This is an oddly unambitious episode to end the third season of The Avengers. There are none of the madcap schemes and grand criminal plans of previous weeks, and instead we have a straightforward smuggling plot that feels like it belongs in the second season rather than the third. There are, however, a couple of unusual locations: a chess shop and an Alice in Wonderland themed restaurant, both of which are places I would love to visit. Interesting settings for Avengers episodes have been a feature of the series almost from the start, and the chess shop in particular is nicely integrated into the story, with an ornate chess piece used as a clue to investigate a murder, and a postal game of chess used as a way to disguise coded messages being sent, although Cathy decoding the messages by assigning letters of the alphabet to squares on the board was very silly when you think about it. You would only be able to send one letter per message, so it would take a while to achieve any useful communication.
The Alice theme was more random, with lobster fishing as a front for drug smuggling shoehorned in to make the title work. It felt like the theme deserved more of a bizarre story: anything Alice connected tends to thrive on the surreal, but there was nothing very Wonderland or Looking Glass about the prosaic criminal world Cathy and Steed were investigating. A couple of guest actors helped to bring this one to life: the ever-reliable Burt Kwouk as the sinister chess shop owner, and Jennie Linden as Steed’s love interest of the week. Linden shows how wasted she was as the very uninteresting version of Doctor Who companion Barbara in the first movie, as she is excellent here. Kwouk’s shopkeeper managed to be a little bit amusing and creepy at the same time. His sales technique is very funny, but I’m not sure that was intentional. The minute Cathy walks into his shop he tells her what she has to buy, and then interrupts her rudely the first time she tries to say something. He’s obviously more suited to a life of crime than a life of commerce.
The story might be relatively forgettable, but the closing moments of the episode will live on in the memory, with Cathy departing from the series. There is no big emotional moment, which would have probably been an awkward fit for this show, but instead we get a last bit of banter between these two excellent characters. Cathy is off to the Bahamas, and refuses a “bit of trouble” Steed wants her to investigate there.
“I’m not going to be pussyfooting along those sun-soaked shores. I’m going to be lying on them.”
If the choice of vocabulary seems odd, that’s because it’s a shoehorned-in and probably ad-libbed reference to Honor Blackman’s next acting job: Pussy Galore in Goldfinger.
“Not pussyfooting? I must have been misinformed.”
And no sooner has she departed but Steed is on the phone to her replacement, teasing the viewers about what’s to come in the fourth season. There would be an 18 month wait for the answer to that question.
I’ve said a lot about the character of Cathy Gale in my reviews of her 43 Avengers episodes, but let’s just briefly sum up. She was not just equal to Steed. She was not just physically superior to Steed. She was almost always mentally superior as well. In the hands of a lesser actor and lesser writers, the only way to achieve all that at the time would have been to make her insufferable, but instead she was the most likeable co-star for Steed so far, by quite some margin. It’s easy to forget how extraordinarily unusual it was at the time, for a television series to show us a female character that was integral to the show, nearly always the cleverest and strongest person in any room, and none of this at the expense of her femininity and likeability. She is quite possibly the most important female character ever created for television. RP
The view from across the pond:
There have been times where it has felt like a herculean effort to stick with this season, but it finally wrapped up with Lobster Quadrille and it’s a fairly good final episode. And it goes a step further by adding a little meta context to the story, but let’s come to that in due course.
We start out with a reporter who knows too much and is killed for it. Having recently read a book about how to avoid being murdered, one key step is to not know things. This reporter should have read that book! For the audience, it won’t be until late in the episode that we really understand the complexity of the case. In a nutshell, people are smuggling smarties inside lobster. Ok, maybe it wasn’t smarties, but when Burt Kwouk first gets the small package, that’s what it looked like to me. I know Smarties are not the same between the UK and US. In the UK, they are chocolates but here they are a crunchy sugar candy wrapped tightly in plastic. When Kwouk holds up his stash, I was sure he had a sweet tooth… It ends up being heroine, which was so mundane as to be disappointing! Who thinks we need to move contraband inside dead crustaceans? Oh, the writers of The Avengers obviously.
Interestingly Kwouk is a favorite of mine and even before I saw his face, I’d heard the voice of Kato, from the Pink Panther movies. I loved those movies as a kid and have a soft spot for Burt; even when he’s not a main character, I enjoy his performance. (Although perhaps Four to Doomsday was an exception!) He even has a saying in this episode: “laugh and the world laughs with you.” Man, he was so right! “There is a time and a place for everything Kato! And this is it…” The episode also features a marvelously ornate Chess Shop and a surreal club. Both wins in my book. This one episode captures visually what I always thought The Avengers was about: a show with over the top villains like something out of Batman. I find myself wondering where I got that idea, considering we’ve had nothing like that up until now, but it was nice to see at least one episode sporting that aesthetic.
So between cast, locale, a fairly normal plot with only mildly unnecessary twists… we have a good final story to wrap the season. To make it better, the ending where we are lead to believe Cathy might have been burned alive was really an excellent use of suspense. Knowing she won’t be back next season, I again thought this could be it for her. It makes for a more enjoyable episode to genuinely not know what’s coming. Good guys who can’t be beaten tends to get a little boring at a certain point.
Where the episode fails is where many have throughout the run of this series. The villains get the drop on Cathy and Steed a lot but none ever think to pull the trigger. This is a prime example of an episode where our heroes should have been killed. I’ve said it before, but Austin Powers best exemplified the stupidity of this. Why wait? The bad guys are bad! (It’s in the job description!) If the writers don’t want Gale or Steed shot, don’t write the story where someone gets the drop on them, because they should be shot. I’m sorry, that’s not a question of not liking them, it’s that the plot calls for the bad guys to murder indiscriminately to keep their secret, but somehow Steed and Gale are just … what? A bit too interesting?? Come on. I wish the writers would have realized this back in the 60’s!
But hey, I did it. I made it through a season of regurgitated nonsense with villains who are inconsistent, plot twists that would make Dan Brown weep and a main character who is just a bit too full of himself. I won’t deny, I’m glad season 3 has finished. I will miss Cathy Gale though because I do think she was the star. And obviously, so did the people behind James Bond, because they hired her to be a Bond girl. When the episode ended, there was a lot of talk of “pussyfooting” on the beach and I didn’t get why they kept saying it. So I looked it up only to learn that she went on to costar in Goldfinger as Pussy Galore opposite Sean Connery as Bond. I know I saw the early Bond movies, but I can’t recall her, but I think it’s because I didn’t have the history with her from The Avengers. I do now, and I may have to go back and watch that again. Sadly, it’s another spy series that usually has too many unneeded twists and turns, but at least they are almost always fun to watch. I can’t say I felt that about The Avengers. Maybe season 4 can change that… ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Avengers: The Town of No Return
This was a pretty decent episode. The highlight was, of course, Cathy Gale’s departure. I think this is actually a major turning point for Steed’s character. Up to now Steed has typically been cold, ruthless & manipulative, and he’s chided Cathy for caring, warning her it makes her vulnerable. Yet at the end of the episode when he briefly believes Cathy has been killed, Steed is visibly distraught, he blames himself for putting her in danger, and then he’s genuinely relieved when she turns up alive, and sad when she decides to leave. I feel this helps set up the warmer relationship Steed would have with Emma Peel beginning in the next season.
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Cast changes and certainly when they involve a very special female lead like Cathy Gale, as I learned from countless occasions in Dr. Who, can indeed mark the most pivotal changes in a series. Especially how the enduring male lead character like John Steed can be so personally affected and in the most specific ways changed for the better. Emma Peel would prove to be a good opportunity to Steed to become more likeable.
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