2x20-1 The Bridge of Lions 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.

A two-part episode. It's mostly good, although the main plot is the least interesting thing about it. The story is something I feel like we must have seen before, or maybe it's the reverse of one. There's a new science thing that reverses age, and UNCLE wants to keep it out of the hands of THRUSH. It's an easy MacGuffin plot.

What's great about these episodes are the unexpected subplots, and because it's a two-part episode there's plenty of time for those to be developed. Here are some examples.

Ilya Kuryakin is in London, tracking down stray cats. He does it mostly under the cover of night, and it's a lot more contentious than you might expect. There's a major confrontation over one of the cats. Somebody gets shot. Why cats? Nobody knows.

A bitter fashion designer blames men for keeping her out of politics. But she's in love with an aging man who was once an instructor at her school. She's willing to do anything for him.

One of the scientists who developed the age reversal process is getting younger. Trouble is, he's gone missing.

There are endless plot gems like that in this episode. They're little hints of intrigue that don't seem to connect, until they do.

The Waverly effect

It doesn't happen often, or maybe it does but you miss it at first, but it was this episode that made me realise that Waverly is written to be infallible. He's not a good spy, he's the definitively great spy. I knew he was sarcastic and witty, and maybe disturbingly casual about near-death experiences, but I hadn't noticed the pattern that when Waverly is called in, he consistently takes over the operation and is absolutely effective. In this episode, he chides the THRUSH agent holding him at gun point, and then taunts him by speculating that his umbrella could very well be a deadly weapon. It isn't, but it does have a lighter at the end of it, which he uses to light the THRUSH agent's cigarette. He lets himself be captured, but comments to Napoleon Solo that he's got to be back in New York by noon, so he can't take too long. Of course, they're out of captivity within minutes, triggering the end game.

As I've observed before, this TV show uses failure as a central plot device. Solo and Kuryakin have to fail more often than they succeed, because that's the way the show conveys suspense. I don't think the modern technique of escalating threats, or weaving a more complex plot as a response to success, had made its way to USA evening TV yet. This isn't Dr. Who, where the protagonist has the upper hand and yet still faces real challenges. This is The Man from UNCLE, and THRUSH has to win a lot in order to be a valid threat, and to compel viewers to stick around through the commercial break.

The way Waverly is written, as it happens, helps us viewers to continue taking UNCLE seriously. He doesn't get called into action often, but when he does it's to remind us that UNCLE means business. He's the big gun, and like Dr. Who he doesn't even bother with using guns (in this episode, he manages to acquire one momentarily, and then passes it over to Kuryakin, saying "Here, you take this. I don't want it.")

Waverly is a perfect gentleman, precise in action, polite to his allies and enemies, and strict about his schedule. Could I imagine a spin-off series with just Waverly, with maybe an occasional guest appearance from his pen-testing brother? Absolutely I can.

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

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