I'm rewatching every episode of the Man from UNCLE series from start to finish. This review may contain spoilers.
I have a feeling this episode had a great script. I think I see what they were going for, and I can imagine it being very intriguing in written form, but somehow something got lost in the translation to motion picture.
The plot is about a boy's school under THRUSH's control. No, not the boy's school in Switzerland under THRUSH control, the one in Italy.
The plot is almost comical at points. Ilya and Napoleon get split up, so naturally Ilya goes head-first into a lair of baddies. He's obviously subdued and captured instantly. Why have a team of agents if each agent is going to deliberately go into dangerous situations? The buddy system doesn't work when you leave your buddy behind.
Later, Solo boldly goes to the boy's school, and immediately runs away. No, really. He goes into the building that he suspects is an evil hideout, spots a hidden camera observing him, and so he runs away. What did he expect to find in the evil lair? He was fine with finding evil THRUSH agents there, but poorly concealed cameras were too much for him to stomach?
The episode's companion serves no purpose. She's a nanny who hates kids, but of course actually loves them. She keeps losing the kid under her care, but that's just an excuse to propel her and the UNCLE agents into action. It's hard to keep track of all the kids in this movie, but I'm pretty sure her kid isn't even an evil THRUSH student. He's just a MacGuffin that you forget about for most of the episode, until the end, when Mr. Waverly says that he had given the kid some sweets and everyone inexplicably bursts out laughing.
This is a bizarrely awkward episode.
This episode isn't awkward in its plot alone. Much of the action feels a little off, as well. For instance, UNCLE hires the boy's choir from the THRUSH school to perform at their Secret Agent Conference being held nearby. (Why UNCLE would hire a boy's choir while two agents are investigating a nearby boy's school run by THRUSH is incomprehensible to me.) There's a big THRUSH raid on the conference site while the boy's choir inside sings its way toward the climactic moment when they decide to open fire (you wouldn't open fire on your enemy before little Timmy's big solo, would you?).
I'll bet the writer of the episode had imagined the juxtaposition of a sweet boy's choir to the harsh drama of a ruthless THRUSH raid outside. It was probably meant to be a scene of secret agents firing at secret agents in the yard of a great Alpine castle (are there castles in the Alps?), a grand ballroom with crystal chandeliers, Mr. Waverly's life in imminent danger.
But what ended up on TV was a small chateau with two dinner tables, eight UNCLE dignitaries, an awkward boy's choir singing the simplest of songs (Frère Jacques and Lullabye, as I recall), and two guys shooting back and forth with Kuryakin and Solo.
It just doesn't quite hit the mark.
What does work is the episode's uncomfortably kinky villains, Mother Fear (Jeanne Cooper) and Captain Dennis Jenks (Warren Stevens). They're the power couple running the evil school, and it is weird.
Mother Fear is terrifying. Truly terrifying. She is calm and confident and gentle and understanding. She's a polite hostess, she never raises her voice, and she's utterly psychopathic.
She treats every man as if he were a young boy. She comforts them, and then tortures them, and then gives them commands, and tortures them some more. Jeanne Cooper is chilling to witness. The scene between her and Kuryakin is genuinely disturbing.
I can imagine the script sold on strength of Mother Fear alone. She's a strong character (literally and figuratively) and if I were going to watch this episode again, it would be for her.
Lead image by Anthony DELANOIX under the terms of the Unsplash License. Modified by Seth in Inkscape.