Due South: s03 e08 – Spy vs Spy


Due South

When I saw the title of this week’s episode of Due South, what else was I supposed to think of but Antonio Prohias’ long-running cartoon series in Mad magazine? The connection was obviously intended to be deliberate. Unfortunately, the silliness of the strip itself was the overwhelming factor in the episode, which I unhesitatingly nominate as the worst episode of the series. To date. Please let it be the absolute nadir.

There was the makings of a serious story underlying the episode. It took the break-up of the Soviet Union and the subsequent descent of the country into the gangsterdom whose results we see today, defining the split as being between the Mafia and the Colonels. One of these factions, and it was typical of the episode that it was never quite made clear which one, were arranging a serious arms sale to a party that was even more obscured. You can see how that idea could have been developed into a substantial plot, leavened with the familiar banter between Fraser and Ray.

Instead, the episode decided to go for extreme silliness at every turn, to a consequently excessive and embarrassing degree.

I don’t really have the patience to lay out the plotline in any detail. I’d rather forget the episode entirely, but some effort of explication is needed. Basically, it all began reasonably straightforwardly, with eccentricities clearly defined. Fraser, still apartment hunting, introduces Ray to an eccentric old man, Albert Hanrahan, known as H, who makes money playing chess. H (Eric Christmas) claims to be a lifelong spy, currently in deep cover, awaiting activation after more years than anyone could count. Everyone knows he’s a spy. No-one actually believes it.

But, being at least very well-versed in the art of espionage (if only through intense book-reading), H happens to be in the right place to spot a drop, intercepts the message and is about to be very badly beaten for it when Fraser and Ray intervene. Ray knocks out the Russian-looking assailant with one punch. The man drops dead. Lt. Welsh is not pleased. So far, so promising.

Obviously, the death is going to be because the agent broke his cyanide tooth, which is indeed the explanation. Learning this takes us to the morgue and a repeat appearance from Jan Rubes as the eccentric, opera-loving Dr Mort Gustafson. From then on, it only gets worse. In fact, it hits the episode’s own nadir very early on, when H sends Fraser to the ballet to meet ‘his’ contact in his place. This is the severely handsome Nadia, about whom I’d better not say too much as she is played by Martha Burns, who is Paul Gross’ wife. Much whispering at cross-purposes leads to much cartoon shushing, followed by the attempt to kill Fraser – in full uniform – in front of the audience, that naturally means Fraser has to escape via the stage and joining in with the ballet, heaving ballerinas around with natural grace before escaping via the scenery, as per the photo above. The heart sinks, deeper than any mine in the world.

That is, at least, the worst the episode has to offer, but that’s not to say that it gets any better. An agent calling himself Pike (Maury Chaykin) keeps popping up out of nowhere, driving a black limousine in a madcap way, as evidenced by badly superimposed street scene backdrops that keep showing him swerving dangerously around the same red car multiple times, whilst spinning a line of insane dialogue that is clearly meant to be funny in itself, but which is equally a stopgap to spin the episode out to the required length without developing the story, because nobody has any clever ideas – sorry, strike that ‘clever’ – on how to do so.

Incidentally, one of those rants is a rewind of the reason Fraser is partnering with Stanley Raymond Kowalski instead of Ray Vecchio, but that New Ray is being called Vecchio as if he were Real Ray, this time explained in more detail than we actually got in episode 1 of this season, which is nice and reminds us but which has exactly zero to do with this story. Filler.

Anyway, everybody lives in fear of some mysterious agent known as Nautilous, who turns out to be the last person you’d expect her to be just at the point where the show is tipping its hand that the last person isn’t the sweet, innocent, loving old landlady she’s been set up to be. She’s defeated by H, the self-proclaimed coward, discovering a sense of courage. The episode then ends by setting up both Nautilus and Pike for a return, but though Maury Chaykin, and Martha Burns, do appear in future episodes, it is both as completely different characters.

So, no. A complete failure. A perfect example of the show losing it, of opting for too-obvious eccentricity as opposed to decent writing that can balance out the serious and the comic in any realistic manner. Stupid, in fact. It is painfully reminiscent of the latter half of Keith Giffen and J M DeMatteis’s Justice League International, where the need to constantly top themselves on the absurdity took the series way beyond any of the grounding it needed in order to bear the weight of forced eccentricity. ‘Spy vs Spy’ does exactly that. I hope it’s not a permanent shift, because if it is I’m not going to much enjoy the eighteen remaining episodes before final cancellation. But I’m not hopeful for that hope.

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