“It’s macabre.” That’s a good word to describe most of this episode, which concerns an operation to harvest corneas from a live patient in order to transplant them into a blind millionaire. The donor is apparently dying and owes the rich Marten Halvarssen (John Carson) some kind of a debt from the war, which was when Halvarssen lost his sight originally. This goes some way towards explaining why somebody would voluntarily give up their eyesight for only a 30% chance of restoring somebody else’s, but nothing about this whole situation is quite what it seems. Somebody is trying to pull the wool over Cathy and Steed’s eyes.
The episode deftly manages to be “macabre” without actually showing anything more unpleasant than a patient wrapped in bandages, and does so with dialogue designed to make the viewers feel uncomfortable:
“You’ll see that the cutting edge is rather short and slightly curved.”
Second Sight also benefits from possibly the most hateful villain we’ve ever seen in an Avengers episode. I’m not referring to Halvarssen, who is an interestingly ambiguous character, unaware of the full extent of the crime being committed in his name. No, the really nasty piece of work is Neil Anstice, played by Peter Bowles, an actor who would eventually become the object of desire of all women of a certain age due to his To The Manor Born fame. Let’s just say he had not yet grown into his looks.
But the reason Antice is so horrible is that he isn’t just ruthless, he delights in his ruthlessness. Just look how he responds to Halvarssen pouring out his frustrations near the end of the episode, chuckling behind the back of a blind man before trying to kill him.
Another revolting character, although perhaps unintentionally, is Dr. Spender, who is an example of somebody arrogant coming to a sticky end. He is horrendously sexist towards Cathy, which just about works because he’s is supposed to be an old dinosaur of a character, but where the writing fails is Cathy’s meek responses to his misogyny.
“I suppose you’re competent enough for a woman.”
I realise she’s undercover so needs to keep the peace, but some kind of a cutting response wouldn’t have hurt. This is a rare occasion of The Avengers dropping the ball on gender equality.
The writer also drops the ball on the outcome to the mystery, with the corneas in a box being just a front for a very prosaic diamond smuggling plan. It all seems ridiculously elaborate, and the extent to which Halvarssen is in the dark about the details doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, with his inability to travel to Switzerland for the operation never adequately explained. It’s not a huge problem, though, because the writer manages to take rather a thin story idea and expand it with some compelling twists and turns, helped by some inspired direction, particularly when it comes to the final moments of Dr. Spender. The director obviously had an eye for a good scene, and brought the writer’s vision to the screen. OK, you get the eye-dea. I’ll stop with the sight-based puns. This episode had some eyes and lows, but the series is still moving in the sight direction. Sorry. It’s just how eyeroll. RP
The view from across the pond:
Maybe it’s because the episode is all about sight that my hearing was perked up. Or because I watched this with headphones on. Actually that probably has more to do with it. Well, either way, one thing that stood out to me in Second Sight was the music. I’ve complained a few times about the opening music, which I find nothing short of abysmal, but I’m talking specifically about the incidental music within the story. Suffice to say, this is not the work of Murray Gold! This isn’t even Murray Silver or Bronze… Tin, seems about right! Maybe Tin-Itis?
When Steed investigates, we get this loud jazzy music that is so out of sync with his actions that is becomes terribly jarring. By contrast, when Gale investigates, we get this tense, creepy music. Later in the episode there’s a weird, almost-choral piece that doesn’t last long but is perfectly eerie. Lastly, for the final battle, we get another of those cacophonous rackets before the episode ends abruptly. The whole up and down of it is similar to the structure of most episodes: you get some really great moments accompanied by some really weak ones. Equally, you could say that of the season: some have been really strong and some have been horribly weak. Yeah, the music does say it all, doesn’t it?
In this story, Steed has gotten wind of some corneal grafting that is going on and the head of the operation is a guy named Halverson. Steed goes to investigate, makes little progress, so he sets Cathy up to do her work. It’s another of those convoluted setups because the show consistently feels like it has enough material for 30 minutes but pushes on for 50. It’s immediately clear that the entire supporting cast is made up of villains. But there are clever things that, like the right music, does buy back some credibility. Dr. Hawn is shown kissing Dr. Anstice in direct line of her employer… and fiancé! When Hawn tells one of the other doctors that Halverson “isn’t seeing anyone”, it’s a clever use of words: Halverson is blind. Which means she’s cheating on him with Anstice right in front of him. See? Villains!
The cast also has one other fella whose not supposed to be a villain: Dr. Spender. The issue there is that Spender is a jackass. We get such classic 1960’s thoughts as his evaluation of Cathy: “You’re competent enough for a woman…” and “you’re a woman, after all… leave these things to me!” Now this is still a damned sight better than how 1966’s Star Trek would treat women, but it did nothing to endear the character to me and it’s still only a fraction better than Trek’s frequent womanizing and soft-focus stuff that I was shocked to find it in this series at all; a series that is typically very aware of itself in that regard. However, when Spender died, the camera focused on the glasses worn by the attacker as we see him fall into the abyss which is, again, like hitting that perfect chord with the music. It’s such a hard series to love or hate! There are just too many good things that impress me, and the spy story is usually enough to keep me interested, but it never hits the high notes of, say, The Prisoner!
I walked away with questions like never before. Who was the man who killed Spender? We did see him again but we never hear his name or anything else about him. He was just an ominous face wrapped in bandages for the sole use of causing Spender to plummet to his death. Also, why was Steed in this game? Was it really for the diamonds being smuggled that felt heavily tacked on; an afterthought to pad out an episode that had been about a blind man being able to see again? Why was the whole Hilda Brauer scheme even created if not for the sole benefit of the audience?
Like the music, the series is able to hit some real high notes, but as we see and hear with this episode, there are times this series is just a cacophony of noise; like so many other things we’ve watched, it’s a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Avengers: The Medicine Men