The first in an occasional series on representations of disability in The Avengers
⊗ Content note for discussion of ableism and disabled-as-villain tropes
Odd and possibly criminal things might happening in connection with an intended corneal transplant involving a live donor and an exclusive eye clinic in the Swiss Alps, so Steed asks Mrs Gale to hop over to the Continent to check things out. Marten Halvarssen, a wealthy, blind recluse who is the owner of the clinic (although he himself lives in London), seems to be one of the possible players in the apparent nefariousness, along with Dr Eve Hawn, who is Halvarssen’s fiancee, and Neil Anstice, who at first appears to be one of the clinic’s surgeons but in fact is a sort of mercenary criminal hired to do the legwork of the scheme.
As the title of the episode and the above brief synopsis indicate, disability—in particular, blindness—plays a very important role in both characterization and plot. Although the blind man is worked up as a suspect and potential villain, his actual role in the criminal doings that drive the plot of the episode is rather less black-and-white, making him something of an outlier in Avengers and New Avengers episodes that feature disabled characters, who nearly universally are unequivocally bad guys. Even so, Halvarssen is no Boy Scout: the elaborate diamond-smuggling plot that leads to the murders of Hilda Brauer and Dr Spender was set in motion by him, although the deaths were not part of his plan and he is furious that Anstice killed those people. In the end, however, Halvarssen shows himself to be on the side of the good guys, at least for the moment, actively helping Steed and Mrs Gale take down the others.
⊕ Content notice for discussion and analysis of ableist themes and disabled-as-villain tropes
Here I am bouncing offcelluloidbroomcloset’s ideaabout 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.
“Game” is the first episode following Emma’s departure in “The Forget-Me-Knot.” It’s also one of the more surreal episodes of Season 6, because so much of the episode takes place within dreamscape sets, the use of which I discussed in a previous post. In that post, and in another related discussion, I explored how Mrs Peel acts as Steed’s anchor and how, in her absence, Steed’s world takes on a cast of unreality, and how that unreality plays into the texture of Season 6. It therefore is perhaps fitting that an episode as unreal as “Game” should be Steed’s next adventure after “The Forget-Me Knot.”
One of the hallmarks of Season 6 is the occasional use of color schemes and interior set designs that have the feel of a dreamscape or even hallucination. Although The Avengers overall deservedly has the reputation of being a “quirky” series that frequently bends reality to its own purposes, this move to a more stylized approach to color, set design, and set dressing is taken to its furthest point in the Tara King era. This use of what I am calling “dreamscape sets” usually focuses on public or commercial spaces that Steed and/or Tara must visit in the course of their work. Another locus for dreamscape sets are Mother’s hideouts, which can be literally anywhere from atop a double-decker bus to an underwater tank to a cow pasture, and which often are furnished and decorated in truly bizarre ways. I also see Tara’s flat as a kind of dreamscape set all its own.