I'm rewatching every episode of the Man from UNCLE series from start to finish. This review may contain spoilers.
In a change of pace, this one's almost a procedural investigative episode. While lounging around at his social club, which I guess must be a subsidiary of Thrush, Mr. Waverly is poisoned. He very nearly dies from a neurotoxin, but is rushed off to hospital where the finest Thrush medics are ready to assist.
You might think that Thrush's primary goal would be to kill Waverly outright, but they have something better in mind. They bring in some specialists who have devised a way to make minor adjustments to someone's brain, turning them into a, well, less impressive version of what they once were. In fact, as Waverly was playing chess at his social club, he was actually investigating how a once effective foreign agent had managed to botch a big South American espionage operation. Through their medical procedures, these Thrush agents are able to leave people operable but ineffective.
There's some action in the story, especially toward the end, but much of the story is about UNCLE dealing with their leader being taken out of action, possibly for good. They bring in reinforcements, they boost security (at least they claim to), and Solo and Kuryakin track down the few clues Waverly managed to utter to them before he lost consciousness. They're entirely unaware of the actual plot until pretty late into the episode, and it's surprisingly engaging. In fact, for the first act, I was instinctively critical, thinking how confusing this episode must have been for viewers who were just tuning into the series for the first time. I think all in all, that's a good sign, because it means this episode is comfortable with the show's world, and it's not afraid to explore the nuance of the UNCLE and Thrush conflict, the dangers of espionage, and even social issues.
It wasn't just the story that was unique. There were several elements in this one that stood out as progressive.
This week's heroic guest star, none other than Yvonne Craig, is a hard working shopkeep who's also caring for her brain-damaged brother. He's one of Thrush's early experiments gone wrong, and was rendered pretty helpless, so she supoprts herself and him the best she can. Interestingly, Solo doesn't sweet talk or recruit her like he usually does, he just pays her to help UNCLE. It's a nice change from the usual formula, and the script doesn't shy away from addressing the disparity between the apparent wealth of Solo and a young woman barely scraping by.
In the end, of course, Napoleon treats her to a celebratory dinner at a fancy restaurant, at her request ("with clothes and everything!"), and you just can't help but feel happy for her evening of luxury.
Waverly's temporary replacement is the UNCLE head agent from India, who happens to be in a wheelchair. It's never mentioned, it's not a plot point, it's just part of his character.
There's also a black UNCLE agent named Jason. He must have been a day player because he doesn't get a single line of dialogue, but it was nice to see.
This episode reminded me that diversity, in every sense of the word, is really nice. I was starting to feel a lull in the UNCLE trajectory. Not stagnation by any means, but a lull. This episode shook things up a little, changed the formula, and delivered a really unexpected but entertaining story.