2x23 The Moonglow 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.

I'm not exaggerating when I say this is one of the best Man from UNCLE episodes I've seen yet. It ranks up there with the pilot episode, and shockingly it doesn't feature Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin. The Moonglow Affair was a sort of backdoor pilot episode for a spin-off series called The Girl from UNCLE. In logic that only the 1960s understands, the stars being introduced in this pilot episode are not the stars of The Girl from UNCLE. I've seen some episodes of The Girl from UNCLE but it was a long time ago on late night retro TV. I have no memory of it, and it didn't last long, but this pilot is gripping.

I've observed that The Man from UNCLE frequently relies upon the UNCLE agents failing to generate anxiety in the audience. Several time each episode, Solo and Kuryakin are captured, discovered, and doxxed until the very end when they finally triumph. The technique kind of makes sense, on the surface. When the agents are in danger, the viewer has to stick around to find out how they survive, and if the plot builds toward an end for which the agents are apparently unprepared, then the viewer will be excited to find that they succeed against impossible odds.

On the other hand, when you only see the highly trained heroes of the show fail, you might start to wonder whether they're qualified at all for their jobs.

Well, maybe the 1960s just didn't have the story "technology" to convey a successful hero who nevertheless inspires anticipation in the audience? Maybe the language just didn't yet exist for that kind of tale.

No, it did exist, and this episode proves it.

April Dancer

In this episode, the main character is the youthful (age 24) Agent April Dancer. Like Solo and Kuryakin, she's attractive and friendly. Mary Ann Mobley, the actress portraying Agent Dancer in this episode alone, brings an interesting angle to her, though. It's subtle, but you catch it when the character switches from her real personality to her assumed undercover persona. April Dancer is at ease in social situations, but the girl she's posing as is timid, naïve, and not terribly self-confident. Or maybe she is self-confident, when she's talking to someone new and the situation requires it. In other words, Mary Ann Mobley plays April Dancer playing different "characters" as a different undercover situation demands.

April Dancer.

Throughout the entire episode, Dancer succeeds. Everything she tries actually works. But it doesn't come easy. There are close calls, there are moments when she has to ditch some spy gadget and you're just sure it's going to resurface later as proof that she's not who she says she is. I was actually nervous during this episode. I had to pause it because I was just too afraid that Dancer was going to be caught, and I didn't want her to be caught, but in some situations it just didn't seem possible for her to super spy her way out of.

But she does.

April Dancer is the Man from UNCLE I want to see. She's good at what she does. She tricks the baddies. She has the upper hand, but never everything she needs. She has to bide her time so as not to raise suspicion, but she's perpetually inching closer to the secrets she needs to expose the evil plans of THRUSH.

No admittance.

Gripping, I tell you. She makes me want to be a spy.


Her partner in the episode is Mark Slate, played by Norman Fell. They make an amazing team. What John Steed and Emma Peel had in chemistry, Dancer and Slate have in their generation gap.

There's a running gag in this episode that UNCLE agents get assigned to desk jobs when they turn 40. Mark Slate is called in to help Agent Dancer, and at first he protests that he can't possibly work with a teenager. Waverly assures him that she's 24 and very capable, so Slate agrees, but he's clearly, suddenly, uncomfortably aware of his own age. He gets out of breath when he runs after an important delivery, he's conscious of his waistline, and he's taken aback by Dancer's pragmatic and methodical (and effective!) approach to espionage.

Mark Slate.

In the end of the episode, it's revealed that Slate is actually over 40 but nobody had noticed yet in his file. Waverly graciously suggests that his birth year was a typo in UNCLE files, and urges Slate to change it so he can continue to be a field agent and a partner to Dancer. It's an ending you very much want to lead to further episodes. I guess it did, in a way, but I have to admit to being dubious that the TV show could possibly top the pilot.

Best of the best

This is one of the best UNCLE episodes. If you have to see two UNCLE episodes, watch the pilot. Both of them.

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

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