A conversation with fellow tumblr celluloidbroomcloset about the ways in which Cathy and Steed show affection for each other got me thinking about a few episodes where the two of them are shown expressing physical affection. This is relatively rare for Cathy, who is a very reserved person with strong boundaries, but it’s clear from many instances across Seasons 2 and 3 that she does love Steed very much, and part of the expression of that love comes with physical touch.
As the conversation unfolded, I was reminded of two instances in particular, one from Dressed to Kill and the other from The Undertakers, both of which end with Steed and Cathy drinking champagne together while sitting back to back, or nearly so. These two instances are some of the clearest expressions of the physical comfort Cathy and Steed have with each other: in each one, they lean back against each other and enjoy that physical contact while also celebrating the end of the case with some champagne.
L/top: Dressed to Kill. Cathy and Steed sit back to back on the tiger-skin rug in Steed’s flat. They are both wearing dark casual clothing. Cathy holds a glass of champagne in her right hand. Her head is tilted back slightly, and she seems happy. Steed is smiling and holding a bottle of champagne in his left hand and a champagne glass in his right. He is about to pour himself some champagne.
R/bottom: The Undertakers. Cathy and Steed sit nearly back to back on the settee in Cathy’s flat. Steed wears a light-colored suit and tie. Cathy wears dark trousers and a light-colored shirt with ruffles down the front. Steed holds a glass of champagne in his left hand, and with his right he pours some into the glass that Cathy holds. They are both smiling and happy.
I think it’s significant that one of the ways they express their affection and comfort with one another is by sitting back to back. This is because one of the most important moments of their first case together—and of the beginning of their journey as colleagues and lovers— takes place with that very thing: standing back to back. I’m thinking of the final battle in Warlock, where Steed is standing at bay inside a ring of evil warlocks and Cathy descends from the dais and moves to position herself at Steed’s back. She does this without being asked, and Steed accepts it as the right and natural thing for her to do. They’re both ready to go down fighting right there, to take on the whole coven of warlocks by themselves if necessary.
Now, I don’t know whether the blocking decisions at the end of Dressed to Kill and Undertakers were consciously chosen by either the directors or the actors to be explicit references to the way Steed and Cathy start their personal and professional lives together. But even absent that out-of-world decision, I still think the Cathy-Steed back-to-back thing is a metaphor for their relationship as a whole. They both care about each other, and they’d each die protecting the other. I like to think that in terms of the characters in-world they continue to enjoy sitting back to back in peaceful moments not only because it’s cozy and affectionate but also because for them it is a reference to that first battle and to that first case that brought them together. Cathy has Steed’s back, and he has hers, without fail, in their relationship as lovers and in battles with the enemy alike.
Sir Clive Todd, an important British politician, has been found shot in the head in a safe containing secret documents, which he apparently was helping to steal. Steed and Mrs Peel go to Sir Clive’s house, where he is recuperating from his injuries. Mrs Peel is placed under cover as Sir Clive’s nurse. When Sir Clive finally regains consciousness, Steed and Mrs Peel question him, but he has no memory of the robbery, and his memories of other important things seem to be fuzzy as well.
Steed decides that it would be a good idea to have a psychiatrist examine Sir Clive, to see whether the amnesia is real or a clever cover for illegal activities. The Ministry sends Dr Fergus Campbell to help with the case, and his first interaction with Steed is a testy dick-smacking contest, which is worth reproducing in full:
In the Season 6 episode, “Have Guns Will Haggle,” Tara King gets caught by the baddies and handcuffed to an ammunition crate.
But first please let us notice that she has a kilt pin on her skirt. (A kilt pin is basically a big honking safety pin, for those who don’t know.)
When Tara gets caught and handcuffed, she does … nothing.
She sits there and waits for Steed to rescue her. She doesn’t even try to remove the kilt pin, never mind use it to pick the lock herself.
Then when Steed arrives, the first thing he does is remove the pin and use it to pick the lock. Damsel rescued!
I’m not even gonna bitch about Tara being passive here, because this is just sloppy, sloppy writing. It’s also an excuse to get that shot of Tara’s legs, with Steed plucking at her skirt, which is kinda gross. It’s a crying shame that the writers and producers of Season 6 had so little respect for their own characters and their own show that they allowed this kind of stuff to go forward.
a version of this post originally appeared on my tumblr
Storytelling in many ways is simply the repetition and reworking of tropes, some of which have been in circulation as long as humans have been telling stories. The hero and the villain, the beast that must be slain, the damsel in the tower, and many others form the canvas or skeleton upon which new tales are created and fleshed out. One common trope (in modern times, at least) is that of the ambitious, skilled female who wants to join in male activities, only to be ignored or told that she’s not welcome, because she’s a girl. Stories based on this trope usually involve the female having to prove that she’s just as badass, or even more badass, than the males, in order to win their respect, if not admiration. I am here calling this the “you’re pretty good, for a girl” (YPGFG) trope.
YPGFG functions simultaneously as subversion and as reinforcement of traditional gender roles. It is subversive because it allows the female character to assume a putatively “male/masculine” role. However, this subversion ultimately is built on a foundation of male/masculine hegemony, because it makes the degree to which the female is able to enact male/masculine behaviors the degree to which she becomes acceptable and worthy, which in turn depends on the assumption that male/masculine is both the default and the better part.
⊕ Content notice for discussion of sexual assault and mentions of rape
“Emma, Darling, You Look Ravishing”
Secrets have been mysteriously leaking to the opposition, and the primary suspects are all highly placed military officers—a vice admiral in the Royal Navy, a major general in the Royal Army, and a group commander in the Royal Air Force—each with his own potentially exploitable personal weakness. Group Commander George Miles is known as something of a Lothario, so Steed asks Mrs Peel to use her feminine wiles to see whether she can’t worm some information out of him. Mrs Peel obliges, managing to wangle a date with Miles at his home. Steed, meanwhile, goes under cover as Miles’ butler, to see whether he can find any info himself and also to be on hand to protect Mrs Peel in case the date gets ugly.
I think it’s good to remember that John Steed is sufficiently accomplished as a cook to credibly go under cover as chef de viands for a gourmandizing foreign dignitary.
There. That’s a thing you know now.
A shadowy enemy agent named PSEV has been giving the Ministry fits and conniptions, so Steed comes up with a cunning plan to figure out who PSEV really is and put a stop to their machinations. To do this, Steed pretends to be his own evil twin, a man called “Webster.” The idea is to get PSEV to accept Webster as someone who could impersonate Steed and, once he is in their confidence as Webster, Steed will be able to unmask them.
Steed’s plan involves creating Webster as a fashion model, and then sending tickets to the show to PSEV. Of course PSEV themselves don’t go, because in actuality PSEV is a collection of four enemy agents who have created the fiction of PSEV as a way to divert attention from their own activities. So the four agents who speak for the fictional PSEV decide to send Ambassador Brodny and an aide named Ivenko, to see whether there are any fashions at the show that the mythical PSEV might like to wear.