I'm rewatching every episode of the Man from UNCLE series from start to finish. This review may contain spoilers.
This is a pretty strong opener for Season 2, and it's got a bunch of 1960s spy tropes. Season 2 is also in colour, which was surprising to me because I honestly don't remember any of the episodes I used to watch on Nick At Night (or whatever it was) being in colour. I guess they must have been, but my memory of the show is that it's black-and-white, and I nearly desaturated my display so I could watch the show without colour (it actually wouldn't have been uncommon for many TV viewers to have black-and-white sets all the way up until the early 80s). I might do that for a future episode, but I did watch this one and the next one in colour.
The villain is a guy played buy Rip Torn, who happens to have the surname of Alexander. He also happens to identify strongly with Alexander the Great, and he's somehow gotten it into his head that he needs to out-do his historical idol and actually conquer the world.
I love this as a premise, because it seems just silly enough to be completely realistic. Sure, some villains have big philosophical reasons for wanting to dominate civilization, and others just want to destroy it, but Alexander just needs to be Great.
The first step in his plan happened years before we know him.
He married into money.
To be fair, he's done a lot with that seed fund and is currently a successful
money launderer business owner, but by the time we meet Alexander, his wife Tracey (Dorothy Provine) is in the process of divorcing him.
They must have had no prenuptials, because he's got the bulk of her money in his name and won't sign the divorce papers or give her any money.
This is awfully convenient for UNCLE, because they need a woman on the inside to help take down Alexander.
This is a true two-part episode and may as well have been a movie, but the adventure kicks off, deceptively, as the old tried-and-true UNCLE plot about a villain stealing a dangerous prototypical bioweapon. When it happened, I thought it we were in for another The Finny Foot Affair or The Strigas Affair or The Girls of Nazarone Affair. Nope, it's a fake out, and it works well. The theft that opens the episode gets Alexander on the UNCLE watchlist, and it serves as the driving force behind their investigation, but the chemical compound he steals is never used and it's not even Alexander's main plan. It's incidental, in fact, and for Alexander it's just sort of a personal challenge. He wanted to see whether he could steal from the US Army and, as it turns out, he can. Job done.
Another quirky thing about Alexander is that he's decided that ruling the world is too easy. As an additional challenge, he's decided that he has to break each of the Judeo-Christian "ten commandments". This is the "weakest" part of the plot, although I admit it's not very weak. For whatever reason, though, it feels a little arbitrary to me. The historical Alexander the Great probably didn't even know the Ten Commandments existed. In 300 BCE, the Jewish tribes were pretty tiny regional groups and their religion was insular and based entirely on their ethnicity. I don't understand why the Ten Commandments would be part of the plan to supplant the former Alexander as the greatest Alexander.
Then again, Alexander is a pretty arbitrary guy. I think it's fair to assume that due to the moral weight of the Ten Commandments in 1960s America, he'd have been inspired to break them as a form of rebellion.
And anyway, it makes for some pretty amazing, albeit minor, plot points. For instance, Alexander has to seduce a prince's wife at one point, not only because it actually is part of his plan for destabilizing an eastern nation, but also because it satisfies the 7th commandment (and appropriately his bed is labelled with a great big "7" on it.) Stealing the bioweapon satisfied commandment 8. But the best moment is when we learn how he has satisfied the one about disrespecting his parents. He literally has his parents in chains, mining in a rock quarry. His father owns an appliance store in Ohio, and his mother is presumably a housewife, and he's kidnapped them and put them into slave labour. It's a momentous reveal, and adds amazing character to Alexander.
By the end of the episode, Solo and Kuryakin follow a supposed ally into an ancient nearby tomb, ostensibly to follow a lead about a (forged) clue. Their new ally is doctor with a limp, so you know he's got to be evil, and it turns out that he is. He leads them into a series of D&D traps, and I mean really classic stuff. There's even a Dungeon Master in the form of Alexander himself, who's rigged the corridors of the tomb with a sound system and some mirrors so he can taunt the UNCLE agents (and his ex-wife Tracey.) Of course he and the good doctor make a quick get-away, leaving Tracey and the UNCLE agents to be placed into a variety of slow-death torture devices. Tracey and Kuraykin are left dangling over a "bottomless pit", with a candle placed just under the rope suspending them. Solo is tied to a slab of rock with a razor-sharp pendulum slowly swinging lower and lower over him.
And this is where they are as the end credits appear.