2x18 The Birds and the Bees 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.




That's the episode. But the actual plot is about failure.

Everything Kuryakin tries in this episode fails spectacularly. He fails to apprehend the villain, he leads the villain into UNCLE headquarters and still fails to apprehend him, he caves under torture, he fails to protect the civilian he ropes into his mission, his private communications are overheard. He's not the only one rubbish at his job, though. He and Solo enlist a common taxi driver to outrun professional secret agents, leading to an unsurprising car wreck. Solo snoops around and gets captured and subdued by an old scientist armed with a single killer bee.

It's a disaster, probably the worst secret agenting yet. At first, it really annoyed me. I guess it still does. However, it also made me realise that actually this is one of the show's main formulæ. Any viewer that's made it to this point in the show's run has to be used to Solo and Kuryakin screwing up. They do all kinds of stupid things all the time. They don't wear disguises and are recognised as UNCLE agents more often than not. They don't make plans in the face of impossible odds, and the plans they do make usually fail. When their plans fail, they have no contingency. They endanger the lives of civilians, they get captured and nearly killed.

Basically, they're a joke, and kind of have been since the first season. It's pretty obvious why. The show needs drama and tension, and our protagonists failing is one way to generate that.

Modern shows often position the protagonists as an undefeatable force. They're the best at what they do, they always have the upper hand, they can't fail. I don't think that's a modern invention, but it's pretty common these days and so it seems a little odd for UNCLE to fail so often. But I think the idea is that things don't always go well for the protagonists, so they have to figure out how to get out of threatening situations. The danger to that technique is that it can sometimes look like comedy. Put too much failure in one episode, and you've got Get Smart instead of UNCLE.

What makes this episode work to the extent that it does is from constant failure comes the elation of success in the end. It's a surprising twist, actually, and it's actually exhilarating to see Kuryakin get frustrated enough at his own performative imbalance that he tries one last daring act...and succeeds. And it's all the sweeter, of course, that it's all for the love of a pretty lady.

Anna Capri as Tavia Sandor, and object of Kuryakin's affection

The killer bees plot is OK, although it feels perfunctory. It's obviously just an excuse to tell the story of Illya Kuryakin's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. By the end of it all, I think it successfully pulls it off, and now that I understand the episode, I think I'd probably sit through it again were I to see it as a rerun. So...not a bad episode.

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

Previous Post Next Post