Saturday, 27 January 2018

Dear Ladies: Mystery Weekend

Source
Today a post about a TV programme which I cannot believe I haven't written about here before - although I think that may be the fear I have of writing about these shows, that I will write about them, and since there will be no more of them, I will suddenly run out of things to watch, think about, or write about here. The show is Dear Ladies, starring those two doyennes of the opera and musical theatre, Dame Hilda Bracket and Doctor Evadne Hinge.
Sadly Dame Hilda has now died - some years ago, now, in 2002 - so there really cannot be any more of these shows. Her operatic career began with her education under the great figure Signor Bonavoce in the years leading up to the Second World War. Her autobiography tells the fascinating tale of how she was rushed out of Italy at just about the last moment before the border closed. She spent the war years entertaining the troops, and was awarding the Dame Commander of the British Empire for services rendered. After the war she joined the Rosa Charles Opera company, wvhich was where she met Evadne Hinge, who was the company's musical director, and they became life-long companions. Years later in semi-retirement, they made this series of programmes about their life in the Suffolk village of Stackton Tressel. They also had radio programmes and appeared extensively on stage, in their own act and in other plays. I particularly like Dame Hilda in a radio adaptation of Graham Greene's Travels with my Aunt. She also managed to enter the world of Our Sort of Television, by appearing (under the stage name of Perri St Clair, in the first film of Steptoe and Son (which I have written about elsewhere here) and also in an episode of Doctor in the House called Pass or Fail. My point is that the ladies may be familiar to readers from appearances elsewhere, even though I feel their radio and TV shows may never have crossed the Atlantic.
This post also marks a rare occasion in the life of this blog, namely that I am going to write about an episode of the show which I remember being broadcast the first time round, in 1983. In fact these great figures of the stage and screen formed part of the furniture of my childhood. The episode in question is Mystery Weekend, in which they go on excactly that.
The episode begins at home and we see the ladies in the attic of their house reminiscing in part about their days in the Rosa Charles, and some of the people they knew. I love that - and thought it was so sophisticated. As indeed it is.
The atmospheric viewing continues with a train journey. As with every setting which the ladies visit, it is immediately apparent that they are quality, and lift everything around them. The only sad thing about this part of the show is that even though they are on the already-decimated railways of the 1980s, the restaurant car in which they eat lunch is still far more luxurious than anything you would find on our trains now! Happy memories of what in retrospect was a more luxurious time. I love that the soup of the day is called Friday.
The mystery weekend is a mystery in two senses - they don't know where the train is going and once they get there, there is a mystery to be investigated. To the ladies' surprise when they get to their hotel they find it is being run by two of their former colleagues in the Rosa Charles opera - who haven't changed a bit! The reminiscences continue but do not detract from the mystery. That is one of the clever things about Dear Ladies, that each episode has a plot in itself and is not simply about the lives of the ladies. Dame Hilda finds that her former understudy (who never went on) in the Rosa Charles has to be reminded who she is, and they've mistaken her husband for the porter. Whether at home or on holiday in this show, the ladies keep the laughs coming.
Ultimately the show also highlights the difference in the ladies' personalities - Dr Hinge follows the clues around the hotel, while Dame Hilda devotes a decanter of port to getting the murder victim drunk so that she discloses whodunnit. And the ladies are the point of this show - it is spending half an hour with two great characters whose company is pure pleasure. Dane Hilda in particular settles into her Miss Marple role very well.
If you haven't discovered the dear ladies yet, some of their TV shows are on youtube, and also on Acorn DVD. Their radio shows are intermittently available on archive.org.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Jason King: If It's Got to Go It's Got to Go

