Superlative Steed

This was something I originally posted on my tumblr blog, but it seems appropriate to repost it here, with a few modifications.

In “The Superlative Seven,” Steed and six others are lured onto a plane by a criminal mastermind (Donald Sutherland!) who is trying to sell his method of martial arts training to a foreign buyer. The captives on the plane include a fencing master, a bullfighter, a sharpshooter, a big game hunter, a military man who has created his own system of unarmed combat (Brian Blessed!), and a strongman. And then there’s Steed. The seven of them are being taken to a remote island in order to put to the test the fighting abilities of the mastermind’s protegé, who is hidden among the seven.

avengers.strongmansteed.02avengers.strongmansteed.01While the seven are on the plane, the strongman bends a poker, which he then tosses to Steed. Steed proceeds to unbend the poker, much to the chagrin of the strongman, who had been billing himself as “the strongest man in the world.” We later see Steed engage in a bit of trick shooting with a revolver.

Previous episodes have established Steed’s credentials as an expert swordsman (like the fencing master); skilled at and imaginative with unarmed combat (like the military man); very good at “track[ing] things down” and “dispatch[ing] them” (like the big game hunter); and nimble and cool-headed (like the bullfighter). Steed also occasionally uses a firearm (like the sharpshooter), although usually for practical purposes, rather than in the kind of flashy display of pure skill he employs in “Seven.” Displays of raw strength (like the strongman) for its own sake on Steed’s part (as opposed to strength as a factor in combat) do occur but are uncommon.

steed.bullfighting.dial   steed.pullups.chorusoffrogs
left: Making like a bullfighter in “Dial a Deadly Number”
right: Showing off with pullups in “A Chorus of Frogs”

The poker-bending and sharpshooting displays in “Seven” have several functions. On a practical level, having Steed bend pokers and do trick shooting is the most economical way to hint at his abilities, since both take little time and neither requires him to engage an opponent. They give Steed the chance to show off, which he always enjoys (as do we), and create tension by suggesting to his fellow captives that he might be the hidden killer. They also serve notice to the killer that he will have a job of work on his hands getting rid of Steed.

avengers.strongmansteed.03But more importantly, these moments serve to underscore two vital points: 1) Steed combines within himself the skills and qualities of all six of the others and 2) of all the captives, only Steed is willing to be flexible and creative in his approaches to danger, whereas the others stick to their specialties, with fatal consequences. Steed therefore is the only one capable of defeating the mastermind’s champion, which he does in a single combat about three quarters of the way through the episode. (Which we all knew already, but I’m a nerd and an intellectual and have to overthink everything. That’s why blogs exist, right?)

avengers.strongmansteed.04But wait! There’s more: The mastermind’s champion is not one man, but a pair of identical twins. And like the twins, Steed alone of all the captives has his own equally talented counterpart: Mrs. Peel, who also possesses all six skills and abilities. Realizing that the party invitation was bogus, Steed arranges to have Mrs. Peel follow the plane and join him later. When she arrives, Steed has been knocked out, leaving Mrs. Peel to do away with the second twin, which she does with her usual elegant efficiency.

(The final dispatch of the mastermind, however, is given to the sharpshooting Miss Wild who, along with Steed, is the only other survivor from the plane.)

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