed at the end. That was actually a big fail on the part of writer John Lucarotti in my opinion, because it could have been an opportunity to have him turn it on Pancho instead, and show how much of a victim of circumstances this man really is. Apart from that scene, which seemed out of character, I got the impression that Fernand wasn’t a bad person, but had been carried away by his own ambitions and got into financial trouble, and then things had spiralled out of his control. He looked perpetually nervous.
Although the couturier-based scenes were the best, there was still some fun to be had with Cathy playing the role of manager to young boxing talent Joey. Her young friend was an endearingly innocent chap, amusingly mistaking smuggled ambergris for soap and trying to use it to wash his hands. Later in the episode when he is fighting for his life, a punch aimed at one of the criminals misses the guy’s face by about four feet and the crim still drops, so he clearly has a very special talent for boxing. Even the movement of the air between fist and face is enough to fell a man.
The criminal activity going on here seemed really odd. I get the connection between the tailor/perfumier and the smuggling of ambergris, which was commonly used as a fixative in perfume at the time, so that all makes sense. But the laboratory at the boxing gym seemed like a really random thing, as if Lucarotti just cobbled together ideas for two scripts to make one. It sets up quite a tonal clash between different parts of the episode, but maybe that was the point. The Avengers has been a series that moves deftly between the upper crust and the underworld from episode to episode, and in this final episode of the second season it seems fitting to mash the two together in such an unusual blend. It also makes an interesting point. There are criminals here from very different walks of life, but ultimately the nastiest piece of work is the hideous toff who strolls in to Fernand’s shop to pick up his money, calling everyone “sport”, and making poor Fernand almost shake with fear, even when he has the money. That’s something The Avengers has shown us very clearly so far: dangerous criminals can be found in all walks of life, and a smartly-dressed gent might just be the worst of all.
We will be returning to The Avengers for the third season later this year. Don’t forget to “follow” for updates. RP
The view from across the pond:
I come at last to the end of season 2 and realized about half way through that I was deeply engaged; a good sign after a series of some pretty drastic highs and lows. I think it was because for the first quarter of Killer Whale, there’s that sense of competitiveness that draws people to the savage world of boxing; a carryover sport from our ancient gladiatorial battles of yore. Maybe it’s the Italian in me that draws me to the fight although I never actually watch real boxing matches, but for an episode of The Avengers, it was entertaining. Of course, I couldn’t say the same with their first attempt at boxing matches gone awry with The Decapod, that awful thing, so it might just have more to do with a better story. Regardless, this is a Cathy Gale episode so we know she’s going to do something to impress us. But most surprisingly of all, Steed really comes in strong for a change. Steed is financially backing a boxer to get inside a criminal operation. We’ve seen it before, but Steed is clearly a man of means. (I mean, we probably should have sported that between the waistcoats and the bowler hat, but this just clinches it!) His confidence actually seems to have a foundation.
The plot is straightforward enough without having the be all “twisty, twirly” like some episodes, and that makes for a good adventure. Ambergris is being smuggled into the country and sold at a profit and chief baddie Poncho is willing to kill for it. Alas, this is also where I derailed from the episode a bit. He’s clearly willing to kill as we see with one of his henchmen, Sailor, but when he gets the jump on Cathy and Joey (Steed’s boxer), he locks them up. He’s not afraid of killing or having a body dumped, so why wait with these two? I couldn’t help but think of Austin Powers where Dr. Evil’s son, Scott, explains to his father that they should just kill the good guys so they can’t escape. “I’ve got a gun in my room…!” Shh (YouTube video link)! They decide to lock Cathy and Joey up in a room full of glass bottles that can be shattered and used to cut ropes because at least these villains “get it”… Poncho’s other henchman, Harry, seems to take issue with killing a woman, which doesn’t explain why he didn’t kill Joey. Blood spatter? Proximity? The only gun available is a BFG wiping out everyone around? I don’t know. Poncho justifies killing Cathy with the most (il)logical rationale imaginable: “never trust a woman.” Why’s that then, Poncho? Because every one of the bad guys in this episode is male so… why shouldn’t we trust women? Maybe he’s thinking that most of the scariest villains in The Avengers have been women! That must be it. They are definitely more capable, but fewer and farther between. It’s the men who do all of the questionable things in this one (and most of them), but that also includes our hero John Steed, who dumps a body in a clothing shop. He may have a reason, but think about that for a moment: the hero extracted the corpse from where it was left and deposits it in a shop. And Poncho says “never trust a woman”??? You can’t see me, but I’ve raised my eyebrows really high and rolled my eyes!
Counterintuitively, this dangerous side of Steed probably has a lot to do with what impressed me with him this time. Yes, he frequently seems to take a backseat to Cathy, but it does show us that he’s gotten where he is because he’s willing to stop at nothing to get his collar. Meanwhile, Cathy is on form as usual, even if she doesn’t know who Captain Ahab is, calling him instead, Captain Abraham. She also loses a gun in a fight but I did feel that was believable since Joey caused a fracas leading to the loss. And speaking of believability, when Cathy is cutting the ropes binding them, she cuts Joey. We don’t see it and it plays no further part in the story other than to highlight the dangers they face. I always credit that and feel those everyday mistakes from real life should be included in television more than they are. Oh yeah, and we finally get to see Cathy’s new apartment with her table-mounted door buzzer! Looks like all that work paid off. Let’s hope we see more of it!
Overall, I found this a solid, entertaining final hour of Season Two. In a very forward thinking bit of writing, we end with Steed on his way to the Caribbean and Gale going to Tokyo. Whether this was done intentionally or not, I don’t know, but it lends a degree of logic to the real world gap that took place between seasons. And it gives me good reason to put the series aside for a short while to get other things written while I wait for them to return from their well-earned holiday. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Avengers: Brief for Murder