The actor Peter Wyngarde died last week, and so this post is by way of a tribute. His life was one of extraordinary ups and downs, and Jason King was of course one of the incredible ups. It was also one of the most extraordinary TV series ever written. And Jason King (who of course debuted in Department S) was also one of the most extraordinary characters of TV history! My godmother rather shame-facedly told me that she had a raging crush on Jason King in the seventies before admitting that it was rather odd, really, as I collapsed in fits of laughter.
Now this is a series which very easily slots into my categories of cult TV. Jason King belongs to the continental sophistication school of TV, episodes being set in some of the major sophisticated foreign settings of the day. In fact this genre of cult TV doesn't really seem to relate to any other, except in that it belongs to the Unreal school of TV and is definitely escapist viewing by the very unreality of its nature.
Are there still things called health farms? I have a feeling they've probably all gone a bit feel-good and been rechristened as spas. In the bad old days, a health farm definitely wasn't intended to be enjoyable and that is thoroughly reflected in King's attitude to the one he goes to.
What I love most about Jason King is the complete 1970s setting. You literally couldn't reproduce anything so tasteless nowadays. The decor, the clothes, even the food, are all absolutely perfect, and bring back my youth to a T. I love the jokes about food in the health farm, such as the plate of seaweed, and later a plate containing a single prune! He even fantasises about eating a goldfish.
Another seventies thing is the way in which Jason King is portrayed as a sex symbol. Quite apart from my own godmother's reaction, the reaction from all the women as he enters the clinic (albeit as the only man) is practically orgasmic. King flirts with, well, pretty well every woman with whom he comes into contact. I realise that we were just out of the age of men dressing in the peacock look, but even for the seventies I wonder why King's clothes weren't seen as a little too dandyish to be masculine. Otherwise he acts the part of the sex symbol to perfection. A medallion hangs in his chest forest, and it is very clear that he is otherwise capable of having any woman - and he is clearly overjoyed at being the only man in a clinic full of women who only ever seem to wear bikinis! King is also surprisingly good in a fight, although in this one he makes the mistake of turning his back on Yootha Joyce who gives him an injection in the bum.
This is one of my favourite episodes of this show, and despite the exotic setting the plot is a jewel of a fairly standard detective plot. You could transplant this plot pretty much to any genre you like - it would make a good Agatha Christie, for example. It is clever to use such an apparently straightforward plot because it provides a contrast with the extraordinary figure of King himself, and makes the episode quite solid so that it doesn't run off into the realms of complete fantasy. On top of this solid plot is laid an element of pretend medicine - of course the clinic is a cover for something else, and of course the wonders of Medicine are used as part of the deception. Just exactly like the pseudo-medicine and psychology we see in The Prisoner, so we are on very familiar territory.
I am going to have to make my usual criticism that Sister Dreiker, who runs the clinic, is rather incredibly played by Yootha Joyce, and the doctor by John le Mesurier. I know that this isn't a dislike shared by everyone, and I'm not criticising that Peter Wyngarde is always rather Peter Wyngarde, but I just don't like these familiar faces. Felix Aylmer is another very familiar face. It is a personal criticism, but hey, this is my blog. A further criticism is of the Network DVD box set - the restoration is perhaps not as good as it could be. Some of their other sets have a much crisper picture, and I think there was one place where the sound was rather crackly.
So in short, seventies fest, solid detective plot, sophisticated settings, bikinis or hairy chests depending on what you're into, and there's something in this Jason King episode for everyone.

