Business executives are being murdered at a rather alarming rate, so Steed and Mrs Peel are called in to investigate. They discover that the perpetrators are a group of women who are chafing under the bonds of a patriarchal system that keeps them subservient. These women have been trained first to create filing and accounting systems so baroque that only they understand them, and then to murder their bosses and take over the businesses themselves, since at that point the women are the only ones competent to do so.
The ringleader of the group of women turns out to be not another woman disaffected by patriarchy, but rather a man named Henry. Henry is a ventriloquist, and he gives orders to the women by means of a ventriloquist’s doll. The doll is dressed and speaks as a female, and is named Henrietta, after Henry’s late wife. Although the women see the doll when they have their meetings, they do not realize that Henry is the one supplying her voice: they think there is another woman somewhere that they have not yet seen who is speaking through the doll, and who is the actual leader of their group.
The first in an occasional series on representations of disability in The Avengers
⊗ Content note for discussion of ableism and disabled-as-villain tropes
Odd and possibly criminal things might happening in connection with an intended corneal transplant involving a live donor and an exclusive eye clinic in the Swiss Alps, so Steed asks Mrs Gale to hop over to the Continent to check things out. Marten Halvarssen, a wealthy, blind recluse who is the owner of the clinic (although he himself lives in London), seems to be one of the possible players in the apparent nefariousness, along with Dr Eve Hawn, who is Halvarssen’s fiancee, and Neil Anstice, who at first appears to be one of the clinic’s surgeons but in fact is a sort of mercenary criminal hired to do the legwork of the scheme.
As the title of the episode and the above brief synopsis indicate, disability—in particular, blindness—plays a very important role in both characterization and plot. Although the blind man is worked up as a suspect and potential villain, his actual role in the criminal doings that drive the plot of the episode is rather less black-and-white, making him something of an outlier in Avengers and New Avengers episodes that feature disabled characters, who nearly universally are unequivocally bad guys. Even so, Halvarssen is no Boy Scout: the elaborate diamond-smuggling plot that leads to the murders of Hilda Brauer and Dr Spender was set in motion by him, although the deaths were not part of his plan and he is furious that Anstice killed those people. In the end, however, Halvarssen shows himself to be on the side of the good guys, at least for the moment, actively helping Steed and Mrs Gale take down the others.
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.
⊕ Content notice for discussion and analysis of ableist themes and disabled-as-villain tropes
Here I am bouncing offcelluloidbroomcloset’s ideaabout a blocking of Steed and the Major with a statue of Wellington, and what that shows about their relative personalities.
Harold Long, aka “Apollo,” is an evil psychiatrist who has gathered around him a group of military men who feel that peacetime is bunk and that their lives are insufficiently action-packed. Long has discovered that these men have a kind of physical and mental addiction to danger and violence, so he gets the men to perform random stunts in order to satisfy their craving and to prove their bravery to themselves and to each other. Long also plans daring crimes for them to execute. And the penalty for cowardice or failure? Death.
But after a highly decorated, well-respected general plays chicken with a moving lorry and loses, another officer drowns trying to cross the Atlantic in a canoe, and the serious injury of yet another officer who falls while trying to climb the side of St Paul’s, Steed and Mrs Peel are brought in by the War Office to find out what the heck is going on and to put a stop to it if they can.
In an earlier post, I dealt with issues of gender and combat roles for Steed and Mrs Peel, including an extended discussion of how those things play out in “The Danger Makers” in particular. Here I want to discuss a different aspect of that episode, the depiction of the contrast between the true courage and moral virtue of Steed and Mrs Peel on the one hand, and the depravity of the Danger Makers on the other.
In the Season 2 episode “Warlock,” Steed has to track down the person who murdered Peter Neville, an important British scientist who was working on a top-secret formula, and who also later murders Mrs Dunning, Neville’s housekeeper. With the help of Cathy Gale, Steed discovers that Neville was involved with a black magic circle, and that the members of this circle are implicated in his murder, having been hired by an enemy agent to use occult means to coerce Neville into handing over the formula to the opposition.
This episode was first broadcast in the second half of Season 2 (it’s the eighteenth episode, out of 26, and the twelfth to feature Mrs Gale), although it was originally intended to be the first of the Cathy Gale stories.* Even though it was reworked to function as a later case and appears later in the lineup, it still makes more sense if “Warlock” is construed as Steed and Cathy’s first case rather than one that comes later in their partnership, especially much later. In “Warlock,” they’re clearly still getting to know one another: Steed really has absolutely no idea what to do with Mrs Gale, who is unlike any other woman he’s ever met, and she is herself still trying to decide whether she likes working with Steed or not.
This was originally posted on my tumblr in response to celluloidbroomcloset.tumblr.com’sexcellent work on the use of color in this episode.I haven’t had much time or energy for non-fictional Avenging lately, so I figured I’d resurrect some of my old stuff for a new audience here on WordPress.
The clothing and ties worn by Steed and Beresford (Peter Cushing!), and the ties worn by a few other characters, seem to work as sartorial commentary on the plot in the Season 5 episode, “Return of the Cybernauts”.
When Beresford is interacting with Emma, he always wears the same suit with the same black late-19th-century-style black tie, but Steed’s ties and suits change throughout the episode, and with one exception (grey suit, gold tie), Steed doesn’t wear the same suit twice with Emma.
Steed’s ties change color throughout, but the last one he wears is black. The colors of Steed’s suits also change throughout the episode, ending with the black suit and light-colored shirt at the end.
The use of black and white for the men’s clothing in these situations has symbolic significance with respect to their relationship to one another and the trajectory of the plot, and also harkens back to the original “Cybernauts” episode, which was shot in black and white.
⊕ Content warning for discussion of intimate partner abuse
“A Beautiful Woman Belongs to the World”
One of the themes of the episode is whether anyone has the right to possess Purdey, and therefore her status as a woman vis-à-vis Steed, Gambit, and Larry as men. The way each of these men interact with Purdey is different. Larry is Purdey’s former lover and fiancé, but he’s also her former abuser and still thinks she belongs to him. Gambit is Purdey’s colleague and friend. He doesn’t have a romantic relationship with her, but from time to time he hints that he would like one. Steed is Purdey’s friend, supervisor, and mentor. She looks to him for guidance, and in other episodes we see that she would also like a romantic relationship with him, but that this is something that Steed himself does not want and cannot give her.
There are also overlapping needs that drive the interactions among these characters. Larry needs to get Purdey back, and he also needs to make sure his rocket gets launched. Gambit needs to protect Purdey from Larry, and he also needs to catch the bad guys, which in this episode includes a man that he knows Purdey still loves despite her past history with him. Steed needs to help Purdey face her fears so that she can stay on track with her job, he needs to cultivate Larry as a witness and suspect in the case, and he has to stop Larry from carrying out his plan. Purdey needs to navigate her complex and conflicting feelings about Larry while both protecting herself from him and also dealing with him as a suspect and, as it turns out, the villain of the case. All of these needs, personal and professional alike, hinge on Purdey in one way or another.