This episode has another memorable opening sequence: a man being murdered by his doppelgänger, who is hiding in the wardrobe. The illusion of the scene is immediately shattered by the lack of a visible wound. I realise that was a line that couldn’t easily be crossed on television at the time, but if the representation of a shooting extends no further than the firing of a gun and a man falling over, it’s probably better not to have the victim bare-chested, just to make it blatantly obvious that there is no actual wound.
By the time the victim reaches the autopsy room, there has been an attempt to disguise his identity. I’m not sure if the dialogue was supposed to be an attempt at black comedy or not, but I found it funny:
“It wasn’t hit and run.”
“It hit him about twelve times.”
I suppose it could be a hit and hit and hit and hit and hit and hit and hit and hit and hit and hit and hit and hit and run, but no, it was the invisible bullet that drew no blood that killed him. The hit and hit and… well you get the idea… that bit was to make sure he couldn’t be identified. Needless to say, those pesky dental records always foil an attempt like that in any drama.
I’ve seen enough doppelgänger stories to last me a lifetime. Between Doctor Who and Star Trek alone I must have seen a couple of dozen, but I never tired of this one. Partly it’s because the writing is so sublime, almost poetic at times:
“How does Gordon strike you?”
“With a dull thud.”
But also it feels really dangerous, and you don’t always get that from an Avengers episode. The plight of Peter Borowski (Terence Lodge) sets the tone quite early on. It’s shocking to see Steed kicking a man with a multiple personality disorder to try to beat his real identity back into him, and it’s a measure of how important his locked away knowledge is. The danger hits right at the heart of Steed’s organisation, and about halfway through the episode there is a game-changer moment when fake Steed turns up and things feel even more dangerous.
Everything is wrapped up with a degree of ambiguity: moral, if not quite literal. The writer comes close to leaving us with a doubt in our mind about which Steed survived, until a whisper in Cathy’s ear dispels that doubt in the closing seconds, but fake Bill Gordon (Daniel Moynihan) gets to live on as his double. You’ve got to admire how this series doesn’t shy away from the moral shades of grey. On the one hand, it is probably better for everyone if the doppelgänger just takes over his life. On the other hand (and here’s where the writing is really brave and clever), he has a girlfriend, who he actually proposed to after the switch, as a convenience. She is happier than she has ever been in her life, but she doesn’t realise she’s marrying a murderer. It’s a tangled web.
One big lapse of logic bothered me from the start: why send the doppelgänger to commit the murder, on both occasions? It obviously introduces a risk of the organisation you’re trying to infiltrate managing to infiltrate you right back, because you can’t know for sure who came out of each encounter alive. There’s absolutely no reason to take that risk. A third party could commit the crimes, and then the doppelgängers could step into their lives immediately afterwards.
Just one question remains: what did Steed whisper into Cathy’s ear at the end? Something about her ridiculous new hairstyle? No, that wouldn’t work. My guess is some kind of example of humour only Steed would come out with, perhaps a quip about those “big girl” statues he was groping last week. In the end, the villains picked the wrong target. There can only be one John Steed. RP
The view from across the pond:
What a pleasant surprise Man with Two Shadows turned out to be! This episode reminded me of The Prisoner in many ways. The holiday village is reminiscent of The Village, there’s a great fight scene done to classical music – Cathy Gale gets the honor of whooping a guy through it – and there’s the plot right out of The Schizoid Man.
This episode opens with a man being murdered and while that’s not uncommon in this series, it’s the way it was done that was so striking. A smiling man is waiting in the closet with a gun. The thing is the man with the gun is the same as the man he’s about to kill! It has horror movie levels of creepiness, and I was completely taken in. When part one ends with the revelation that there is a second Steed, I felt like we were finally graduating to a pre-Prisoner level of storytelling. Sure, it’s still complicated like the series aims to be, but it’s complicated in the right way. If this is the format for the future, I’m in and feeling revitalized. The episode even offers a hint of future continuity in that one of the doppelgangers is allowed to continue in his position. And that says nothing of “our minister” which may become a recurring threat. I sure hope this isn’t brushed under the carpet and forgotten. It has too much potential. Not to mention the very frightening idea all on its own. Imagine that anyone you know could be replaced! Questions of identity are always worth consideration.
Unlike last week, which felt very much like The Patrick MacNee Hour, this episode showcases Steed’s abilities while making him a very capable agent, not just the left hand to Cathy Gale. It also relies on misdirection and, no, I was never fooled into thinking Steed was dead, but it kept the suspense high and believable especially with the double bluff going on with Gale. I had little to dislike, barring perhaps that horrible hairdo of Cathy’s. I did have to laugh at the Miss Beautiful Legs contest, but that’s got more to do with the time than the idea of it. I don’t think I’ll suggest it as a work event, but then I’m also not living in the 1960’s, am I?
At the end of the day, this is the sort of storytelling I want, and I hope it’s a precursor to a more Prisoner-like series in the future. I’d always wondered why I’d heard about the two shows as if they were cousins or something. To see this episode, it finally makes sense. But surely that can’t be sustained on one episode, can I? Time will tell… ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Avengers: The Nutshell
An Avengers episode resembling The Prisoner wouldn’t sound too far off the mark. Thank you both for resuming your Avengers reviews.
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