Monday, 22 January 2018

The Avengers: Take-Over (with an aside on Licensed to Kill and Where Bullets Fly

This was very nearly another blog post about a film - or rather two films, as will become apparent. Instead I will drag myself back to the subject of this blog, write about the Avengers episode Take-Over and comment on the films which inspired this post at the end.
I know I say this about every Avengers episode but this is actually one of my favourites. I love it for its incongruence - I love the respectability of the baddies. I love the absolytelu chilling sweetness of Circe. I particularly love Tom Adams in his cold, calculating role.
This Avengers episode is also in my opinion a bit of an odd one out. Particularly once you get into series 6 you can watch The Avengers for the atmosphere of Avengerland. It can be seen as comfort viewing. Take-Over allows the viewer no respite. None. And it does it marvellously by creating an atmosphere of terror in a charming country house, which also manages to be wildly modernist at the same time. This is one of the ways in which this episode messes with the viewer's head. It starts off by establishing the baddies as solid respectable people by their Rolls Royce and vesture. It then overturns this impression by having them murder a man with a device in a lighter.
The scene is set outside the house with a view of its gracious frontage. Once inside a different impression is given. The traditional interior has been dramatically altered - not unusal for the time, of course. But the interior is given a certain cold quality by the nature of the light. The walls are all white and the light makes the setting cold. Despite Steed's warmth of feeling for the Bassetts, the feeling given is of coldness and aloofness, which I can only feel is intended to reflect itself into the viewer and create discomfort. To stop this post becoming unnecessarily repetitive, suffice it to say that the discomfort returns and is intensified at every twist of the plot, and that is much of the point of this episode. The usual Avengers unreality is given an incredible twist of horror in this episode.
Visually, naturally, this one is superlative. The set of the Bassetts' house is of course very effective and the artifacts they own are used to their best effect to create artistic camera angles. My one criticism of the visuals, which in fact I've just noticed through setting out to be critical, is that the exterior shots, interior shots and one scene of Steed supposedly driving, don't cut together that well, and look too different. But that is merely a criticism of the technology of the time. Normally familiar faces drive me up the wall, but in this one I don't object at all, because all of the actors are playing strong roles and you don't notice who they are.
Tom Adams is particularly strong as the fantasically-named Fenton Grenville, the leader of the baddies. Chillling, I think is the word. He plays the role completely straight and matter of fact.
Two points which aren't really criticisms. I like to notice the props used in The Avengers because obviously the same ones were used and they tend to reappear. For example in this one the seat from Mrs Peel's series 5 flat reappears in the Bassetts' living room - you can just see it at the back of the picture. A statue of a pope which appears in Game also appears in their living room. Just saying - I'm not implying that they owned a props business! The other one is that the character of Circe Bishop is so frankly odd that if you're annoyed by that sort of person you could be put off this episode by her.
Best Steed quote in this piece: I haven't seen a room clear so quickly since Freddie Firman took a live skunk into the Turkih baths.
Tom Adams stars in a quite different role in the two spoof-spy films which I have been watching this week and which I almost wrote about here. The first is Licensed to Kill and the second is Where Bullets fly. He plays the country's second-best secret agent after Bond, and that is the point of the spoof. I have been wanting to watch those films for ages after repeatedly seeing stills from them on the internet and finally found someone selling a single copy for a reasonable price on eBay. Licensed to Kill is the first and the better of the two, in my opinion. It feels better made and the joke is new. The music alone is a dead groovy sixties nostalgia-fest. Similar to my last post (click the right pointing arrow at the bottom of the page to see it if it doesn't appear as you scroll down), these are films which I think will appeal to the lovers of the TV shows of the age. My only warning would be that you will be horrified by a) the prices people charge for them and b) the reviews of the quality of these discs. Sadly until they get a commercial release copies by small media firms are the only way to get them. One of the reviewers on Amazon said that the films were the worst viewing quality he had ever seen. I don't agree with that, and think the viewers of classic TV will be better-able to deal with them. My own copy was distributed by 'Onyz Media International' (no address given), is PAL format, and the disc claims that they are digitally restored. I am sure they are rather restored, however the picture quality is nowhere near what you would get from a commercial restoration. It's not the worst I've seen, but it's not brilliant. I am just happy finally to have a copy of these films, and think you will probably like them too.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Incense for the Damned

