One of the threads that runs through the Season 4 episode “The Danger Makers” is a set of references to Classical mythology. The Danger Makers all take code names based in Greco-Roman myth, and they refer to their dangerous stunts as “the Labors of Hercules.” The names that are taken by each Danger Maker and the references to Hercules’ Twelve Labors are not made at random. Each of them reveal something about character and about the ethos of the Danger Makers as a whole. Although only one Classical figure is named directly in relation to these characters, they actually exhibit characteristics of others as well. This also applies to Steed and especially to Mrs Peel.
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.
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» 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.
⊕ Content notice for discussion and analysis of ableist themes and disabled-as-villain tropes
Here I am bouncing off celluloidbroomcloset’s idea about 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.
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“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
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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.