2x16 The Dippy Blond 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 contains spoilers.

In many ways, this episode feels like "classic" Man from UNCLE (and by "classic", I mean first season). The plot is a little unpredictable, at least by second season standards. You think you know where things are going, but then the baddie is caught by the end of the first act. It caught me so off guard that I checked the time, thinking I'd blinked and missed 30 minutes, or that I'd hit a key and skipped past half the show.

Where do you go after you catch the baddie before the first commercial break? Well, if you're first season UNCLE, you recruit a beautiful but quirky dame to do most of the rest of the work for you. And that's exactly what happens in this episode.

The dippy blond

Jo-Jo is a free spirit and petty criminal. She hangs around a rough crowd, and it so happens that she's dating a THRUSH agent during Act 1. She accidentally discovers his allegiance, and he quickly blackmails her to join THRUSH as an alternative to being shot. She verbally agrees, but luckily things go badly for the THRUSH agent and UNCLE storms in and rounds everybody up, Jo-Jo included.

Next thing you know, UNCLE is recruiting Jo-Jo to continue on in THRUSH until she can meet Simon Baldanado, a local THRUSH boss who seems to have a crush on her.

Pretty standard stuff so far.

But things get genuinely interesting when Jo-Jo meets Baldanado. It turns out that Baldanado is actually smitten with her. Like, he actually likes her, and not in a creepy way (or at least, as non-creepy as a murderous mob boss can be). It takes you by surprise, this development, because we're used to the baddies being heartless baddies. Sure, maybe some act refined, but they're all ultimately shallow and heartless. But Baldanado is in love with Jo-Jo.

Don't get me wrong. The relationship is not a healthy one. Baldanado is a killer, and he arranges for Jo-Jo's former lover to stay dead (never mind, it's a long story), and of course Jo-Jo is 100% faking her affections the whole time. But that's what makes this so intriguing. Baldanado's twisted version of love is real, and Jo-Jo's ability to turn on the charm and to apparently change alliances on a dime in a totally convincing way is just magical.

It's captivating to watch. In some other plot you might even start to feel that Baldanado maybe is turning away from THRUSH? and maybe Jo-Jo is actually falling in love in spite of what she knows? But no, that's not the story here. It's pretty clear that everything you as the viewer know about these characters is exactly spot on. What you see is what you get. That knowledge is what makes Baldanado's story strangely affecting.

He's the dupe.

His men know it.

Jo-Jo knows it.

UNCLE knows it.

You the viewer know it.

Everybody knows it except Baldanado. He's the kid at school who got asked to the prom as a cruel joke, only to be stood up right before the party. It's actually painful.

Crime of missed opportunity

The one problem with this episode is such a crime that it's basically unforgivable.

The moment that Baldanado realises that Jo-Jo doesn't love him is played for laughs.

If I were scoring these episodes with some number of stars, this would take it from a 5-star to a lonely 1-star show.

In the show, just before the final scene, Baldanado is about to go in and betray his entire crew of THRUSH agents. He turns to Jo-Jo and says "If I do this, I need to be sure about you and me."

She looks at him, locks eyes with him, and says, "I'll be here when you get back."

With a heavy heart but no recourse, he turns and goes to betray his agents, because the love of this woman is more important to him than his honour, his career, his life, and the lives of his agents.

Now picture this: Baldanado emerges from the building. He's been shot, but the deed's been done. His agents are dead.

With a smoking gun, he hurries back to Jo-Jo to rescue her from the grip of Solo. He shoots to kill, and Solo falls to the ground. He stumbles forward, advancing toward Jo-Jo's trembling but open arms. He's almost in reach now, but at the last moment Jo-Jo backs away. She's not crying, she's not scared. She knows the scene is over, and she's stopped acting. Behind her, Solo stands, having been shot with blanks from the gun Kuryakin planted on Baldanado. There's not much for UNCLE to do now, though, and Baldanado falls to his knees from loss of blood. It all starts to come together for him, as the light fades from his eyes.

That's how it could have ended.

Here's what really happened

Baldanado emerges from the building. His agents are dead but Kuryakin follows him out. Baldanado turns toward Jo-Jo and Solo. For some reason, they've forgotten they're on a life-or-death spy mission. They've dropped their cover, and are sitting in the car, kissing.

Baldanado and Kuryakin fight. It starts to rain. Kuryakin stumbles over to the car and says something funny, probably, about Solo and his women. Wellp, that's life as a secret agent!

Such a disappointing end to an otherwise nuanced episode.

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

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