House of Cards
The main thing that really gets me about this episode is the slow pace at which it moves. Petter Jeffreys is competent enough, but compared to his malevolent, menacing Max Prenderghast in "The Joker" and devious villain in "Game," this is second-rater. Frank Thornton is excellent as Roland, showing that he can play a character with a bit more subtlety than Are You Being Served? or Last of the Summer Wine require.
What we do get here is essentially what The New Avengers became mainly about: nostalgia, and how it must be kept in it's place. The rosy view of the past can't always be allowed to affect your judgment. In the world in which our heroes are living, they have to be wary of everyone and everything, and must never forget that. We see Steed visibly tired and upset at the death of David, his true identity, and his betrayal by Suzy. We return to this time and again throughout the series. I wish, though, that they'd been able to do better than that cringe-worthy scene with Steed talking to Suzy about the marriage to his job. While it achieves the purpose of showing that Steed is a consummate professional, it leaves you feeling more, well, cheapened than emotional for some reason. Steed having a regular girlfriend? There's something essentially wrong with that, too.
There is humour to be had in all of this, however. Gambit's pop star cover at the start is hilarious, right down to his hippy make-up. The calm, "stiff upper lip" attitude of Steed and Rowland in the car is a nice touch. Purdey's high kicking Bishop stepfather is fun, too, and Pat gets to spin some great lines, such as the screaming line at the start, and his response to Olga's "It's make love, not war" is nice. Purdey flooring Perov because "he hit me" is a little corny, but worth a mention.
We get the first real sense of Purdey and Gambit's on-screen bickering/flirting relationship in the car, and the scene with Spence in the gym. The sped-up fight sequences make them more laughable than exciting. We've come away from the escapism. We've learnt quickly in two episodes that the world is a violent and uncaring place, which hurts, not just physically but emotionally. Gone are the days when Steed and his partner could casually dismiss finding a corpse. This is not necessarily an unwelcome change; how long can you stop ignoring death until you become inhuman? The seventies, remember, were a lot more cynical, and audiences' expectations were different.
What hasn't gone is some of the paternalism (and dare I say it sexism) of the Tara era. There's less of it here, but we do get the "Purdey takes her kit off" scene that was removed entirely in the second series. Thankfully, she comes out on top at the end, demonstrating the strong character that Jo was giving her rather than ending in up in the "Tara gets in to trouble" situations that would plague her for a while to come. We still have no real insight into Gambit yet, aside from his obvious working class tendencies, lusting over Purdey, and his seventies "man of action" poses.
5/10—could have been so much more.
House of Cards
Since many agree in its slow pace and others deprive this episode of any plaudit, perhaps we are facing a case of underestimation on the part of those who didn't give "House Of Cards" an appropriate viewing. There are many features here, added to the powerful presence of two guest stars from the original series (Peter Jeffrey and, although in a wasted role, Lyndon Brook) as to push this episode several steps up from the one where it stands now.
To begin, the scenes before the opening credits are positively funny—we see Purdey training a group of young women lined up like soldiers and yelling her orders out in the best military style; Steed appearing in his habitual look just to advise the girls, "Remember, when you're screaming, you're screaming for England," and finally this horde of teens shouting (for England, yes) and charging into an airfield lounge towards their pop idol—Gambit! A perfect scheme to foil Perov's plan, who's ready to take his defector countryman back. The comedy doesn't end, however, with the mayhem at the lounge, as Perov gets farther and farther apart from his compatriot—whom Steed takes now to a car waiting outside—but it goes on even after the opening credits. Steed and the driver Roland talk unflappably about flowers and gardening while the car zigzags its way amidst the whistle of Perov's bullets, which only get to smash the windshield and terrify the defector whom Steed protects like a child. Isn't there a touch of the most genuine Avengerish style in all this?
Perov may not be the refined mastermind hidden behind Max Prendergast ("The Joker") or Bristow ("Game"), both of which stood out thanks to Peter Jeffrey's ability to play heavies. But Perov is a great character anyway, displaying a great deal of that caustic sense of humor that Jeffrey handles so well. The "good trick" Perov employs to commit "suicide" is another resource Clemens undeniably recycled from the original series—by means of a drug that suspends the heart and the respiration, causing the "victim" to appear dead when in fact they aren't. Very "Bizarre," don't you think? And what to say about Roland laying supine on the grass while carefully studying his flowers? I don't think anyone could deny that Roland is a true eccentric.
Besides this old-Avengers-style approach, naturally the episode also meets the Avengers-of-the-70s perspective. As a matter of fact, our heroes got into a real sweat about the "house of cards" members' assignments, and that alone gives good reason for a less objective second viewing. Gambit fights with a long-time friend, a karate master who taught him everything he knows about that art; not only is unexpected violence generated during the fight (Gambit ends up with a minor knife wound), but also the knife winds up in his friend's back.
