Scene Analysis

02

Flashback to Nee-San

In “Room Without a View,” Steed and Emma go to visit Dr Wadkin, who has mysteriously reappeared after going missing several years earlier. Varnals, a Ministry official, describes what he thinks happened to Wadkin: he was brainwashed and kept prisoner in Manchuria, probably in a place called Nee-San.

flashbacktoneesan.01We learn towards the end of this scene that Steed likely was a prisoner there. He seems to have an intimate knowledge of what the conditions were like, which he describes during a brief period of what appears to be some kind of dissociation. During that moment, Steed is detached from what’s going on in the room, from the other people there–including Mrs Peel–and is obviously in some emotional or psychological distress.

But Steed’s distress doesn’t begin with the mention of Nee-San, specifically. It starts much earlier, when Varnals says that Wadkin seems to have been brainwashed. There’s something about Wadkin’s physical condition, and maybe the fact that he’s playing with an abacus, plus the mention of brainwashing, that gives Steed pause.

He shrugs it off, though, and puts on a bluff facade, teasing Varnals for relying on official reports for his information. But the facade doesn’t last. Varnals explains a bit more about what he thought happened to Wadkin, and Steed begins to withdraw again. This time it’s not so easy for him to shake it off. His affect flattens, and he has a thousand-yard stare.

Steed steps away from Varnals, and begins recounting what it was like to be in Nee-San: the bad food, the sounds from the outside world, a clock that only strikes three. He’s clearly reliving time that he must have spent there himself.

It’s not until Wadkin starts stating “Three o’clock!” over and over again that Steed comes back out of himself. He can’t indulge his own pain about his imprisonment: he has a job to do, which is to find the people who tortured Dr Wadkin and stop them from hurting anyone else.

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One of the cool things about this scene is that although Steed briefly shows a great deal of vulnerability—he dissociates, he explains in detail something unpleasant about his past, which he rarely does—he’s not ashamed by it. He takes it in stride as something he will need to deal with, something that will haunt him for the rest of his life. And while it’s not something he goes around shouting from the rooftops, it’s not something he feels compelled to hide at all costs.

Steed was at Nee-San. He was badly treated there, very likely tortured. He knows what that is like and it makes him angry that Dr Wadkin and probably the other scientists who disappeared had to go through that as well.

Steed is very in touch with his emotions. He doesn’t see them as weakness, and his empathy is one of the reasons he does this job, and does it so well.


This post originally appeared at sparklywaistcoat.tumblr.com

 

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“Don’t Tell the General I Played Mendelssohn”: Music and Torture in “Man With Two Shadows”

Content Notice: This entry contains references to torture, anti-semitism, and Nazism.

Music has many functions within human cultures: entertainment, artistic expression, worship. Most of these functions, and the associations connected with both the music and the function, are positive. But in some cases, music has much less pleasant associations and uses, especially when it is employed either directly or indirectly as a tool in a program of torture. Two early scenes in the Season 3 episode “The Man With Two Shadows” incorporate the interconnection of music and torture, first for double agent Pieter Borowski, and then later for Steed.

Pieter Borowski and Mendelssohn

In Steed’s first scene in this episode, Steed’s supervisor, Charles, asks him to help interrogate Pieter Borowski, a double agent who is now in British custody but who was subjected to heavy torture and brainwashing by the enemy agents who had captured him some time ago. The result of this brainwashing is that Borowski now assumes a set of shifting personalities that were forced upon him by his captors. These personalities include a Gestapo Kommandant, a Russian nobleman who died in 1860, and an American thriller writer. Borowski shifts in and out of these personalities, often in response to some trigger in the conversation.

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Nine-Tenths of the Law of Chivalry

◊  ◊  ◊

“But you would have gone to Ali’s defence? Physically?”
“Under different circumstances, certainly.”
He did not seem angry at my disobedience, just puzzled. Finally he said, “But women do not fight.”
“This one does,” I answered. He held my gaze, then looked sideways at Holmes.
“This one does,” my mentor confirmed.
— Mahmoud Hazr, Mary Russell, and Sherlock Holmes in O Jerusalem by Laurie R King

◊  ◊  ◊

One of the groundbreaking aspects of The Avengers from the beginning of the Cathy Gale era was that Steed’s female partners were treated as his equals, and hints were often dropped that the women might be even better than he was at some things, or smarter in some ways. This was done in absolute seriousness: Cathy Gale and Emma Peel were written neither in a humorous attempt to undermine Steed’s masculinity, nor in order to lampoon the women as ball-breaking viragos.  These women are not caricatures: they are strong, skilled, capable, and intelligent, and expect to be treated accordingly. Steed certainly does that: he accepts Cathy and Emma just as they are. He is not threatened by their talents, but rather celebrates them, and Steed’s delight in his partners and what they can do is one of the finest aspects of those relationships.

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Looks Can Be Deceiving

In the Season 3 episode “Death of a Batman,” Steed breaks into Lady Cynthia’s flower shop to look for clues. While he is there, he is confronted by a very large man who is guarding the shop. After a brief scuffle, Steed manages to knock him out.

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The next morning, Steed is dragged out of bed by the sound of the doorbell. He opens the door, and an effusive Lady Cynthia bounces into his flat, bearing gifts. Steed, who isn’t quite awake yet, has no idea what Lady Cynthia is so happy about.

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Steed’s Shifting Worlds: Emma Peel vs Tara King in “Hour That Never Was” and “Get-Away”

Two episodes—”The Hour That Never Was” from Season 4 and “Get-Away” from Season 6—feature Steed reminiscing about his past in the presence of his partner, and introducing her (or attempting to do so) to very old and dear friends of his. Beyond this superficial resemblance, the way this works is very different in each episode, and each says a great deal about Steed’s partner (Emma Peel in “Hour” and Tara King in “Get-Away”), her relationship to him, and her relationship to his past.

A note: Some of the ideas about Steed, Mrs Peel, and time presented here—especially the idea of Mrs Peel as Steed’s anchor in time and connection to the present, and the function of Steed’s past in “Hour”—are from blogs by a fellow tumblr (celluloidbroomcloset), which you can read here and here. I also discuss Mrs Peel’s function as anchor to reality for Steed here.

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Sister Act

In “Dead on Course,” Steed and Dr. King go to the coast of Ireland to investigate an air crash, one that appears to be part of a disturbing pattern of such crashes. The sole survivor of the crash, an air hostess, is recuperating in a nearby convent, which is also acting as a temporary morgue for the dead passengers and crew.  Unfortunately, the villains are hiding out at the convent, too, disguised as nuns. When the air hostess wakes up and starts to talk, one of the baddies strangles her. (more…)

Avenging Misogyny

In many ways, The Avengers is dated. Sexism and racism are sadly present in many of the episodes, and none of the characters (including our heroes, alas) are perfect in this respect. But the series was also groundbreaking in its treatment of Steed’s female partners: these are strong, talented, capable women, whom Steed treats as his equals. He values and respects their skills and intelligence, and quite rightly expects others to do the same.

An early scene in “Room Without a View” exemplifies this (and also Steed’s general disdain for officialdom, but that’s a story for another time). Steed and Mrs. Peel arrive to take over the case and have to deal with Mr. Varnals, (more…)