Sunday, 29 January 2017

The Avengers: The Master Minds

Another of the great and very popular Avengers episodes, this one. In fact it's a bit difficult to know what to say about it because of the sheer volume of stuff on the internet, even to the extent of a detailed analysis of the crib notes on Steed's cuff.
From the very start this Avengers is so very, well, Avengers. There is literally not one image in this episode which doesn't scream Avengers. The outmoded uniform of the guard, juxtaposed with the instruction to 'Kill him,' which is surely more shocking than it would normally be in the circumstances. As always in The Avengers the guard is killed without blood, and with the apparently incongruent juxtaposition of the episode's title. The scene then cuts straight to the image of Steed driving through what can only be Avengerland.
The Avengerland depicted in this episode is actually an interesting mixture of the great institutions of State (the Tower), the classical columns Steed drives through to get to Sir Clive's house, and the fact that Sir Clive's house is relentlessly modern in architecture and fixtures. Incidentally I love the open fire in the centre of the sitting room, and am wondering whether the people in the flats above me would mind having a chimney put through their living rooms. The additional fact that the ransack organisation is using the traditional surroundings of the school, places this Avengers firmly in the category of an infiltration of the Establishment by Diabolical Masterminds.
Something which I feel hasn't been commented on much about this Avengers, is the recurring theme of the body and embodiment. Physical fitness is contrastes with mental fitness - although of course in this case physical fitness wins out in the end. Physical medicine is seen as relatively helpless in comparison to psychological medicine, and the theme of the body, the use of the body recurs frequently.
Nor is this episode short on the sexiness, not all of it coming from Mrs Peel as it happens, although the fact of her being asleep in Steed's car and the fact she wears a nurse's uniform must have set more than a few pulses racing at the time! Additionally when she and Steed arrive at Sir Clive's house the camera lingers on the rather glitzy catsuit she is wearing: Mrs Peel is clearly the principle sex interest in this one. Sex raises its lovely head in various other places in this episode as well: the struggle Steed has with Sir Clive's daughter who is only wearing a fur coat over a bathing suit, in which she has flown home, and I do like the scene of Steed with the male pin-ups, and the way he flexes his biceps, clearly putting him in the "body" side of the divide here, in one of the girls' bedrooms in the school. Mrs Peel's reaction to them, when she comes across them in the midst of her uncharacteristically subservient role of helping Steed unpack, places her firmly in the "mind" camp.
There is a more serious element to this Avengers, though, and it picks up on the oft-recurring theme of technology and particularly the misuse of technology, in this case for mind control, using the cover of an apparently innocuous organisation. The contemporary interest in psychiatry also raises its head and in one wonderful scene we see Steed beating the service psychiatrist at his own game. The diabolical masterminds who run Ransack attempt to control the members' bodies by the use of psychological means indicates that Ransack isn't as clever as it thinks it is. The fact that Steed can get in by pure cheating shows for sure that they are not that clever. And of course as usual Mrs Peel is shown up to be the brains of the outfit, as well as the sexy piece.
I particularly love the scene in the gym, where the opposition between mind and body is complicated somewhat by the fact that the brainy members of Ransack do get their exercise in. Steed poses as the non-physical person - he doesn't even have gym shoes - and I like the way that he and Mrs Peel remain clothed when everyone else is in gym kit, which naturally makes them stand out like sore thumbs. Mrs Peel is also posing, of course, since she is the very embodiment of physicality as well as having brains, but is not joining in the exercise. While Steed and Mrs Peel appear to be united, they are set against each other by the enemy, when Steed has to tell Mrs Peel that she doesn't remember a single thing that happened to her the night before.
As is often the case with TV shows that I love, I am finding it very difficult to find something to criticise in The Master Minds. You could say that the whole plot is frankly incredible, but of course that is the whole point of The Avengers. I find the voice over the tannoy telling the members of Ransack what to do, rather annoying, and think it would have been better and pushed more buttons in the psyche if a more commanding or military-sounding voice had been used. There are some criticisms of the factual stuff in this - the things on Steed's cuff and the conversation about the word yogurt - but since the whole point of this episode is that the brainy people are wrong, these criticisms are not incongruent at all, to my mind. There are also criticisms on the internet that this one takes a long time to get into its stride: I certainly think it improves as it goes on, and certainly once the opening scene is over, the visuals improve once the action in the school starts.
In the final analysis of this Avengers, the body wins out over the mind, and of course that was always going to be the point. The opposition between the two was set up from the start, and much of the point of this episode is that Mrs Peel is on the brains side of the equation and gets taken in completely. Steed doesn't have the brains, but has the sense to unplug the speaker in his room and is thus immune. Here, brawn saves the Great Institutions of Britain when they are threatened by the brains of The Enemy.

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