Build a Better Mousetrap (CG)

An Eagle, a Dog, and a Fox All Walk Into a Bar: Animal Symbolism in “Build a Better Mousetrap”

In a career spanning over thirty years of television directing, Peter Hammond frequently made creative — and even groundbreaking — uses of camera angle and props. Among the signatures of his style are shots requiring sometimes complicated alignment of the actors, innovative camera placement, and the incorporation of props and set furnishings into shots and scenes in ways that often have significance to plot or characterization or both.

According to imdb.com, Hammond directed a total of nineteen episodes of The Avengers, nine of which were from the first season and thus have unfortunately been lost, with the exception of “The Frighteners.” The other ten were from Seasons 2 and 3, all of which are extant, and elsewhere I have discussed how Hammond uses props and the alignment and placement of the actors’ bodies to help tell the story in the Season 3 episode “The Golden Fleece.” Here, though, I’d like to discuss a different element of Hammond’s directorial style: the use of animal symbolism as commentary on plot and character in another Season 3 story: “Build a Better Mousetrap.”

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Cunning Old Foxes II: Vamping Steed

She’ll mix you a potion, lace the brew with drugs, but she’ll be powerless to bewitch you, even so.
– Homer, The Odyssey, trans. Robert Fagles

Another in an occasional series about Steed as trickster.


John Steed is a master trickster who well knows the efficacy of flirtation and sex appeal in dealing with the women he encounters when working a case. Sometimes he’s frank and friendly with them, at other times ridiculously gallant, inhabiting a character drawn with broad strokes.  Whichever persona he decides to employ, his behavior is always calibrated to the particular situation and the person with whom he is interacting. Because of his skill as an actor, and because he is usually able to correctly read his audience, he is often successful in getting the information he wants.

But what happens when Steed is the one being vamped? What happens when the master trickster is the intended victim of flirtation combined with deception and assumed identity?

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Cunning Old Foxes I: Steed as Liminal Figure

Sing to me, O Muse, of the man of twists and turns….  
— Homer, The Odyssey, after the translation by Robert Fagles

The first in an occasional series about Steed as trickster.


The trickster of myth and legend is first and foremost a liminal figure. He does not inhabit the real social world, although he frequently visits it in order to employ his cunning and manipulate a situation to his own ends. (NB: I am using the masculine pronoun because tricksters most often present as male.) This requires a great deal of social flexibility, a flexibility that is born not only of an ability to playact and shapeshift, but also of a deep knowledge of the intricacies of social conventions, mores, gender roles, and other important frameworks within human cultures and societies. By using this cunning and flexibility, the trickster is able to cross a threshold – in Latin, the limen, the word from which “liminal” is derived – into the social world and to navigate other boundaries within the social spaces he chooses to visit (and disrupt).

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