In 1959 a British agent turned traitor and defected to an enemy state. Now the countries are at peace, and Britain faces the very odd situation of having to negotiate with the traitor, now “General” Sharp, to broker an arms deal. This appears to be realpolitik at work, with everyone having to deal with the situation as it is, rather than what they would like it to be, with no consideration given to the morality of dealing with a traitor. The reason ethics must take a back seat is simple:
“We don’t want him to do a better deal with anyone else.”
Recent real-world examples that echo the same depressing pragmatism are not difficult to bring to mind. This episode never ceases to be topical. With any delicate international political situation, there are of course complications. The man who was sent to kill Sharp has just been released from his foreign jail, which is beyond coincidence. Initially he only seems to be interested in his five years of back pay (fair enough), until it becomes clear that he is still determined to carry out his original orders:
“He received an order from us in ’59, he acknowledges it, and he still intends to carry it out.”
The obvious explanation is that he has been released deliberately in order to kill Sharp and embarrass Britain, but nothing is as simple as it seems with this episode. We do not find out everyone’s real motives until the end of the episode. The truth of the situation all makes sense, but it’s perhaps an unacknowledged problem that Cathy is kept in the dark again. This is not the first time Steed has done this to her, and once again it indicates a lack of trust in Cathy to play her part in full knowledge of all the facts. It should also break down any trust Cathy has for Steed and his employers, who are expecting her to work for them without any official status, again not for the first time. The tension this causes is laughed off with a joke about bones for a dog, and Cathy saying, “I don’t need to sharpen my teeth”, but if this isn’t building to a confrontation before the end of the season then it’s a glaring omission. Cathy doesn’t seem the type to leave such manipulation unchallenged.
The difference between Cathy and Steed has never been more stark. He is not remotely interested in anything other than the job in hand, whereas Cathy wants to learn about motive and psychology, and is concerned for Mark’s welfare after five months of interrogation and five years of imprisonment. There is more going on than either Cathy or the viewers realise at that point, mitigating Steed’s apparent cold-heartedness, but even so there has been a growing sense across their two seasons together that Steed is just a little bit dehumanised by his job, despite covering that well with his charm and humour, whereas Cathy retains all her empathy and morality by generally remaining slightly removed from the orders of people like Quilpie.
Speaking of Steed’s latest boss, it’s very entertaining to see his office tucked away behind a butcher’s shop, although I’m not sure that makes much sense. If you’re going to choose a shop to be a front for a secret organisation, would you really pick one that gives you a working environment with the constant smell of dead animals? It’s a good job this wasn’t smell-o-vision. Nominative determinism victim Alice Brisket is obviously making the best of the situation, seeing the funny side of vegetarian Cathy having to visit Quilpie via a meat storage room. While that staging works well, the budget seems to run out when it comes to the press conference, which takes place with a tiny handful of journalists in a room that looks like a glorified cupboard. Then again, maybe somebody wants to treat the visiting dignitaries with as little dignity as possible, considering their history and duplicity. Sometimes realpolitik has its limits, and old grudges fester. RP
The view from across the pond:
I want to scream sometimes but don’t know how to put that in writing. ARRRGGGGHHHH? Does that work? The Outside-In Man has a solid idea at its core. I actually really like when we get the internal politics of Steed’s job. These agents-turned-bad-guy stories are usually clever things which remind me of The Prisoner or James Bond. Of course, they came later and might have been influenced by this show, so that’s also a feather in the cap of the writers of this series. But the show is the most terminally long affair I’ve ever experienced. I’m starting to prefer short-form entertainment! The thing that’s bad about that is that I have always assumed short-form entertainment is for the youtube generation. But Steed is really making me crave the shorter format!
I am forced to question Steed’s organization too. Cathy Gale is a civilian but so trusted that she has access to all the material Steed does, including access to the butcher shop where The Rook (from The Prisoner) works. So why not hire her? To compound the issue, why does Steed fall off the radar so effectively, that we see him reading some book while Cathy tries to call him? I get it: he was creating plausible deniability but this is Cathy Gale we’re talking about – the most talented non-agent Steed’s agency has ever not hired! Maybe they just hire her because she likes that leather suit that she has started to wear in every possible episode. But to illustrate the point, look at Roger’s write up from a few weeks back with The Golden Fleece. Cathy isn’t the one they need to keep secrets from; it’s the leading man, Steed, that needs to be kept in the dark.
So the premise here is that Mark Charter, an agent who went missing 5 years ago, turns up again just as his former assassination target, Sharp, comes to the UK. Surely Charter means to complete the job he started 5 years ago. The episode does an effective job keeping the audience in the dark, but it forgets the bigger world that Steed occupies – that has to make sense too. Sort of like telling any story, you can keep the audience/listener in the dark all you want by leaving out a key fact and that seems to be the entire MO of this episode. Based on the ending of the episode, it’s all about drawing out another assassin who is going to let Charter take the fall of the murder, even though Charter has no intention of killing Sharp. Make sense? Of course not because it’s typical convoluted nonsense to meet the 264 episode count that season 3 had. I feel like they could have reduced the episode by 30 minutes and actually had a class act on their hands but instead it’s just another romp in the same old country. Let’s hunt a guy who might do a bad thing, even though we know he won’t do a bad thing because we want someone else to believe he might do a bad thing so they hire him to actually do the bad thing themselves but promise to give the man loads of money to actually not do that very bad thing. How’s that for a sales pitch?? Probably not so good and that’s nothing to actually watching it for 50 minutes!
And the show is inconsistent. Cathy shows Steed her gun, sexily strapped to her leg. Steed, the lecherous creep that he normally is, doesn’t even make a comment. Sure, that’s good, but it’s so out of character for a man who spent an entire horse race staring at Cathy that it made me uncomfortable for her! On the other hand, Cathy comments that she does know what it’s like to be a widow, so there’s some hint that the writers paid attention to the character development. I do have to give loads of credit to whomever it was in the production crew that hid the key to the drum factory; the episode wasn’t able to end with a massive drum-based fight scene but it also meant there was an abruptness to the way this whole tedious affair ended. Honestly, my favorite bit was in the Diogenes Club with the man who wanted Charter’s chair. I think there could have been a far more enjoyable episode written as a comedy of a man wanting chair, instead of the regurgitated claptrap that we had here. I wonder if that guy did get the chair in the end… ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Avengers: The Charmers