10.02.2015

The Avengers: How to Succeed... at Murder

Season 4, Episode 25.

I've grown a bit bored with the template route I've been taking with these TV Tomb Avengers posts. I enjoy finding patterns in things, but it was just starting to feel like work instead of fun.

I'd started the below, though, before deciding to give up the approach. Rather than spend thirty seconds rethinking anything, I figured hey, let's just finish with one last go-round.

And away we go!

1) PROLOGUE INTRODUCES THE MYSTERY

A man barks into his desk intercom for his secretary to get into his office right away. She says "Right away, sir," then blows him up.


Things to which our attention is drawn: 1) before exploding, the man was complaining about an over-elaborate filing system his secretary had implemented, and 2) the secretary put on a strange bracelet before detonating the bomb.

Usually after the prologue we cut right to: 

2) STEED AND PEEL MAKE INITIAL INQUIRIES

but this time, the episode stays with the developing mystery a bit longer. The secretary Gladys (Anne Cunningham) delivers her report on the above operation to a woman whose face we don't see, but whose voice we hear congratulating the ladies assembled on their continued efforts.

We don't learn what purpose these efforts serve just yet, but another girl, Sara -
played by The Prisoner alum Angela Browne -
is given a new target.
Enter: Steed and Peel.

That's not an exact chronology, but I didn't want to bog things down. Upon discovering the body - the twelfth in only a few weeks - they take an air sample of the inside of the car, which smells of a strong and singular perfume. 

Steed goes to snoop in the office of the man who was killed - and is knocked unconscious by unseen assailants -
while Mrs. Peel goes off to meet this week's:

3) KOOKY ALLY

J.J. Hooter. Who does not disappoint.

"I smell a great deal. I have smelled all over the world!"
He identifies the perfume sample as "Leap into my Fervid Arms."

Hooter tells Mrs. Peel the perfume is for a very special client, but when he asks his secretary (three guesses what bracelet she's wearing) to bring in the file, it's missing the pertinent information. Mrs. Peel promises to come back for it later. Alas, for J.J. Hooter, he will smell no more  -

forever.

"It's the same lady who blew up the dude in the intro, bro!" says over-excited-Avengers-reviewer-guy. Indeed it is, bro. (Gladys, played by Anne Cunningham). When Mrs. Peel returns, she's told that Mr. Hooter has died mysteriously, which leaves her in charge. This is literally only a few hours later. As the new boss, Gladys must regretfully deny Mrs. Peel's request for her client's identity. 


4) BRING ON THE BAD GUYS

So what exactly is going on here?  

These ladies are all taking jobs as secretaries to powerful businessmen, organizing their files in a seemingly incomprehensible way (so only they can make sense of them), murdering them, then replacing them.
All at the behest...
of Henrietta.

That's a great reveal when it happens. Sorry to spoil it. Nature of the TV Tomb beast, I'm afraid. But yeah, these ladies are taking their orders from this spooky puppet lady with a Janeway/Blofeld voice, whom her assistant, Henry  -
 

lavishes with fine perfumes and fancy sables. Do the girls think she is some kind of magical puppet? Or merely the eccentric spokesperson for an unseen boss? More on that - and Henry - in a bit.

Naturally, Mrs. Peel and Steed decide the best way to sort this out is to go in:

5) UNDERCOVER

Steed (with considerable relish) poses as an aloof millionaire in need of a secretary, while Peel charms her way into the girl assassins gang.
"You can practice on Henry."

Everything's going swimmingly until Gladys and Mrs. Peel again meet face to face, and she blows Peel's cover. Meanwhile, Sara, whom Henrietta has dispatched to take out Steed, proves no match for Steed's tickling abilities. 

This isn't an exact chronology, either, I'm just cruising along.

6) MRS. PEEL CHANGES TO SOME KINKY GET-UP

No real kinky get-up this time, but the official cover for the Girl Gang is an exercise and dance "to keep trim" company. So everyone does leotard it up for most of the second half of the episode.


"RUINATION TO ALL MEN!"
Check out the first-class leering done by Henry on this one girl:

7) THE FINAL ASSAULT

Steed arrives just as the girls are surrounding Mrs. Peel.
They weren't sure exactly how to deal with her, as they have rules against killing "one of their own kind." Steed's arrival allows them to transfer their rage unto him.

Steed stalls for time until he can punch Henry, which interrupts Henrietta's orders to kill him. Everyone is stunned. Steed reveals that Henry has been speaking through Henrietta via ventriloquism and controlling her actions "Spock's-Brain"-style with a handheld device.

Not the only "Spock's Brain" sort of deal, here, thematically.
"You've been taking your orders from a man this whole time...!"

Some fans have decried this bit of business as incredibly sexist. I can understand, to some extent - that's why I mention "Spock's Brain" - but I'm not sure I agree. For one thing, Avengers villains are always impossibly-ridiculous; it's part of the whole comic-book tongue-in-cheek charm of the show. For another thing, no one is saying the women are too dumb to do lead themselves or come up with these plans on their own, merely that Henry/Henrietta was able to exploit their individually-chosen desires for revenge and domination. 

And let's not forget that their whole scheme rests on their undefeated ability to outsmart every male captain of industry they've infiltrated and destroyed. I don't think any of this agency is lost by this reveal, mainly due to our next section.

8) HENRY AND HENRIETTA

Intent is always important to establish. True in tort law, true in character study. What's Henry's intent here? Once Steed exposes his scheme, he breaks down very quickly, revealing that Henrietta was the love of his life, now dead, who was the most gifted ballerina and beautiful soul he ever knew. But she was used and mistreated by powerful men, who left her a broken vessel that died. As the men truly responsible for her ruin could never be brought to court, Henry brought her back to life as "Henrietta" and recruited his lady assassins to wreak havoc on the smug aristocracy who killed her.

Crazy, obviously, but sympathetically so. Ahead of his time, even.
It's foreshadowed throughout the episode, as well, as he stares at her picture.

He of course tries to get away, and during the chase we hear Henrietta's voice again. it's all very trippy to me. The killer is throwing his voice so he can hear himself justifying his actions. 

"Kill them... get them, Henry..."

It's actually all very sad and works on more levels than it should. God bless the 60s for stuff like that. Steed shoots him, and it's an ambivalent moment. Good stuff. He/she's as memorably exaggerated and comic-book-y as any villain from the Peel-and-Steed stretch, but much more sympathetic than most of them.

9) EPILOGUE

For some reason, Steed and Peel are in the back of a moving van reading from a ventriloquism primer. 


10) AND SPEAKING OF STEED AND PEEL

This is one of their better wait-who-the-hell-are-you-two-anyway episodes. 

Who owns this picture, for real? This is info beyond Google's reach, apparently.
I hope it was Cubby Broccoli.

~
 
was / with

2 comments:

  1. Man, this sounds bonkers. I kind of don't even want to watch the episode, lest it not be quite as nuts as it seems in my mind based on your review.

    J.J. Hooter sounds like a character name that would appear in "Never Say Never Again."

    The idea of a clan of women clad in workout clothes hollering "Ruination to all men!" appeals to me. "Ruination" is such a specific word to use in that context; unexpectedly hifalutin'. The only better such word I can currently think of is "abasement," but ruination seem more final.

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    Replies
    1. "Ruination to all men!" is indeed a great toast. I'm sure an add-on/ call-and-response can be made around "abasement." "And abasement to their allies!" or some such thing. "And abasement to their kinfolk!" in a Cletus-from-Simpsons voice, even better.

      And yeah, definitely one of the bonkers-ier episodes of the Emma Peel years.

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