Steed and His Shadows

A double agent named Pieter Borowski is now in custody in Britain. He had been imprisoned by enemy agents who tortured him into assuming multiple personalities. Steed’s supervisor, Charles, calls Steed in to try to get Borowski to talk sense, but the only piece of useful information he imparts is that the bad guys now are engaged in a program of creating doppelgängers of various important people, then killing off the originals and having the doubles take over their roles. (I discussed Steed’s encounter with Borowski in detail here.) For the remainder of the episode, Steed and Cathy struggle to find out who the doubles are, and to prevent Steed’s double from staging his own successful takeover.

“Man With Two Shadows” is aptly titled, since Steed does indeed have a doppelgänger who is intended to kill him and take his place. However, in addition to the real-Steed/fake-Steed pairing, the concept of “shadow” also plays out in many other ways across this episode. In this post, I’m going to talk about these different types of shadows and how they function, not only in reference to Steed and his double, but also to Charles, Steed’s supervisor; to Cathy Gale; and to the villains, fake-Gordon and fake-Cummings.

The Shadow of Steed’s Past

An earlier version of this section was published here.

After interrogating Borowski, Steed goes to Cathy’s flat and tells her what he has learned so far. He explains that the bad guys have developed a new technique for inducing their victims to take on whatever new personalities their torturers choose for them. Then he drops a bombshell: he admits that he was once captured by the same people, held for four days, and that he’s sure that they’d do to him what they did to Borowski, and probably make a double of him “if they could catch me again.” Cathy expresses shock at this. Steed refuses to elaborate, saying only that “it’s a long story.”

Steed: They’d use me, too, if they could catch me again.
Cathy: Again?
Steed: That’s a long story.

But Cathy’s imagination is caught. She starts riffing on the idea of a doubles program. At first, Steed engages in the discussion and seems to be his usual bluff self, but there’s something brittle about his demeanor. He’s dismissive of the possibility of doubles, but it seems that what he’s actually doing is trying to convince himself—without success—that it wouldn’t be possible, rather than trying to convince her. He’s smiling and joking, but he’s also jumpy as a cat. He’s worried, frightened, struggling to stave off flashbacks, and is trying not to show it.

Cathy: Doubles feature in most folklore. You must have heard of Doppelgänger—the German one.
Steed: Yeah, but it’s a pretty rare coincidence.
Cathy: The law of averages makes it inevitable.

Then Cathy starts wondering aloud how such an exchange might actually be accomplished. While she’s doing this, Steed begins to withdraw into himself. Cathy is so wrapped up in her fascination with the idea of making doubles, she doesn’t notice that what she is saying is causing Steed to retreat emotionally and psychologically.

Cathy: Doctors, dentists, surgeons, psychologists…. It might take years. It would be fascinating.
Steed: All this for one man?
Cathy: It would depend on the value of the man. 

Capturing and torturing people and making doubles of them are all academic exercises to Cathy. She hasn’t been subjected to any of that, so it has no emotional impact on her and she can discuss it not only dispassionately, but with a certain admiration for the process. She’s looking at this from an anthropologist’s vantage point, as an outside observer.

But when Cathy says that a valuable man would be a good target for this program, Steed realizes that he might have already been used to make a doppelgänger. Steed has been badly shaken by his encounter with Borowski: he remembers how he himself endured that torture, and now he realizes that there’s very likely a double of himself walking around out there, who has orders to kill him and take his place. He knows his life is at risk and how dangerous it will be if the exchange is successful and his double gets access to the information and secrets Steed knows. Steed is emotionally invested in this in a way Cathy can never be. Cathy doesn’t connect Steed’s mention of having been caught by “them” with the fact that the process that so interests her has already been used on Steed himself. She’s too busy analysing the possibilities of what such a program could do and how it might work to consider what it might have already done and, what is more, is still doing to her dear friend who is sitting right next to her. The shadow of Steed’s past is causing him to fall into a PTSD episode, and he has to work very hard indeed to pull himself together so that he can continue to work on the case.

