1-29 The Odd Man Affair

Rewatching the Man from UNCLE

blog review uncle

I'm rewatching every episode of the Man from UNCLE series from start to finish. This review may contain spoilers.

Every now and again, I see an episode of a TV show and think it would have made a really great little movie all its own, if only the obligatory trappings of the "host" TV show weren't hanging around. Sometimes that feeling is spot on, as was the case with Assignment Earth from Star Trek, which essentially was the failed pilot script shoehorned (requiring time travel, no less) Star Trek episode. I get the same feeling about this episode, and even if its script wasn't literally intended for something else, I think ultimately this is only accidentally a Man from UNCLE episode. What it actually wants to be is a bittersweet story of an aging spy diving back into espionage for one last great adventure. Napoleon and Ilya are along for the ride, although Napoleon gets dispatched pretty quickly and Ilya is just an accessory to one of the spies.

Albert Sully and Bryn Watson aren't exactly ex-spies, but they fought in the resistance in the war together. Now they're both past their prime (I guess; actually they look fine to me, but then again I've never been into the mythos of age), living boring lives apart as accountants or something. Conveniently, UNCLE needs somebody who knew a mysterious master of disguise called Ramón. Sully claims to have known Ramón, and Watson actually did know him, so they band together one last time to help UNCLE mess with an evil organization.

Ramón died in a mid-air plane accident, so Sully has to not only act like a man he never actually met, but also convince people that he didn't die and has, as a master of disguise, changed his face yet again. As usual, UNCLE spends no time or money in training or rehearsing, and so Sully's cover is blown almost immediately. Solo and Kuryakin manage to detain the people who catch on to the act, though, and Sully and Watson continue to the super secret villain meeting. On the way, Solo gets shot ('tis but a flesh wound, of course, but just bad enough to get him out of the picture), and Ilya tags along so we don't forget what show we're watching.

Sully does his job, Watson gets into trouble, Ilya pops in every now and again to do secret spy stuff. In the end, the main villain accidentally kills himself with a trap intended for Sully. It's honestly pretty brilliant, and very satisfying to witness. It's such a simple and elegant way to resolve the story, and I love that UNCLE's attempt to counter an evil plot actually just works with no last minute surprises. Well, there is a surprise, but it's that it works, and is it ever satisfying.

In the end, Sully decides to continue his crimefighting career as Ramón, bizarrely without Watson. I think that's supposed to be the bittersweet part, but I didn't buy it. I felt like Sully and Watson, having reunited, should have gone on to become a sort of low-key Avengers (or would it actually be Get Smart?) He could be the master of disguise who knows nothing about his quarry, and she could be the know-it-all who makes sure his screw-ups aren't deadly. Either that, or neither of them should have continued crimefighting, and instead they'd have rekindled their romantic past as civilians with the memory of that one time they got pressed into life-threatening espionage just before retirement.

I don't know whether this was a fitting season finale, given that Solo wasn't in half of it and Ilya was excess to requirements. Then again, maybe back then TV shows didn't have the awareness of a "season finale" the way we have today. This was a good one, though. It was enjoyable with a satisfying resolution to the main plot, and a lot of suggestions of untold stories around the (real) heroes of the episode.

Lead image by Anthony DELANOIX under the terms of the Unsplash License. Modified by Seth in Inkscape.

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