Patrick Macnee, Edward Woodward, Peter Cushing, and Patrick Mower. I think merely listing the names of the stars is sufficient explanation for this film's appearing on a cult TV blog, don't you? It wouldn't normally be my sort of thing, but I simply wanted to see what a horror film starring Patrick Macnee and Patrick Mower would be like. Incidentally it is often known by its alternative title of Blood Suckers.
I was not put off from buying this film by the online reviews, which are, if not almost universally bad, not exactly what you would call good. It seems that a lot of people want to like this film but find it sadly lacking when it comes down to it. In fact it is sadly orphaned, because even its own producer disowned it. It was made in two goes, and after a break caused by the money running out, new scenes had to be shot with new characters, and I will grant you that once you know that fact this film does seem rather cobbled together.
Yes this film has its strengths. One of the things I'm always banging on about here is the necessity of remembering the time in which TV shows (and therefore films) were made, and trying to see them through the eyes of that time, as a way to understand them better. I think that approach would really pay off in the case of this film. We are talking about the era of package holidays in the Med, sexploitation films, and Hammer House of Horror films.
The Greek setting of much of the film is one of its absolutely strongest points. I have never been to Greece but wonder whether the Greece shown here is a real one or a mythological one. Certainly it contains the caricatures of Greece held in the English imagination - little old ladies dressed in black, priests everywhere, you get the drift. The Greek setting is the excuse for John Steed, sorry Patrick Macnee to appear in his best light. You will pardon my slip but Macneee does seem rather Steedly in this film, expatiating on mythology, which we just knoe he learned at school from the original texts. My absolutely favourite scene in this film is Macnee being assisted onto a donkey by priests in black. Incidentally I also love the scenes of the Land Rover driving through the mountains, and it has brought back happy memories of riding in the back of the pick up with the servants when my aunt had had enough of me and would kick me out of the cab. The murrum raised by the vehicle's wheels would literally get everywhere - it is the most dirty place to travel in a vehicle in dusty terrain.
As a sexploitation film it is of course of its era. Sex was very much in the air at this time and the films of the time were often relentlessly sexy. There is an irony here, of course, that Mower, despite not being able to perform, has wound up as a vampire as a result of his sexiness. I bet many a couple came out of the cinema giggling about making each other vampires when they got home. Another seventies aspect of this film is that it feels very much like the Hammer House of Horror films of the time, which often had an element of sex to them, as I remember. I remember watching them in my teens and waiting for something sexy to happen but it never did. Similarly the cultic elements underlying the plot are usually suggested, rather than explicit.
Another favourite thing, although it is a blooper, is the couple of scenes where rocks fall on first Mower and then Macnee. If you look carefully you can see the 'rocks' bounce, which rather takes the horror out of the scene!
So what is wrong with this film? It's a bit difficult to say except that it isn't really one thing or another. As a sexploitation it's short on sex, as a horror it's short on horror, as a glamorous-1970s-living film it's short on glamour. It doesn't even really have a moral message because let's face it no viewer is going to be put off sex outside wedlock or joining a sinister cult, by the warning of being turned into a vampire. The front of my DVD box says 'See the terror! Feel the pleasure! Taste the pain!', and if you're only looking for one of these you're going to be somewhat disappointed.
In fact I would suggest that this film has missed its key audience, which ought to be people like me, who want to see some of the big names of the time shoved in a horror film together. If you like Our Sort of Television you will at least give this film a go. There is even a scene towards the end, set in Oxford, where Mower stirs up a riot in his college dining room. To we who know The Avengers, the scene can only be reminiscent of his performance in that show. In fact he sounds, naturally, very much like the same character.
So my conclusion is that if you're not a horror fan, but instead a lover of the TV of the sixties and seventies, this show may be right up your street.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Public Eye: The Girl in Blue

