Quick-Quick Slow Death
"I like looking back through a photo album and, in a sense, The Avengers is like that. I see this younger version of myself, and I think, 'She's OK'."—Diana Rigg
When the fever first hit me to seek commercially taped Avengers episodes, I could only locate two: "Escape in Time" and "Quick-Quick Slow Death." A&E had yet to release their first fateful collection, so these were the solitary episodes that I had to study in great length—one in color and one in black and white. The monochrome one, "Quick-Quick Slow Death," has continued to stand out as uniquely revealing of Emma Peel.
From the opening, where she launches Steed's beer into the air for execution, to her scenes posing as an instructor manhandling a lesser male on the dance floor, Emma Peel has never so enticingly denigrated her fellow man. Unlike "From Venus With Love," where she seems perfectly charmed by the daft upper-class chimney sweep/astronomer, or "The Bird Who Knew Too Much," where she appears enchanted by Edgar Twitter and his environment for exotic birds, "Quick-Quick Slow Death" has few 'characters' who jibe well with her. Footman Piedi irritates her from the start, salivating over her beautifully shaped feet (which are, in fact, unusually beautiful). His eccentric gyrations fail to court any pleasant response from the typically diplomatic secret agent. Earlier, she held the tattooist at an icy distance, using rapid-fire questioning and a slightly impatient air—avoiding any amusement regarding his wacky uniqueness. As for Captain Noble, she is hardly concerned for this comic relief's well-being. The overall impression hints slightly at Emma's snobbism and aloofness but more directly addresses Diana Rigg's own growing dissatisfaction with her treatment behind the scenes.
Diana Rigg is so wonderfully perfect and invigorating yet she withholds a troubling sense of mystery virtually untouched by the ravages of time. We know that working with Patrick Macnee pleased her, but also that the producers pissed her off by treating her unfairly (around this time she found out she was paid less than everybody). She followed up her success with The Avengers by playing James Bond's wife, then diving into Paddy Chayefsky's The Hospital. As she grew older, Miss Rigg went back in time with her acting, as if dignity comes only when performing the classics. With much of her presence and sensuality intact, she insists on stage work and dreary British film productions of famous plays and great novels, specifically remaking Rebecca with a truly sour Mrs. Danvers. While this is only the vaguest (and, in some ways, unfair) assessment of a woman who did, after all, receive the title 'Dame,' the basic impression holds: Diana Rigg is probably not the fun person we see preserved in The Avengers. She is much more intensely dichotic—young and old, carefree and wise, anti-establishment and society's great upholder of treasured totems. Watching her in "Honey for the Prince," one would never guess that she would assume the stately role of hosting Mystery for PBS. Whoever this woman is, she is not Mrs. Peel, which is sad since she was so great at being her.
"Quick-Quick Slow Death" provides a wonderful demonstration of Diana Rigg's budding duality. Walking in the shoes of the delectable Mrs. Peel, Rigg's unhappier instincts begin to surface, adding to the bittersweet allure that pervades the setting. The opening best exemplifies this. She and Steed appear to be in an Antonioni movie, where mental isolation and physical space become intertwined. They are both outdoors, alone, and apart. He is firing at beer cans in the air while she is away from him, catching one of his targets. Standing beside him, they still seem remote but with the air of intimacy lurking just beneath. Her smiles (which in this episode are solely for him) go unnoticed as he continues with his eccentric bachelor behavior. Nevertheless, they are very much a pair, and inseparable. The message is clear: to get close to Emma/Rigg, you must keep your distance. This contradiction serves as a useful model for any male trying to ensnare popular and attractive women, but Diana Rigg is of the highest order of elusiveness. While it is truly unhealthy and unreasonable to expect your favorite actress to mirror her most popular character, you would at least like to see the parallels be the qualities that you love. Which is not to say that I don't love Diana Rigg—I just don't know her.
As far as episodes go, "Quick-Quick Slow Death" is a real treat that rewards with repeated viewings. Yes, the dance hall music is long in the tooth, but it is appropriate and it helps to distinguish the old upper class from the jet-setting Avengers duo. The whole episode demonstrates how the villains can easily conduct their affairs under a thin veil of complacency, which is true of so many of society's evils.
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2001 Jonathan Woods. All Rights Reserved.
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