villains

Courage, Virtue, and Woundedness in “The Danger Makers”


Content notice for discussion and analysis of ableist themes and disabled-as-villain tropes


Here I am bouncing off celluloidbroomcloset’s idea about 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.

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Cunning Old Foxes IV: Hiding in Plain Sight

But famed Odysseus’ men already crouched in hiding —
in the heart of Troy’s assembly — dark in that horse
the Trojans dragged themselves to the city heights.
Now it stood there, looming …
— Homer, The Odyssey, trans. Robert Fagles

Another in an occasional series about Steed as trickster.


Going under cover is one of the most important things that Steed does in his quest to capture the bad guys. Sometimes he goes under relatively deep cover, assuming an entire identity complete with back story and profession, sometimes even with an assumed name. He does this kind of cover most frequently during the Cathy Gale era, for example in “Death a la Carte,” where he poses as chef Sebastian Stonemarten in order to prevent the assassination of a Middle Eastern Emir, or in “Mission to Montreal,” where he pretends to be a steward called “Jim” on a cruise line while trying to stop the transfer of top secret material to the opposition. Most of the time, however, he goes under his own name, even if he is pretending to be something other than an agent of the Ministry, as he does in “Surfeit of H2O,” where he assumes the persona of a loopy, extravagantly gallant wine merchant in order to gain access to the baddies’ lair.

In cases like “Death a la Carte,” Steed doesn’t want to give away anything about his own true identity. Protecting the Emir depends on Steed staying well under cover, so he uses an assumed name and behaves entirely as though he were a normal chef. In other instances, as in “Surfeit of H2O,” it’s unclear the degree to which he wants to misdirect the baddies: his behavior in that particular instance is odd enough to make the secretary a bit suspicious, but it’s hard to tell whether or not Steed wants her to wonder what he’s really up to.

And then there are the episodes where he is working in a grey area between being under cover and tipping off the bad guys that he’s on to them, places where he hides in plain sight. Steed seems to have more than one reason for doing this: partly it’s just fun to tweak the villains’ noses and watch them flail as they try to figure out what he’s really after; but also he’s dropping hints along the way that he’s on to them, that their schemes are about to be exposed, thus giving them an opportunity to stop their bad activities and turn themselves in before he has to actively fight with them. Of course they never do stop, they never do turn themselves in, and I doubt very much that Steed expects them to even if on some level he hopes that they will.

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Noon in the Garden of Good and Evil

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 my tumblr blog.


First let’s make a list of characteristics Steed and Beresford have in common. They are:

  • urbane
  • well spoken
  • educated
  • well dressed
  • charismatic
  • masculine
  • financially well off
  • attractive to women
  • intelligent
  • creative
  • masterful
  • calculating
  • loyal
  • 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?

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Swords! (Or Umbrellas. Or Teapots. Or Fists….)

In “The Thirteenth Hole,” the bad guys are out on the links, pretending that they’re interested in their golf game. When they get to the thirteenth hole, they find an agent snooping around. Reed tells his caddy that he wants his “303” golf club. This turns out to be a rifle, with which Reed shoots and kills the agent.

swordsetc-thirteenthhole-01
Later, when Steed and Mrs Peel are heading out for their final showdown with the villains, Mrs Peel pulls a walking stick out of Steed’s golf bag. Steed says that it’s actually a sword stick, but later when they’re fighting in the villains’ hideout Steed discovers that he brought the wrong stick from home: this one is a plain walking stick, no shiny sharp objects included.

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Very Dangerous: Do Not Handle at All

From her very first introduction in “Town of No Return,” Emma Peel is presented as being both extraordinarily intelligent and a skilled fighter. She draws on these abilities in episode after episode, helping Steed put the bad guys out of business, but it takes a while for them to catch on that she is more than just an adjunct to Steed. This is a shift that can be tracked in two episodes in particular: “Girl from AUNTIE” in Season 4 and “Correct Way to Kill” in Season 5.

When Emma tangles with the baddies, it’s usually under one of the following three rubrics, all of which eventually find their way back to Steed:

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Professional Respect

Steed has many emotional responses to the villains he has to catch. Some of them, like Cartney in “Touch of Brimstone” and the Major in “Danger Makers” he loathes with all his being. Others, like Henry in “How to Succeed at Murder,” he finds pitiable. But for some he has a kind of collegial respect.

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