You have to be in the mood to watch Public Eye, in my humble opinion. Or rather, one of two moods. One would be the mood where everything is going your way, you've just won the lottery, you're one of the few people left in the world with a pension which may actually support a retirement, you get the kind of thing. The other mindset is a deeply world-weary mindset. You've seen all the bad behaviour that human nature has to offer, you've spent the day wearing out shoe leather in your enquiries, and you're almost certainly wearing an old mackintosh.
It may be incongruent, then, that this series of Public Eye is set in Windsor. It is location for our poshest public (private in US English) school, and we all know Who have Windsor as their surname. It almost seems to suit the show better when the earlier episodes take place up here in big bad Birmingham, and the down at heel world of Brighton also suits the show well. Nonetheless the world's problems manage to come through Marker's office in Windsor High Street.
The milieu for this one goes into the world of what the episode itself calls 'blue movies'. It starts with four businessmen watching one of these movies and one of them recognises his daughter in the film. That scene is one of the things I love best about this episode, simply because it so dated. The film is literally a film, being shown on a projector which chunters along in the way they did, although I don't think I have heard that sound in reality for at least 35 years. The titles of the films are subsequently revealed to be - hilariously - The Parson Knows and Fun and frolics with Francine Freda - but I suppose this was the seventies and there are real films with such corny titles of this date! The scene which follows takes place in the hotel bar which is similarly dated, and in my incongruent way, when one of the characters gives the barmaid an order to put it on his bill I found myself wondering how the hotel would have kept accounts like that in the days before computers. Now it would just appear, but I suppose then paper records would have been involved. Later there is a scene where Marker takes the three-pin plug off the projector to plug into a two-pin socket at the police station, which is also a scene very much of its time because our sockets were at the time only on the way towards the almost ubiquitous three-square-pin models we have now. If anyone particularly wants me to wander off into the subject of plugs just ask and I will put it in a comment but as it is I am holding myself back from talking about one of my little hobby horses.
I am also reminded of the moral milieu of the time - this was the age of Mrs Whitehouse trying to keep filth off TV. The director of a frozen food complany had hired both the projector for the occasion and hired the films from Soho, and it is interesting to see how quickly he caves in when Marker merely threatens him with exposure for this fact. This is shown in counterpoint to the attitude of Inspector Firbank, who has no hesitation at watching the film to see the daughter. Once again it means setting up a screen and the involved matter of threading the film.
Firbank is even more cynical than Marker, and not only shows no surprise at the film but accepts these 'blue' movies as part of the modern world. Marker is more sympathetic to the girl, commenting that all of these girls are always somebody's daughter. I would have to point out that this series of Public Eye has got a 15 certificate here, suggesting that standards have changed. I have no idea whether anybody would have found the shots of women in bras pornographic at the time, and of course this show was always intended for TV broadcast, and I have no doubt that there was much more graphic pornography than this widely available in 1972. Nonethless I agree with Firbank's verdict that The Parson Knows could be shown at choir practice!
This episode, having set up a moral issue around the blue movie, then cleverly goes on to complicate it by introducing the fact that Summers lost contact with his daughter after throwing her out of the house for getting pregnant. Of course it is at this point the viewer rather loses sympathy for him. It doesn't help that subsequently she is revealed to have also used drugs, and the distributor of Parson Knows implies that she could be on the game or even dead. We lose even more sympathy for Summers when discover that his wife knows where the daughter is but hasn't told her husband. Far from the straightforward grit-fest with the concomitant shocks and disgust at the world of porn, this show examines a complex and subtle moral issue.
It is also very apparent that however this one ends, it isn't going to be happy. Of course that is much of the point of this show, that Marker's business involves endless human misery, but it's a weakness in the plot of this one. Either the daughter is alive or she isn't, and if she isn't she has very obviously volitionally not contacted her father in five years. The nature of this is very apparent right from the start of the episode. Summers ends the episode in a worse place than he ended it because he has had his daughter tell him that she will not be forgiving him for what he has done. I have a feeling that this probbaly reflects many a fractured family, and Summers's attitude represents a common human attitude that we should seek forgiveness and try to fix things, but the message here is that some relationships are broken beyond fixing. We end the episode with our sympathies firmly in the daughter's benefit.
Despite its weakness of plot this is an excellent Public Eye episode, which revels in the kind of human misery which this show does so well. I know I normally tend to prefer unreality over reality, but the sympathetic nature of Marker's character and the interesting characters he investigates make this a show which fascinates me.