Steed Pretends to Be Himself (But Isn’t Really Himself)

Evidence from Borowski’s effects suggests that a base of operations for the baddies is a holiday camp. Steed and Cathy go there, and encounter a man claiming to be Bill Gordon, an important scientist who is slated to work at Cape Canaveral soon. Steed already suspects that Gordon is one of the doubles: the mangled body of a man roughly matching Gordon’s size and shape has been found near Newcastle. But the body has been so badly mauled that it is unrecognizable, even by his own doctor and dentist. Steed proposes that they examine the man now passing himself off as Gordon, to see whether they can figure out if he’s real or not. They make out that Gordon has to have a checkup because of something to do with radiation at his work. The doctor is convinced that it’s Gordon, but the dentist knows it isn’t him: the real Gordon had some recent work done by her, and that work is missing in fake-Gordon’s mouth.

Fake-Gordon already knows that Steed is real-Steed. He knows that the swap hasn’t taken place yet. But real-Steed knows that Gordon (whether real or fake) doesn’t know him from Adam, and he proceeds to use this as a way to test how well the opposition really know him. It turns out they don’t really know him at all, or at least they have failed to thoroughly brief Gordon on the kind of man Steed actually is. Steed also intends this to create distinctions between himself and the fake Steed he knows must be coming for him soon.

When Steed meets Gordon, they chat for a bit while waiting for the doctor and dentist to arrive. Gordon asks why Steed happens to be at the camp: Steed says that he’s on holiday. Now, when Steed tells Cathy that this is to be his cover, she is surprised. Cathy knows that a camp like this is not a place Steed would normally think to vacation. But Gordon doesn’t know this. Steed says he’s on holiday there, and Gordon doesn’t bat an eye.

avengers-unsorted-caps2017-01-18-22h43m28s905While Steed and Gordon stand talking, Steed slouches something fierce. Anyone who knows Steed at all will notice that this is not his normal posture. Steed is purposely avoiding the usual upright grace with which he carries himself.

The men sit down. Gordon takes out a pack of cigarettes and offers Steed one. Steed declines, saying he doesn’t smoke. This, of course, is hogwash. Steed absolutely does smoke, both cigarettes and cigars. But again Gordon doesn’t notice the discrepancy. He doesn’t know anything about Steed except what he looks like on the outside.

Steed’s demeanor is also different from how he usually presents himself. He employs a kind of brittle bonhomie here, whereas normally he is much more relaxed and less jocular. Gordon accepts what he sees, though.

Steed gets chummy with fake-Gordon

Steed achieves both his goals. He tests whether Gordon really knows anything about him, and finds that Gordon is completely ignorant. By extension, this provides Steed with some hope that the other double (whom he has yet to meet) will also be ignorant, and that in case the double is successful in killing the real Steed, there will be enough discrepancies that Mrs Gale or others who know the real him will notice. To test all these things, Steed therefore casts a false shadow, creating a fake “real Steed” that slouches, doesn’t smoke, and vacations at cheap holiday camps.

Steed Pretends to Be His Own Double

Steed is summoned back to his chalet. He suspects that this might be the time when the double is going to try to kill him, and he is not disappointed. He manages to kill the double, who is waiting for him with a gun in the shower. And then begins the trickiest dance Steed has had to do yet.

  • Real-Steed needs to pretend to be
  • fake-Steed, whose job it is to convince all and sundry that he is, in fact,
  • real-Steed, after the
  • real real-Steed has laid a trail of breadcrumbs about his habits that are the opposite of how he really is because
  • he is attempting to establish a kind of fake real-Steed that is different from
  • the real fake-Steed and also different from
  • the real real-Steed.

(Are you confused yet? I am. And Steed might be, a little. The real Steed, that is. The fake one is dead. Not the fake real-Steed: he’s actually the real real-Steed and he’s still alive. The real fake-Steed is the dead one. So.)

So while real-Steed is pretending to be fake-Steed, he does a bunch of things based on what he knows of himself, what he’s pieced together from his interactions with fake-Gordon, and what he guesses (or simply makes up, let’s face it) about  fake-Steed.

