The first extended blog series that I attempted when I started writing about The Avengers had to do with my perceptions of the arc of Steed and Mrs Peel’s relationship over the course of the entirety of Season 4. I’m republishing it here, since bits of it connect with new stuff I’m doing, and other bits of it might do so in future. As with the Medieval Maunderings series, I’m reposting here with some light edits that will remain unacknowledged.
There originally were nine parts to this (all of which have titles and subtitles taken from fencing terminology, in honor of the way Mrs Peel is introduced to the audience), to which I tacked on some addenda, and you can get to all of those by following the links below, by scrolling through the posts on my homepage, or by clicking on “Exclusivity Arc” under “Themed Blog Series” in the “Categories” menu.
» The command sequence that begins a fencing match: on guard, ready, go!
Steed and Mrs Peel face off with foil and umbrella
When we first meet Mrs Emma Peel (“Town of No Return”), she is in her apartment, practicing her fencing moves. She invites Steed in, and they begin a conversation that is a mixture of an invitation to take coffee, a challenge to a duel, and double entendre. We learn a lot about Mrs. Peel as an individual in her opening scene with Steed. She’s athletic and a skilled fencer who can give Steed a run for his money; she’s intelligent, has scientific training, and is sufficiently active and respected in her field to have publications in journals; she stands up for herself when challenged; and she has a sharp, wry sense of humor.
» ”No touch” and “touch” respectively. The first means that no point has been scored; the second indicates a scoring attack.
“Too Many Christmas Trees” is is the first episode to deal directly with the question of infidelity vs exclusivity in the relationship between Emma and Steed. It contains several scenes that hint towards Steed’s relationships with other women, and Emma’s first direct expressions of jealousy and mate guarding. As fellow tumblr celluloidbroomcloset has stated elsewhere, “Trees” is a watershed episode in the arc of the relationship between these two characters.
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.
» 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.
I hadn’t really dealt with “Small Game for Big Hunters” in the original arc, but at fellow tumblr celluloidbroomcloset’s request I took another look at it. Herewith the results of those ruminations.
Part the First
The opening scenes of the episode suggest a certain amount of distance between Steed and Emma. They don’t arrive on the case together. We know Steed is already there, since his Bentley is parked outside. Emma arrives later, presumably after having been summoned by Steed. Her expression is neutral as she parks the car. She seems neither particularly pleased nor particularly displeased to be there.
One of the most intriguing things about Season 4 is the set of reciprocal structures in salient events, turning points, and position within the season with respect to the arc of Emma and Steed’s relationship. We find that events in the first half of the season often have their mirror opposites in the second half, and that structural points such as beginnings, middles, and ends across the season often correspond to important structural points within the arc.
I’m not sure whether this was something intentional on the part of the writers and producers, but even if it’s entirely coincidental it still makes for some interesting patterns across the season.
In the Season 2 episode “Warlock,” Steed has to track down the person who murdered Peter Neville, an important British scientist who was working on a top-secret formula, and who also later murders Mrs Dunning, Neville’s housekeeper. With the help of Cathy Gale, Steed discovers that Neville was involved with a black magic circle, and that the members of this circle are implicated in his murder, having been hired by an enemy agent to use occult means to coerce Neville into handing over the formula to the opposition.
This episode was first broadcast in the second half of Season 2 (it’s the eighteenth episode, out of 26, and the twelfth to feature Mrs Gale), although it was originally intended to be the first of the Cathy Gale stories.* Even though it was reworked to function as a later case and appears later in the lineup, it still makes more sense if “Warlock” is construed as Steed and Cathy’s first case rather than one that comes later in their partnership, especially much later. In “Warlock,” they’re clearly still getting to know one another: Steed really has absolutely no idea what to do with Mrs Gale, who is unlike any other woman he’s ever met, and she is herself still trying to decide whether she likes working with Steed or not.