- Series: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
- Season: 4
- Episodes: 16
- Discs: 6
- Cast: Robert Vaughn, David McCallum, Leo G. Carroll
- Network: NBC
- DVD Format: DVD, Technicolor, Standard
- Originally Published on my Live Journal 05/13/2008, now hosted on Dreamwidth
Note: This is an older review, previously posted to my Live Journal and now hosted on Dreamwidth. I’ve decided to copy it as is, silly asides and all. I did correct typos and formatting. Enjoy!
Season Four of U.N.C.L.E. is known for it’s more serious tone and boy, is it!
“The shift in tone under new producer Anthony Spinner was abrupt – from a silly kid-friendly series to a much darker, adult-oriented adventure show that clearly belonged in a later time slot. The season opened with three especially grim episodes: “The Summit Five Affair”, in which Solo is accused of being a double agent on the eve of a high-level meeting of U.N.C.L.E.’s top executives; “The Test Tube Killer Affair,” about Thrush-created superhuman … being chased from Mexico to Greece; and “The ‘J’ for Judas Affair” one of the few U.N.C.L.E. episodes to acknowledge the military-industrial complex that was of growing concern to American youth as the Vietnam War became increasingly unpopular.” (Jon Burlingame, introductory liner notes to Season 4, included with the season set).
Burlingame is right, though he doesn’t quite hit all the details. In “Summit Five” Napoleon’s in Berlin (at UNCLE’s HQ there) when it’s attacked – it becomes obvious that one of three people who were there during the attack is a double agent. Napoleon is then TORTURED (at one point, Illya coldly looks on while the Berlin chief of Operations tries to break Solo) by UNCLE to confess he’s a double agent, in the pay of Thrush. Solo then breaks, crying out that he wants to see Illya. He’s put in a cell with audio surveillance, but no video; and at this point, we find out Solo’s “confession” is an act (as was Illya’s coordination of the torture), and it’s the Berlin chief of ops who is under suspicion. The plot takes a few more nicely played twists and turns, which I won’t spoil. But still, Solo tortured by UNCLE??? Now, that’s grim. Similarly, Thrush’s plan to create unfeeling supermen in “The Test Tube Killer Affair” touches on Nazi-style Eugenics, and is as Burlingame mentioned is quite dark. Then there’s “The ‘J’ is for Judas Affair” a confusing tale (sorry) of a rich military-industrial magnet and his estranged sons. The story includes one son killing the father to get the family business, and ultimate fratricide between the two competing sons. Illya and Napoleon, while trying to figure out the mess, end-up looking on in horror. (The last shot of the episode, rather than a light scene between the two agents or between the agents and Waverly is a close-up of the babe du jour/Thrush badette dead in a car crash).
Other Season 4 episodes have similar moments of darkness, in “The Thrush Roulette Affair”, Illya is temporarily brainwashed into killing Napoleon. In “The Gurnius Affair”, while under deep cover, Illya tortures and “kills” Napoleon (much to the horror of babe-of-the-week Judy Carne). In “The Maze Affair” (an episode oddly framed from a Thrush pov), Illya witnesses and reports to Waverly, “Napoleon Solo is dead, sir.” When Waverly questions this, Illya adds, “I saw it myself, sir.” ‘Course Solo isn’t dead, and he’s pitted against time to stop Illya from carrying a supposed Thrush disintegrator gun (really a b*mb) into UNCLE HQ. “Deadly Quest Affair”, or UNCLE does “The Most Dangerous Game” has Darren McGavin as the bad guy and chasing Napoleon with intent to kill, while Napoleon tries to find Illya who’s been kidnapped and McGavin’s character threatens to kill.
So, dark stuff indeed. It’s interesting to speculate what would have happened if UNCLE had remained on the air just a tad longer, especially following the darker format. But, alas, the show was canceled mid-season (thus only 16 episodes were made).
Overall, though I like all of UNCLE, I must say, I really like the first and last (#4) seasons the best. But, season 2 has it’s moments, and even in the “dreaded” third season, there are a few good episodes and good moments. Overall, it’s a brilliant series that is tightly written, clever, intelligent yet fun (most of the time), and starring two really good and really cute young actors, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum. The show also had a brilliant number of incredible guest stars, something highlighted in the special features (each season set includes a featurette on UNCLE VIPs or famous guest stars). The show also made great use of the MGM backlots and various left-over sets from various MGM movies. Which was something I found that actually kinda’ dates the show and adds to the “cheese” factor sometimes associated with UNCLE in more general TV histories/info. books.) On the one hand, lavish sets left over from various MGM movies allowed UNCLE to do plots and have a look it wouldn’t have had otherwise. On the other, though, constantly being on the lots gave the show a slightly “stagey” look and it never had the immediacy of NBC’s other spy series, I Spy, which filmed abroad with the help of NBC News. But considering how depressing I Spy was, UNCLE’s considerably more fun!
Overall, I highly, highly recommend the show but for watching and to keep in one’s DVD library.
General series review (e.g. packaging, special features, etc.) to come.