Monday, 26 May 2014

Danger Man: Fair Exchange

I was prompted by a comment made by Mitchell on itsabouttv.com, when he was writing about the identity of the man in The Prisoner as actually being John Drake. He commented that for him Drake's resignation from the service was - words of the effect of - well on the cards for most of Danger Man as it approached its end. I hadn't thought of Danger Man like that before: it is only really when I worked through The Prisoner episodes recently, that I had made the connection between the two shows that explicit in my mind. I am aware that I have posted here on a few, carefully hand-picked to emphasise the John-Drake-as-Number-6 thing, but have largely ignored the numerous other episodes, so it's high time I got round to them. My posting here has actually worked out to be exactly the way I thought it would be - that it would come in spurts & that I would write multiple posts about one show before abruptly moving on to another show, usually without warning or conclusion. That is actually exactly how I watch television. In fact the thoughts about Danger Man above have been simmering in my mind for weeks or even months: the real reason I'm posting now on this Danger Man episode is I ran my finger along the line of DVDs on the shelf this evening thinking 'What shall I watch...' & this leapt out. So for this reason I don't intend to approach Danger Man as systematically as I did The Prisoner, nor even to keep a single 'approach' in mind - for example whether John Drake is Number 6. I want to watch the show & see how Drake strikes me cold, without reference to The Prisoner, because when this show was broadcast The Prisoner hadn't happened yet. I'm blithely writing this, secure in the knowledge that I will find myself writing about The Prisoner sooner or later!
But first I'm going to talk about The Avengers instead. The very first thing that strikes me about this Danger Man episode is that it is *so* set in Avengerland. I love the 1960s London scenes of the first scenes & especially that Drake lives in a mews house (he even has some of the books from Steed's library on his shelves). It is these things - & the succeeding scenes on the other side of the Iron Curtain - that differentiate Danger Man from The Avengers. Danger Man is the real world (as opposed to the unreal world) of Cold War spying. Drake is clearly intent on his job - he even gets through whole scenes without a single sip of champagne - there is no flirting, the whole thing is much more dour.
This Danger Man episode interests me in all sorts of ways, firstly because it helps illuminate the way of life of John Drake. Not least by showing what purports to be his home. I say 'purports' - it is clearly not actually a private address at all since Lisa knows where to find him, & I wonder whether Drake could  really have had a truly private address. As a secret agent his 'private' life would doubtlessly have been fairly continually scrutinised & not really private at all. His home is only his in the way Steed's apartment is his home - in reality he works from there, his colleagues know all about it (certainly Elizabeth Lanzing knows which door to bang on, although she clearly was not setting out to look for Drake). It interests me as being a then-trendy mews house, ironically Steed's apartment in Stable Mews was in a building out of the same - literally - stable. Those houses were then & are now very expensive. No doubt Drake would be well-paid in danger money for his role, but buying a mews house & furnishing it with a mixture of antiques & modern furniture would still be an undertaking. The house does not give the impression of being a 'bachelor pad' - ornaments, flowers, & window treatments are all carefully arranged. Nonetheless we get no indication of who is behind this. Given the almost showhome nature of the house I'm inclined to suspect it is actually an 'office' of sorts. If so, he was never really off duty when he was there. The personal effects in the drawers when Lanzing rifles them could conceivably be part of an elaborate scene-setting: live in a place to make it look lived in.
One of the things I like best about this episode is the atmospheric sixties London shown in the chase sequence. The fact the car is a Mini is perfect & the health food shop-refuge is a good touch. Am I imagining it or is Drake's accent still somewhat transatlantic at points in this show? - as does Lanzing's at points.
It's no use avoiding it - I have to ask myself whether Drake would be the sort of man to get so fed up with the system that he would resign. There are clear tensions with his boss, he is plainly not seen as that much of a team member, & is clearly something of a maverick. The Brigadier is very cavalier with Lanzing's freedom in terms of trying to keep her locked up in a hospital. While Drake criticises his handling of her to his face, this situation in this episode strikes me as exactly the sort of thing you would get burned at out, because of the repetitive, largely futile, nature of the work involved. The 'opposition' (in the shape of the man in the shop) invites sympathy because of his humanitarian motives, & obviously has resources similar to, or better than, those Drake's organisation can draw on.
How the reference to the East German Republic dates this show! When I was a child cheap & nasty imported goods came from East Germany or China. Quality imported goods came from the EU. This reference shows that actually the opposition is the mighty Red Menace, that for decades was seen as the ultimate evil. Lanzing is obviously a loose cannon, hobnobbing with this menace - such a loose cannon that she is ready to use a gun stolen from Drake. In this Drake becomes the authoritarian figure representing the West of Europe, & yet also the one vulnerable to blame for any killing she does. His trade of spying, however, comes to the fore, in the completely false story he tells, claiming that Lanzing is his wife.
I have one criticism of this episode, which may not really be a criticism. The overall effect it has on me is to make me think what a dangerous, complicated life Drake leads, where you never really know who is who, & live by your wits. This is why it may not be a valid criticism, because that's obviously the point of the series, & this is certainly one of the more meaty episodes. I may have missed it but I ended two successive watchings of this without knowing quite why Lisa Lanzing is so obsessed, far from convinced she was mentally unwell, & with no real idea who was on which side. The explanation in the car afterwards would explain it somewhat, without the element of Lanzing being considered mentally unwell. As the plot of a spy show it strikes me as unnecessarily fancy, but as I say this may just be me. There is, however, only one way in which this story can end - the way in which it does end.
So all in all, an illuminating episode of Danger Man, marred somewhat by an over-complicated plot.
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2 comments:

Mitchell Hadley said...

Thanks for the shout-out, John! I really like how you've picked up on my thought and shown how it builds up in this episode, and also in the post you did on "Yesterday's Enemies."

I imagine there's quite a difference if you watch Danger Man before or after you've seen The Prisoner, but in many ways they each offer their own reward. If, as you mention, you see them in chronological order, you watch The Prisoner and recognize something of Drake (or, to be fair, someone who might have been "very much like" Drake), which enriches the series.

If, on the other hand, you're like me and saw The Prisoner first and only afterward got the chance to see the whole run of Danger Man, then you already know how Drake winds up, and you can have the fun of seeing how he became that way. (Much the same, perhaps, as watching William Hartnell's initial Doctor Who episodes, seeing the character develop until he finally becomes "The Doctor" as we will know him.

Thought-provoking as always. I don't always get a chance to comment much, but every time I look at my reading list this blog is there!

Cult TV Blog said...

Thank you! I accurately predicted, when I started this blog, that after the first few months my posting would come in flurries, & so it has happened...
Actually you've phrased my situation better than have - I saw The Prisoner first, & am now forever forced to see Danger Man through the lens of The Prisoner. Of course this is really an anachronism, but stil...