Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Miss America, The Spy

Agents of SHIELD will be back at the end of the month. That means we’ll see Skye, I mean Daisy Johnson in her new role, Bobbie Morse and Melinda May making decisions, and a scientist who’s changed after an alien rock grabbed her.

Over the weekend, I saw an old episode of The Man from UNCLE, whose ideas about female agents are much different than SHIELD. That’s too bad, considering there was a much better philosophy elsewhere on TV.

The episode was “The Moonglow Affair”, which was a backdoor pilot that introduced agents April Dancer and Mark Slade:

That’s right. They’re not Stephanie Powers and Noel Harrison in this picture.
They cast former Miss America Mary Ann Mobley as April and Norman Fell (yep, Mr. Roper) as Slade. It was his first mission to train the newly minted agent because his predecessor turned 40.
Well, 40 was ancient about 50 years ago, not like now (right, Miss May?).
Anyway, choosing Mobley as April wasn’t too far fetched. She was an IMF agent posing as a trapeze artist in “Odd Man Out” during the first season of Mission Impossible. Maybe that led to her role here.

In this episode, Solo is poisoned by radiation while Kuryakin was trapped by THRUSH agents, assisted by an evil cosmetics mogul named Carasse played by Kevin McCarthy.

Back to the story, after Proto-April packs her purse with cosmetics and a big handgun, she goes to the evil cosmetics HQ as a temp secretary to figure out if THRUSH is planning to ruin an upcoming space shot with one of its own. Good thing Caresse is too busy to notice she’s planted a bug, and is able to get a lot of info. She even finds Kuryakin in the lab below, and quickly fakes being a new assistant to keep from getting caught. That’s how she gets more info..and some flirting. In fact, she winds up as Miss Moonglow, which includes modeling glow-in-the-dark lipstick.  
Apparently, the idea of this show is that April Dancer’s greatest weapon isn’t her gun but her feminine wiles, which is how she keeps Evil Makeup Guy wrapped around her little finger. That’s also why Peggy Carter would rather watch The Avengers, along with many, many others.

What about Slade? He’s a bit old to be out on the field, but he does the dirty work trying to keep THRUSH from threatening the space shot. However, it also leads him getting arrested by a cop who’d never understand espionage and stuff.

April gets caught and is zapped by the radiation weapon. Then, Slade comes in to save the day. We never find out how the cop let him go. Too bad, since it would have been better for her to wind up wounding Caresse and a THRUSH henchman despite being zapped. Then again, NBC would never allow it—but ABC could.

So, when The Girl From UNCLE did have its only season, the pattern was clear: April infiltrates the bad guys, does some flirting, gets the info, and waits until a much younger Mark Slate to save her. That’s the American way, unlike those Brits who have female spies fight just like a guy.

Well, who do we remember more, huh?

Recently, they turned The Man From UNCLE into a movie. What struck me is that Alicia Vikander, who played the daughter of the nuclear scientist Solo and Kuryakin have to find (when they decide not to argue), she had to judo flip Solo at least once to keep him on task. Too bad she couldn't be a new April Dancer.
If there was a new April, she'd have to live up to Melinda May, Sydney Bristow and Bobbi Morse. She could have done that nearly 50 years ago, but NBC decided it didn't need its own version of Emma Peel. Its idea of a female spy is being the straight person to a dopey secret agent. 

That still works in an animated spy spoof, but not when you're playing it straight today. 

I'm just saying I wish The Girl From UNCLE was allowed to be a real secret agent rather than what That Girl would be if she was in espionage.

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