The first extended blog series that I attempted when I started writing about The Avengers had to do with my perceptions of the arc of Steed and Mrs Peel’s relationship over the course of the entirety of Season 4. I’m republishing it here, since bits of it connect with new stuff I’m doing, and other bits of it might do so in future. As with the Medieval Maunderings series, I’m reposting here with some light edits that will remain unacknowledged.
There originally were nine parts to this (all of which have titles and subtitles taken from fencing terminology, in honor of the way Mrs Peel is introduced to the audience), to which I tacked on some addenda, and you can get to all of those by following the links below, by scrolling through the posts on my homepage, or by clicking on “Exclusivity Arc” under “Themed Blog Series” in the “Categories” menu.
» The command sequence that begins a fencing match: on guard, ready, go!
Steed and Mrs Peel face off with foil and umbrella
When we first meet Mrs Emma Peel (“Town of No Return”), she is in her apartment, practicing her fencing moves. She invites Steed in, and they begin a conversation that is a mixture of an invitation to take coffee, a challenge to a duel, and double entendre. We learn a lot about Mrs. Peel as an individual in her opening scene with Steed. She’s athletic and a skilled fencer who can give Steed a run for his money; she’s intelligent, has scientific training, and is sufficiently active and respected in her field to have publications in journals; she stands up for herself when challenged; and she has a sharp, wry sense of humor.
» ”No touch” and “touch” respectively. The first means that no point has been scored; the second indicates a scoring attack.
“Too Many Christmas Trees” is is the first episode to deal directly with the question of infidelity vs exclusivity in the relationship between Emma and Steed. It contains several scenes that hint towards Steed’s relationships with other women, and Emma’s first direct expressions of jealousy and mate guarding. As fellow tumblr celluloidbroomcloset has stated elsewhere, “Trees” is a watershed episode in the arc of the relationship between these two characters.
NOTE: As with Part II, this section has also received some substantial revision based on the change in my understanding of what actually happens with the blonde and why in TMCT. If you want to read the original version, please start here and follow the links to the end.
» Eng. change of engagement: often a kind of jockeying for position in which one fencer will attempt to place their blade on the side of the opponent’s that they think will give them the most advantage.
If the first half of Season 4 is the arc that brings Steed and Mrs. Peel from what might be an initially non-exclusive relationship to one with an expectation of mutual fidelity, then the second half of the season shows the growth in that relationship as well as sparring back and forth over fidelity—or at least what seems on the surface to be expressions of jealousy. In the first eight episodes of that part of the season, Steed’s apparent interest in other women will get Emma’s dander up, and Emma will wave her apparent interest in other men at Steed to get back at him for what happened at Storey’s house. Therefore, throughout the second half of Season 4, we have a metaphorical fencing match over sexual matters that is a varied reprise of the literal one in “Town of No Return,” except that the stakes now are whether Steed and Emma will be able to trust one other, not the outcome of friendly swordplay and a cup of coffee with cream.
I hadn’t really dealt with “Small Game for Big Hunters” in the original arc, but at fellow tumblr celluloidbroomcloset’s request I took another look at it. Herewith the results of those ruminations.
Part the First
The opening scenes of the episode suggest a certain amount of distance between Steed and Emma. They don’t arrive on the case together. We know Steed is already there, since his Bentley is parked outside. Emma arrives later, presumably after having been summoned by Steed. Her expression is neutral as she parks the car. She seems neither particularly pleased nor particularly displeased to be there.
One of the most intriguing things about Season 4 is the set of reciprocal structures in salient events, turning points, and position within the season with respect to the arc of Emma and Steed’s relationship. We find that events in the first half of the season often have their mirror opposites in the second half, and that structural points such as beginnings, middles, and ends across the season often correspond to important structural points within the arc.
I’m not sure whether this was something intentional on the part of the writers and producers, but even if it’s entirely coincidental it still makes for some interesting patterns across the season.
In “Dial a Deadly Number,” Mrs Peel goes to visit the undertaker who is dealing with the victim of the murder she and Steed are investigating. When she asks if the undertaker remembers handling matters for the dead man, Mr Tod-Hunter, the undertaker says he does, and then rattles off the specs for the coffin and talks a bit more about coffin handles.
Emma: The late Mr Tod-Hunter … he was brought here, wasn’t he? Undertaker: Tod-Hunter? In mahogany and walnut, velvet lined. Sold brass handles, Gothic style. I prefer the Corinthian fluted myself. Tasteful. Tod-Hunter. Yes, he’s with us.
What I find most compelling about this little scene is the way Mrs Peel treats the undertaker. She doesn’t interrupt him or tell him to get to the point and answer her question. She’s not mocking or contemptuous of him. She doesn’t think he’s weird for being so interested in coffin handles. She smiles at him because she likes him and she thinks he is delightful.
When she listens to him and watches him at his work, Mrs Peel sees a craftsman, someone who is dedicated to his work and wants to do it well, someone who wants to do right by the people he serves, and who is unashamed to take pride in the service he provides.
Emma Peel really sees this man. She embraces who he is, and honors him for it.
And the thing is: Diana Rigg didn’t have to play it that way. She didn’t have to play that scene with delight and appreciation. She could have rolled her eyes, or raised her eyebrows, or sneered at the man, but she doesn’t. Rigg honors the undertaker’s character too, and she honors Mrs Peel by playing that scene with respect and an undercurrent of joy.