Steed has established himself (in his guise as fake real-Steed) as a cheerful and jocular fellow. So when he has to take over fake-Steed’s role, he pretends to be the opposite when he’s with Gordon. He glowers, his voice is lower in pitch, he’s a bit morose. When Gordon tells him that he’s got a partner in Mrs Gale, Steed complains, “I don’t go for widows,” but he also hints that he already knows that Steed and Mrs Gale are friends.

Real-Steed pretending to be fake-Steed talks with fake-Gordon

Later, Steed and Gordon meet up with Cummings, the third double. Cummings is an MP; while the men are talking a woman steps up to the table and asks Cummings for his autograph. While she is waiting for him to sign, Steed makes it pretty obvious that he’s checking her out, then blows her a kiss.


Steed likes women, and he’s a terrific flirt, but that kind of familiarity is something he simply doesn’t do, normally, and wouldn’t do since he’s in a relationship with Cathy at the moment. But he’s also pretending to be his own double right now. Real-Steed has no idea what kind of man fake-Steed actually was, but real-Steed wants to distance himself from that man in small but (for him) significant ways. Being a bit oily with a pretty woman is one way he does this.

Although Steed is able to fool Gordon pretty easily, he has a more difficult time convincing Cummings. After Gordon leaves, Steed and Cummings continue their conversation. They discuss Steed’s recent interaction with Mrs Gale. Cummings says things that indicate that a) he knows Cathy’s name and that she exists; b) he knows that Steed and Mrs Gale are connected; but c) he’s never actually seen her and knows very little about her. Cummings also indicates that having to deal with Mrs Gale is something that the real fake-Steed hadn’t been prepared for.

Cummings: Who’s this woman you’ve been talking to?
Steed: Mrs Gale.
Cummings: Catherine Gale. Sorry about that. Was it difficult?
Steed: A little. She’s suspicious of me. But it will be all right. In our business you soon learn to recognize your own kind.

Cummings asks whether Mrs Gale is suspicious. Steed says that she is, but not to worry: “In our business you soon learn to recognize your own kind.” This statement can mean several different things. Steed could be trying to allay Cummings’ fears by saying that Mrs Gale will recognize him as Steed, even though he is—as far as Cummings should be concerned—the fake Steed. But this also could be a kind of veiled heads-up, warning Cummings that Steed is, in fact, not fake-Steed, but real-Steed pretending to be fake-Steed, and that he (real-Steed) is on to what the doubles program is doing, that fake-Steed is dead, and that real-Steed is going to put a stop to what Cummings and co. are doing. A third possibility is that Steed is trying to reassure himself that Cathy will recognize him for who he really is (which she has already shown is a problem for her), even though he will be able to fool Cummings and Gordon into thinking that he is fake-Steed. Although maybe Steed actually means all three of these? In any event, Cummings tells Steed that if he can’t convince Cathy that he’s the real deal, he must kill her.

Later, we find Steed’s statement about recognizing one’s own kind was indeed taken by Cummings as an indication that he had been talking to real-Steed, not the double. Cummings finds that Steed was too relaxed, and that the own-kind statement was the kind of thing a professional agent would say. He then gives orders that Steed and Mrs Gale be killed.

So, in pretending to be fake-Steed, real-Steed creates or encounters the following shadows:

  • Real-Steed is casting a shadow by pretending to be fake-Steed
  • In his guise as fake-Steed, there is the shadow of Cathy’s doubt over his identity, which could lead to the exposure of the whole doubles program
  • Cummings’ suspicion of Steed throws a shadow that could end in Steed’s death
  • And real-Steed is dealing with the shadow of Cathy’s doubt as to his identity on a personal level (about which more below)

Mrs Gale, Charles, and the Shadow of Steed’s Death

One of the most important shadows cast in this episode is the one having to do with Cathy’s doubt about Steed’s identity after the attempted switch. I discussed the evidence she has and how she uses it to determine whether  Steed is who he claims to be in an earlier post. But let’s dial it back to her encounter with Charles, because that’s where the shadow begins to fall.