To Steed the challenge is still greater, mainly because all things seem to point out that our Casanova is romantically involved by now. After all, this is the second New Avengers episode transmitted in UK, and Steed may very well have found someone with whom to share his life; in fact, this is no longer the youthful Steed of the Cathy Gale years—his character evolved and matured in time, so why shouldn't he succumb to real love? However, Suzy wouldn't be his best choice, that's for sure. As Purdey exposes her as a traitor in front of Steed, we find out that Steed is only "married to the job, to the profession." For those who were disappointed with that remark, a great following scene makes up for it. Visibly affected by Suzy's betrayal, Steed makes Olga the victim of his wrath. Poor Olga will make history for being the only woman Steed (unintentionally) knocked flat after a brutal punch in the eye. Steed tries desperately to exonerate himself: "You're unlucky," he hisses, as the wound Suzy left in his soul is still bleeding. "You came along when I needed to hit something."
Only Purdey dodges betrayal. But the scene in her bedroom wherein she strips in front of Gambit marks the starting point of a significant interplay between these two Avengers that would carry on throughout the series, although stopping (apparently) just there, without getting into more intimate grounds. It was a bubbly dialogue between a pair of young secret agents rather than a sexual undercurrent developed beyond what the public could have expected.
For all this and much more, "House Of Cards" is a show very rich in reminiscences of the original series, with sufficient approach on the Avengers' private lives as to make it quite interesting; it also features the last appearance in the series of the ever gifted Peter Jeffrey. Why many fans didn't get hooked on this story is frankly a mystery I have yet to solve.
House of Cards
"A trifle extrovert perhaps, but it is necessary to convince you."
The new series continues its so-far enjoyable, but not exceptional, standard. Worth a look; far better is to come. Almost a traditional counterspy tale, with some nice touches.
Production: The locations are easy on the eye, mostly rural England. As one would expect, the action sequences are reasonably-directed. The knife fight between Gambit and Spence is genuinely disturbing. A brief sequence where Purdey avoids shotgun blasts is well done too. She gets to lay out Perov with a solid punch that contrasts nicely with her usual martial arts (which are shown off early on).
The Avenged?: Petrov tries to revenge himself on Steed! Of course, Peter Jeffrey can't play his accustomed twisted genius; we get to see him as a stable, clever, optimistic character with a genuine motive. The vodka-swigging scene is marred by a silly cork-popping sound, inexplicably dubbed on.
Diabolical Masterminds?: Peter Jeffrey is perfect as a cunning masterspy who fakes his own death whilst he works to redeem himself. A drug which "suspends" the heart (with no after-effects afterwards) is hard to believe. But there's a nice twist, when it turns out that the activation of murderous sleepers was merely to trick Steed into revealing the location of a defector - the loss of whom had caused Petrov's original disgrace. We really needed more Macnee/Jeffrey dialogue scenes; Jeffrey is superb.
The Avengers?: Purdey figures it all out. This follows a nice scene where Purdey confronts Steed's girlfriend, Jo, at gunpoint; Steed refuses to "ransack through a lady's personal possessions" but eventually does, and finds proof of Jo's treachery. His homily about being married to his job is saved by Patrick's deft acting. Gambit and Purdey get some more good exchanges as they frantically pursue Petrov's helicopter in a car.
Umbrella, Charm and a Bowler Hat?: Gambit delays in revealing his presence to Purdey, as she half-undresses. So she treads on Gambit's tummy. Steed hits a lady! (By accident, and she is a Soviet spy lurking in his undergrowth).
Bizarre?: As usual, security around "Steed's Stud" is poor; enemy agents come and go at will. The white cross on Steed's car looks daft. Steed treats a thumped eye with a pork chop. The soundtrack's "rattle" nearly every time the cards are read (or referred to) becomes very distracting.
Epic?: Lots and lots of characters come and go but all economically choreographed. A light, Avengerish feel. The "old friends revealed to be suborned by the enemy" before it became a bit of a New Avengers cliché. This story could have done with more wit in the dialogue, but some bits stand out: the scene of Jo, Steed's paramour, reacting to the Cathy/Emma/Tara pictures is fun.
The minor eccentrics are acceptable - Purdey's stepfather (a kick-fighting bishop), Frank Thornton's supine rosarian, Cartney the latest of The Avengers' traditional dodgy undertakers. Sadly there is no tag scene as such, and Purdey calling Steed "beautiful" is strange, but touchingly right for their relationship.
