For about seventy-five percent of its running time, this episode was a low-key and somewhat shapeless affair, whose plot didn’t seem to hang together or have any real point. Of course, we had already been given a very big clue, in the opening scenes, that fell into place once the mad scientist behind everything gave us the full no-names exposition as the climax neared.
To take things in the order in which they were served up, we began with a bearded individual (who we knew from the credits was Professor Amadeus (Alexander Scourby)) driving a pick-up truck into the woods, to dump an oil barrel into the creek before being interrupted by three boys in a rowboat, driving off, the barrel falling off in the woods and a white-haired man emerging in jerky motion before dropping dead.
Cue Ilya Kuryakin explaining everything to Napoleon Solo (and the audience). The dead man in former Nazi, Major Ernst Neubel, believed dead this past twenty years. Neubel was assigned as security to Dr Volp, a scientist, also believed dead these past twenty years, along with his last, unknown experiment. However, Volp was also an avid stamp collector, and one of his rarest stamps is going under auction tonight. Our men attend to buy it, but so too does an Agent of THRUSH.
This is Angelique, no last name given, played with slinky and steely gusto by Janine Gray. She and Napoloeon are old ‘friends’ and whilst she’d kill him without a qualm, if instructed, the pair do tend to have the odd truce here and there, during which it’s quite obvious that they bonk each others’ brains out. Nevertheless, they are on different sides in this as both THRUSH and U.N.C.L.E. want Dr Wolp and whatever he’s been working on.
Enter college student Chuck Boskirk, played by the fresh-faced Burt Brinkerhoff, and his pretty blonde fiancee Terry Brent (Brooke Bundy). Chuck is the stamp seller. It’s not his stamp, of course, it arrived through the post, anonymously, with instructions, but he gets 10% of the price, amounting to $650, on which he hopes to be able to marry Terry in the summer instead of waiting – in all senses of the word – until Graduation, though with the fair Miss Bundy, who could blame him for impatience?
Everyone wants Volp, who, in case you hadn’t already guessed it, is Professor Amadeus, Science lecturer at Chuck and Terry’s college. Chuck gets kidnapped, twice, the second time by Volp, Angelique finds Volp but fails to convince him to join THRUSH and is tied up herself, Napoleon gets there following Chuck’s homing device but is overcome by fumes. And everything drops into place and the episode suddenly becomes extremely pointed.
It’s now a cliche that no-one of any creative intelligence would dare use but back then, less than twenty years from the end of WW2, it may well have been fresh enough to be startling. Certainly it’s startling enough here, in the fanaticism Volp displays. He doesn’t want THRUSH, he doesn’t need THRUSH, he is aiming higher. He has lost none of his Nazi beliefs. His last great experiment was in suspending animation: now he intends to use Solo’s blood to revive their leader to be a leader to new, disaffected, strong young men. The H-name is never mentioned but does it need to be?
Needless to say, Ilya’s intervention brings the whole thing down in flames, literally, including Volp and his leader, the latter of whom Solo dispatches into the fire. Which gives us time for a happy ending as U.N.C.L.E. treats Chuck and Terry to a world-spanning honeymoon, and Angelique offers our man Napoleon another ‘truce’. Until the next time, no doubt, though she never returned and indeed Miss Gray gave up her acting career only five years later, having also appeared in the first series of Danger Man, in Get Smart, Bewitched and as a presenter on Double Your Money (ask your grandparents).
Taken overall, the ending had a fair amount to make up for, which it did to a large extent, but the episode did itself no favours with its title, and its ongoing theme of Games in the Act titles when the actual story was completely unrelated to games. We’re still feeling our way into what U.N.C.L.E. will become and, after last week, this is a One Step Back. Tune in for more next Tuesday.