As I discussed in the earlier post, Cathy uses the fact that Steed tells her about his capture, torture, and escape to confirm for herself that he hasn’t already been switched. But then she meets with Charles at her flat, and this conversation casts a long shadow over the rest of the episode: Charles hints that it’s possible Steed was already switched, planting a doubt in Cathy’s mind as to whether Steed is his own real self or not. Charles also plays a question game with her, ostensibly to determine whether she is her real self, as well. And  Charles’ parting shot is to observe that, unlike Steed, he wasn’t held for four days.

When Cathy meets with Steed at the camp, she notices the bandage on his head. He says that he hurt himself because he is too tall for the chalet doors. They exchange some information about what Borowski said, and then Cathy plies Steed with the same questions Charles used on her. But Steed doesn’t remember what she ate at that dinner, and although he remembers her uncle and his dog, he can’t remember the animal’s name. This ratchets up Mrs Gale’s anxiety, to the point where she actually withholds important information from Steed. Borowski said that one of the doubles would be “a public man,” and that the other would be “a British agent.” She isn’t exactly lying when she says that Borowski did not pin Steed as one of the doubles (there are many “British agents” out there, after all), but when Steed asks what he said about the third, Cathy declines to tell him even what little she knows. This is very uncharacteristic of her, and shows the depth of her worry over Steed’s identity.

Steed already knows that he was intended for the second double: he shot the guy in his chalet. And if dealing with the inhuman torture of his friend, PTSD from his past, having to play multiple roles as both fake real-Steed and fake fake-Steed weren’t enough, he has essentially had to shoot himself and now his best friend is no longer sure of him. The one anchor he thought he could count on has been taken away, and he is well and truly alone.

When Steed describes what went down in the chalet, he waxes eloquent. His tone is light, but it’s clear that he found the experience deeply disturbing.

Steed: I found that I had shot myself. Now I know what I look like dead.

Unfortunately, Cathy can’t bring herself to use this conversation as evidence that she’s talking to the real Steed. She’s so wound up in the idea of making perfect doubles, and so worried that her care for Steed will blind her to any discrepancies in his behavior that might clue her in that he’s a fake—Steed did say that Julie’s love for Gordon would make her less observant rather than more—that she goes overboard with her suspicion and begins to think that this might not really be Steed. Even though he’s opening up his heart to her about the horror of having to kill a man that looks and moves exactly like him, she can’t see that this is Steed, the real Steed, her Steed, her lover and best friend, talking to her. And this breaks Steed’s heart. The shadow cast by Charles in Cathy’s flat now is making it impossible for Cathy to see Steed at all, and has cut Steed off from his dearest friend.

Steed: You do believe me, don’t you?

Steed must face the shadow of his death not only in his encounter with his double, but again as part of the logical test that Cathy sets up to determine whether both Cummings and Steed are real or fake. Cathy leaves Steed and Cummings alone in Steed’s chalet after chasing off Rudi, who had attacked Steed and tried to kill him moments earlier. And Cathy has given Cummings a revolver. Neither of the men know that the gun is unloaded: Steed is terrified that Cummings will kill him, as he cannot fail to do at such close range. This is real terror. Steed is a guinea pig in Cathy’s logical experiment. He thinks that she has abandoned him completely, that he will die at any moment.

Steed: When you go out of here, he’ll kill me.

It’s not until Cummings does try to shoot him that Steed is able to take control of the situation. When the hammer clicks on empty chambers, Cummings is momentarily distracted and Steed uses this opening to jump Cummings and subdue him.


Here Comes the Sun….

It’s not until the very end of the tag scene that the shadows of the episode are finally dispelled. Cathy is annoyed at Steed because they’re allowing Gordon’s marriage to Julie to go forward (Julie had fallen in love with real-Gordon, so fake-Gordon had to pick up where his original left off, and the Ministry are manipulating fake-Gordon for their own purposes now). Steed says that it’s okay because even though the Gordon Julie is marrying isn’t the one she met, he’s still the one she loves. Then he asks “Am I the Steed you knew this time last year?” Cathy replies, “You tell me.” So Steed does: he whispers something in her ear that makes Cathy laugh. It reassures her that this is her own real Steed, and Steed finally has his Cathy back.

Steed: If I’m me or not? That’s easy, my dear Mrs Gale.


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