Mercifully, there are no crash-bang car chases like in the previous episode, and no wig-out music either.
Rating: A respectable two bowlers, but somehow it all doesn't quite gel.
House of Cards
"House Of Cards" shows a definite sea-change in tone from the previous episodes, being far more serious and credibly plotted in a manner that would suit a Cold War spy-thriller rather than a typical Avengers episode. I think it's these relatively gritty episodes which can understandably turn off fans of the more fantastical Emma Peel/Tara King episodes (but they have certain links with the Cathy Gale era). However, my personal feelings on episodes like this, "Hostage," "To Catch a Rat," "Obsession" and "Dead Men Are Dangerous" is that these are some of the most artistically satisfying Avengers episodes of all time. I find it interesting that Patrick Macnee sometimes speaks less than favourably about the series as in my mind, some of his best performances are featured in The New Avengers, and this is definitely the case here. This has some of the best performances ever featured in the show from all concerned, and the more sombre tone is entirely befitting the greater cynicism of the age.
Steed, Purdey and Gambit create a diversion for a Russian defector to avoid the hands of notorious KGB agent Perov, which is successful and renders Perov a laughing stock. Perov commits suicide and his funeral is imminent, but seemingly out of nowhere, loyal and trusted British agents are suddenly betraying their colleagues—Steed, Purdey, her stepfather and Gambit narrowly escape death at the hands of these traitors. The three are baffled by the cause behind this betrayal, their only clue being half of a playing card which has their name on them. Who is behind this treacherous deception, and what is its real purpose?
Looking at it now, one can see certain links to the classic Emma Peel colour episode "The Correct Way to Kill." However, the tone is generally a lot more downbeat, Steed is quite rueful and there are some surprisingly violent moments here. I have no trouble with any of this—to me, it's perfectly natural that the show should evolve in this way.
The fight between Gambit and the department's traitorous fitness trainer Spence is perhaps the most violent fight of the series. It doesn't descend into stupidity like "Trap" or "The Gladiators," however—it is made perfectly clear that this is a very serious moment and Gambit's life seems seriously in danger; he gets scarred with a knife, for starters. I must say, although I think some slight stunt doubling was perhaps used and some frame-removal was definitely used (this was a popular ploy of Kung Fu films of the era, taking out frames of action to make the scene move quicker—it just looks jerky, in truth), by and large this fight stands up well to fights you'd see in most martial arts films. Laurie Johnson's scoring here is suitably effective and dramatic.
My favourite scene here is the one where Steed is dining a lady-friend, Jo, when Purdey suddenly bursts in and reveals Steed of her deadly intentions. This is a very emotionally-charged sequence, quite unlike anything in the show's mid 60s zenith. Joanna Lumley was rarely more hard-edged than here, and her performance is simply superb. But my lasting memory is the performance of Patrick Macnee—his saddened face upon realising he has been betrayed is perfectly fitting, and his "married to the job" monologue is a moment of wonder—you can really sense he is tiring of the job here, something reinforced in "Angels of Death" in the second season. That whole sequence is one of the finest of the series, for my money—I wish they had gone further with this more mature direction.
However, this is certainly not an episode without humour. Purdey's stepfather vicar is a wonderful character, dodging an assassination attempt by suddenly unleashing a barrage of martial artistry. One would say it must run in the family, but a terrific joke follows where Purdey confirms he's not a blood relative. The look on Steed and Gambit's faces is utterly priceless. The opening sequence where Purdey, Gambit and Steed with a host of schoolgirls assist a Russian defector makes what was already a cliche of espionage fiction a wonderfully entertaining and amusing spin on a familiar topic. One of Clemens' favourite gags—an alive-and-well body emerging from a coffin—gets another airing, and it's still funny. Check out the entertainingly irreverent approach to the show's past with Steed's barbed "tributes" to Cathy Gale, Emma Peel and Tara King, too.
The lead villain here, Perov, has a simply stunning and very charismatic performance from Peter Jeffrey. He's already gone down in Avengers folklore for the truly scary performance he gave as Prendergast in "The Joker," but this is an equally good performance. He delivers the dialogue with relish and grabs the role with both hands, managing to convey Perov's deviousness with aplomb.
My one and only grumble here is Perov's presumption that every single detail in his very complex plan will go the way he needs it to (how does he know for a fact the "sleeper" agents won't succeed in killing off Steed, Purdey and Gambit?) and that Steed will do exactly what Perov expects, but perhaps it's best to not analyse it too closely and enjoy it for what it was meant as—good, solid entertainment, and this really is something of an underrated classic, in my opinion.
RATING: 4.5/5 BOWLERS
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