Monday, 1 January 2018

The Avengers: Killer

A pink and purple pass...that's what I have for this week. I worked the week after Christmas and it was flat out because so many people were given annual leave so I thought right I'm having some myself. So off I popped to Mother to ask for one and now there's nothing anyone can do to make me go in to work. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the bureaucracy of our own workplaces was like that in The Avengers? But the rather pedestrian procedure of making veiled threats to my manager until he gave me annual leave has anyway had the same effect.
Of course the effect for Tara King was that she vanished out of the show for a whole episode giving way to...a whole new Avengers girl whom I've never blogged about before. So let me count them now... we have Honor Blackman of course, Julie Stevens, Diana Rigg, Linda Thorson, I personally feel we should include Ingrid Hafner, Joanna Lumley if you include her, and this episode alone allows us to add Jennifer Croxton playing Lady Diana Forbes - Blakeney. That means seven. You could even include Elizabeth Shepherd as the Mrs Peel Who Never Was (although if you look closely in The Hour That Never Was you can see gloves appear on Mrs Peel in certain shots of her hands which were reused from the Elizabeth Shepherd shooting of the episode, so she does genuinely appear in an episode). Call it eight.
All naturally of very different personalities. I imagine Diana Rigg is the favourite with the fans, although my personal favourite is Honor Blackman. I do like the fact there is another Avengers girl in this one, and I think the reason is that I love Lady Diana. I feel there is a sense in whcih of all the Avengers gels she embodies the eccentric English spirit of the show best - she's titled and double-barrelled for a start. But she's not some titled bimbo - she is clearly a career spy who is very capable in her own right, and in fact even Steed underestimates her. One of the things I find interesting about this is that I personally would tend to think she is more like Joanna Lumley and certainly has a more simlar presence than she does to Diana Rigg, who to my mind has quite a different presence to the other two. On the other hand the comments by the fans on the internet almost unanimously compare her to Diana Rigg and in fact several fans comment that they like her because she is more like Diana Rigg than Linda Thorson. Hey ho...
Aside from the delights of a new Avengers girl this episode is one of my favourites, I think because in so many ways it takes the Avengers formula to its extreme end and yet manages not to overdo it. An example of this is the fact that the venue used for the murders is an old street mock-up. This is clearly only ever seen as a set, we even get to see the scaffolding holding it up. As everyone reading this will know the whole point of The Avengers is that it is not real. The mock up of the street is not real. The unreal show is now using an unreal set of a place which never existed as scene and not even pretending it's real. That makes it unreality to at least the power of four, and yet it doesn't seem overdone. Nowadays of course we would call it postmodern and make bright remarks about Derridan deconstructionism, but The Avengers, made in the age of modernism, got there first.
The other running theme of 1960s TV which is carried to an extreme is the idea of the machine. Over and again in TV of this era the machine is seen as both the tool of progress and a dangerous monster which can get out of hand, or be dangerous in the wrong hands. The quote which I believe comes from Herbert Read best encapsulates the suspicion of this takeover: 'The machine has rejected ornament and the machine has everywhere established itself. We are irrevocably committed to a machine age,' and suggests that there is no going back from the machine age. This Avengers episode shows that the fear of the machine is valid, since in this episode the machine is the killer and dangerous to all concerned. Of course the take-home message is the same one as elsewhere, that machines have no loyalty and will do whatever they are told - any random diabolical mastermind can use them.
There are two high point to this exceptional episode for me, and they are REMAK's multiple tidy methods of murdering agents and the role Richard Wattis plays as the man from the ministry. The methods of murder and their tidiness can be seen as another reflection on the machine age...they're also very funny indeed, in a completely inappropriate way. This is something The Avengers can get away with by being unreal. Of course it helps that the graveyard is also obviously unreal - do I recognise the set from Epic? Wattis's work on the repeated immaculately-packaged corpses is very entertaining. While I don't normally like the same old faces appearing over and agin on TV shows, in this episode there are a huge number of very familiar actors of the age, but for some reason I don't mind them here, in fact I find I quite like the way actors have been drawn from the familiar stable of Avengerland faces. This doesn't mean I've turned over a new leaf, and I expect my customary curmudgeonliness will return in no time.
The unreality which makes the murders entertaining is another aspect of this show which is carried to its absolute extreme to great effect. I love the way you can look out of the window of what is supposed to be a village pub and see what looks like a new office building which contains this fearful mechanised apparatus of death! That doesn't come across as a blooper, it comes across as part of the pretence. Otherwise the setting of this one is very plainly Avengerland, a world which never existed and sadly never will except in the hearts and minds of fans all over the world. In the usual language of The Avengers's sets it is interesting that the baddies inhabit a building which is modern and furnished in uncompromisingly modern taste, while virtually everyone else's setting is the usual classical furniture and leather armchairs one which is The Avengers indicates solidity, reliability and that Blighty will carry on. I am not sure I can identify the nature of the building Mother's office is in for this one. He is surrounded by barrels of booze and the room is furnished with rows of rocking chairs, set cinema-style, facing...well, something we never see. A village hall set up for a talk to the Women's Institute given by a home brewer? It could happen - the episode isn't short of amiable eccentrics in addition to diabolical masterminds - I particularly love the packaging man.
I suppose I should try to think of some criticisms, although they will be mainly stolen from the dissolute website which has really had to go into details on its trivia for this one. They rightly point out that when the coach leaves the factory gates you can see the camera crew reflected in the windscreen. I haven't spotted it but apparently there is a shot when the dummies in the coach are real people - as I say you really have to go into detail to find things wrong with this one. I suppose my own criticism would be an organisational one - what the hell is Mother playing at to let so many agents die? Some of this is because he just doesn't listen to his agents, and because his agents have a habit of going off on their own without running things past Mother first. You would think Mother would really have got on top of that. It's dangerous, apart from anything else. You would also think that the agents - especially, ahem, Steed - would be canny and cynical enough to check that a dead body who has just theatrically died in front of them is actually dead!
Production-wise, I don't really have any complaints. Plot-wise, this one's failing is that it can tend to be in the nature of repeated introductions of agents who abruptly get killed, and it can get a bit samey. Nonetheless it is absolutely superb, definitely one of my favourites and it would have to stand on its own for introducing a new Avengers girl.