Following some exchanges on tumblr regarding the whole Steed/Tara/Cathy/Emma conundrum, I began mulling some things over in my fevered brain, to wit:
A certain subset of (usually male) fans seem to be of the opinion that Tara is somehow the most suitable partner for Steed, some of them even going so far as to say that she is his “soulmate.” Cathy on the other hand, gets relegated by some viewers to Noli Me Tangere Ice Queen status, while Emma is seen as not being in either a romantic or sexual relationship with Steed, or if she is considered to be having sex with him it is simply a “friends with benefits” arrangement without much emotional attachment.
Well, I did promise I’d mumble some stuff about Season 6 and masculinity, so off I go.
When Diana Rigg left Avengers to become a Bond Girl, Steed’s next partner was Tara King, played by Linda Thorson. Thorson was even younger than Diana Rigg: there was a twenty-five-year age gap between herself and Patrick Macnee. Tara King, therefore, was a youngun, and not just in chronological terms. An agent-in-training assigned to Steed by the Ministry, Tara lacked the maturity and perspicacity of either Cathy Gale or Emma Peel, and she also had a mad pash for John Steed. Unlike Steed’s relationships with Cathy and Emma, which started as friendships that progressed to romance, and which were very much relationships between equals, Steed’s relationship with Tara was … different.
“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.”
Two episodes—”The Hour That Never Was” from Season 4 and “Get-Away” from Season 6—feature Steed reminiscing about his past in the presence of his partner, and introducing her (or attempting to do so) to very old and dear friends of his. Beyond this superficial resemblance, the way this works is very different in each episode, and each says a great deal about Steed’s partner (Emma Peel in “Hour” and Tara King in “Get-Away”), her relationship to him, and her relationship to his past.
A note: Some of the ideas about Steed, Mrs Peel, and time presented here—especially the idea of Mrs Peel as Steed’s anchor in time and connection to the present, and the function of Steed’s past in “Hour”—are from blogs by a fellow tumblr (celluloidbroomcloset), which you can readhereandhere. I also discuss Mrs Peel’s function as anchor to reality for Steedhere.
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.
I watched “Get-Away” for the first time the other night. This is a Season 6 episode in which bad guys who are pledged to kill Steed and two of his colleagues escape prison one by one. The first two baddies kill Steed’s friends, and are killed in turn; the last, named Ezdorf, comes after Steed which, per usual, is the last thing the bad guy ever does.
Of the King-era episodes I’ve seen so far, this seems to be one of the better ones. The premise is pretty good, if quirky (so therefore standard Avengers fare), and the writing is relatively strong. The psychedelic and cartoonish elements that so often mar episodes from this season are kept nicely in check, and best of all — no Mother or creepy Rhonda. In some ways it’s a kind of throwback to earlier seasons.