A meditation on good vs evil in Avengers, focused on a comparison of Steed and Beresford from “Return of the Cybernauts.” This originally appeared on mytumblr blog.
First let’s make a list of characteristics Steed and Beresford have in common. They are:
financially well off
attractive to women
willing to kill to protect the people they love (yes, I know Beresford’s brother is already dead, but if Beresford had been there in “Cybernauts” he doubtless would have cheerfully killed both Emma and Steed to protect Anderson.)
So we have these two men who have an awful lot of basically positive characteristics in common, to the point where Emma feels attracted to Beresford even as she is already in a relationship with Steed. But Beresford is evil, and Steed is not. How come?
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.
⊕ Content warning for images and discussion of intimate partner abuse
“Three Bullets and a Fractured Thigh”
Purdey and Larry dream about their future together
It is 1970, and Purdey is a member of the corps de ballet at the Royal Ballet in London. She also is engaged to be married, to a young RAF pilot named Larry Doomer. They seem happy together: Larry already owns some land, on which they plan to build their dream house. Larry hints that he’d like children, and Purdey seems open to the idea.
But then Larry gets word that his father was executed in an unnamed Arab country, purportedly for espionage. He finds out that a leader of that country will be departing the UK that morning. Larry goes to the airport to assassinate him, but Purdey discovers what Larry intends to do. She stops him just in time, saving the Arab leader’s life. Larry does not take kindly to this; he backhands Purdey in retaliation. Purdey is frightened, angered, and hurt by this. (more…)
In an earlier post, I discussed the apparent confluences between the The Avengers Season 2 episode “Mr Teddy Bear” and a handful of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Well, it turns out that “Teddy Bear” isn’t the only episode that does that, and it turns out that The New Avengers also has a few of these. So for your delectation, below are some more additions to that collection. As with the previous post, the Holmes images are from the Granada television series starring Jeremy Brett.
It’s 1967. The Cold War is chugging along nicely. Steed is driving a fellow agent and old school chum, Mark Crayford, to the border between East and West Germany. Uncharacteristically, Steed is wearing a flat cap instead of his usual bowler. Little does he know that his friend is about to turn traitor. Little does he know that his friend is about to try to kill him.
They get to the drop point. Steed goes towards the fence with Mark, who turns to announce his plans to defect. Then he takes a shot at Steed. Steed’s hat falls off as he flings himself the ground trying to escape Marks’ bullets. Steed shoots back, hitting Mark in the chest.
In an earlier blog, I discussed the ways in which Steed’s masculinity is sometimes treated dismissively by critics and writers, despite massive evidence to the contrary, in part because of the way the gender binary is constructed in Western society. There’s a corollary to this, deeply entwined with issues of gender and gender performance, and that is the minimization or denial of Steed’s physicality. I’m not sure exactly how or when this started, but at least since the mid-1980s there seems to have been a tendency to relegate Steed to the sidelines when discussing the physical, embodied aspects of the Avengers, with particular reference to combat with the villains.
(I’m hoping to do a more thorough workup of the history of this in the future, but for now I’ll go with what I’ve got. Also, there are other ways Steed expresses his physicality besides combat, but I’m sticking with that one for now, too.)