When The New Avengers really worked, we always got a new spin on emotions or feelings of the characters, which were never supported by obvious, but rather gentle, humour. This is a great example. It's a shame, really, that while Steed, and here Purdey, got emotional episodes with their characters working really well, we never got to explore this side with Gambit. It's a different sentimentality to "Dead Men Are Dangerous"; it's more romance than nostalgia. Jo plays her scenes wonderfully and subtly; she is the torn woman desperate to move on, yet not quite wanting to let go of the past. She gives the scenes between her and Shaw the right romantic feel at the start, and that edge of uneasiness for the rest of the episode. Pat plays Steed here like the caring Uncle, getting Purdey to face up to her fear without getting too interfering, and encouraging Gambit, who is obviously torn to see her so hurt (well done, Gareth), to do the same. Steed's solution to the problem at the end is cool, too. The way he just calmly takes the belt off and casually gets out of the Range Rover is superb!
The supporting cast is good, too. Shaw puts in an excellent performance as the obsessed Larry Doomer. This is a guy who you really could believe has been doubly wounded, obsessed by rectifying the things that caused him pain. Collins is suitable as the mercenary Keller. You hardly need telling that they went on to do The Professionals together, as Dave Matthews notes, for the reason that is clearly demonstrated by their on-screen (and one suspects off-screen) chemistry; they'll work together, but it doesn't necessarily mean they have to like each other (Shaw and Collins did eventually become good friends). Tommy Boyle's Wolach is extremely convincing, too. However, it's Doomer's dad that lets down. How you can be bad being tied to a stake and shot is beyond me!
The level of gritty violence, which crept into the second season, doesn't actually get in the way of the plot here as such, but it's pretty hard all the way, what with couriers knocked off bikes by wires, generals tied up and force-fed alcohol, men shot into pits, Gambit facing down a speeding truck. By 'eck! The direction works well, the stock footage of the aircraft used (and re-used in The Professionals episode, "Where the Jungle Ends") works well (except when, in one of the shots, you can just catch the titles "Engineer in the RAF" fading out!), and Laurie gives us a score with true heart.
The only thing that loses this episode a point for me is the awful ending: "She's Purdey." "She's a woman," with music and soft camera focus that make it look as though it's from some dodgy 70's perfume add! Pat and Gareth look clearly embarrassed to say those lines, and rightly so. A gentle but authoritative "Don't" from Steed to Gambit, or a simple look, would have been much better. But this hardly spoils it for me in the end. Like "Dead Men," it's rosy feeling time. Nice stuff!
"Not mad. Obsessed, hurt, terribly hurt," Purdey yells out in defense of her past love, revealing her mixed if forever repressed feelings toward him. In line with the theme of "Dead Men Are Dangerous," Clemens created another of the shining moments in which our Avengers' deepest sentiments are brought to light, regardless the story around this episode. It is Purdey's turn now to give a very different vision of her personality, afflictions and reactions.
Once again the story delves into the frightful edges of revenge, showing how a man's obsession not only may be extremely dangerous, but also how the nostalgia and a sense of possession towards everything or everyone he lost may turn him into an aggressive madman. Larry even gets to punch his pal Kilner—who intended to take care of Purdey—making it clear that "She's mine, she belongs to me." And Purdey not only understands and trusts Larry, but also figure out where Larry has hidden the missile, as a sign that after seven years, in spite of all things occurred in between, the old flame still remained lit.
Fine performances both on the Avengers' and the guest cast's side greatly reinforce the atmosphere of this story. To many, the seed of The Professionals was indeed planted in "Obsession," since its two forthcoming stars seemed to catch Clemens' eye, for whom The New Avengers' demise was just around the corner by now. Martin Shaw gives a subtle, convincing performance and, although in a smaller role, Lewis Collins already proves he and Shaw could get along enough as to make an action pair reveling in mutual understanding. As in "Dead Men Are Dangerous," Gambit finds the right frame to look like a true secret agent instead of a refined police inspector. His concern for Purdey is sincere, even though one is unable to discern if his affectionate behavior towards his partner in fact is moved by simple sympathy or an even deeper feeling. After all, he's fast enough to tell Larry he's a "close friend" of Purdey's.
Undoubtedly, Steed offers such a fatherly image in this story that at times one might be watching a Tara King episode. Even when Steed keeps his distance from Purdey's emotional conflict, he still turns his back on her suffering under circumstances Purdey wouldn't be thankful to him. But his brilliant line, "the best way to destroy fear is to face it, you see," and the story about his being in agony back in Berlin, which he confidently tells Purdey when driving his Range Rover, not only brings up another important bit of Steed's past life but also becomes part of the story that would follow henceforth. "How are you feeling?" Steed asks Purdey, once she has met Larry again at the party Steed gave in his house. "Like jelly," she replies—the same words Steed used to describe how he felt after his painful experience in Berlin. A great exchange of emotions.
But Steed, and to a certain extent Gambit, not only appear in "Obsession" as suitable advisors, they're also the ones who'd put a stop to an irreversible situation, although I still doubt that Larry could have shot Purdey. Steed's determination to destroy his Range Rover and risk his own life to save the Houses of Parliament eloquently shows that indeed he learned a great deal from his past experiences.
Laurie Johnson (whose The New Avengers soundtrack not always appealed to all fans) makes his contribution with his original, superb tunes created exclusively for this episode—as he did with "Pandora" during the Tara season—generating a fine touch for each Purdey and Larry scene. Or, perhaps I might say, ending another of the great The New Avengers episodes, a true gem regarding its contents, depth and magnificent way to portray the hidden side of the heroes one got to love so much.
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