After the camp fun of the previous week’s episode, The Grandeur That Was Rome, a bit of a bump as we touch back down on planet Earth for a much more realistic Avengers episode – The Golden Fleece.
Warren Mitchell gets the first word, only three years from starring in the series that would make his name, Till Death Us Do Part, and looking a generation younger, he’s one of a bunch of soldiers at an army camp in Aldershot discussing the unusual financial situation of a small amateur club, The Golden Fleece, which seems to have riches out of all proportion to its activities.
We cut to a Chinese restaurant, where hostesses welcome visiting business noise Mr Lo (Robert Lee). Steed and Gale also just happen to be there and, having enjoyed a meal of Peking duck, jasmine tea, melon seeds, lychees and whatnot, they leave, Steed “accidentally” going home with the wrong coat, that of Mr Lo.
Mr Lo is, of course, a wrong’un and is involved somehow in a gold smuggling racket. And before you can say “undercover assignment”, Mrs Gale is down in Aldershot working as a cataloguer at an army museum, and listening in as many a crusty old officer, clearly finding it difficult to adjust to a world where the US is top dog, waxes bufferishly about the days of imperial glory.
What have Mr Lo and this dusty museum to do with each other? And how does Steed know there is a connection? Either I missed that detail or writers Roger Marshall and Phyllis Norman, in Avengers tradition, didn’t think it was strictly necessary to explain everything.
The phrase Bretton Woods Agreement is uttered again in this episode, as it was a few episodes back, in The Gilded Cage (also scripted by Roger Marshall), a reference to an actual transnational political and economic arrangement that helps ground the episode in something resembling reality.
As does a trip to a garage where a former army man is now working as a mechanic in overalls almost entirely covered in oil. Perhaps also as a nod to realism (of a sort, as I say) is the unusual sight of Steed handling of a gun. And he does it in good old Humphrey Bogart fashion, pointing it from down at the waist, like a man who means business.
Peter Hammond directs with style and is innovative in his choice of shots (new lenses too?) – one very nicely done death is shown entirely from the point of view of the perpetrator. Perhaps Hammond was a fan of Michael Powell’s 1960 slasher pic Peeping Tom.
Though there is some morally complex motivation behind the financial chicanery that almost saves the episode, there’s no denying that the whole thing is a bit flat.
The two ends – Mr Lo’s and the army’s – don’t really tie together, no matter how much the denouement insists they do.
© Steve Morrissey 2019