The See-Through Man
I disagree with most fans on "The Fear Merchants," but I must agree with them here. "The See-Through Man" is a bad episode. That said, it is enjoyable, provided one does not consider the plot at the end. Rather like watching a James Bond film.
For starters, one gets the feeling Philip Levene wanted to write a straight invisible spy story before deciding it wouldn't be properly entertaining enough, and switched to a fraud at the end. The explanation is weak—especially in light of Major Vazin's amazing feats throughout the episode (the children's park, sneaking into Mrs. Peel's apartment, the Ministry scenes). I can believe that Major Vazin is actually a short man with a big coat—especially since that's what he looks like—but that doesn't explain anything else.
The villains also are hideous, with some of the worst Russian accents I have ever seen. You almost expect Boris Badenov to stroll in. Granted, the series doesn't usually have top-notch "Russian" villains (Nutski, for one, as well as Alex in "Dead Man's Treasure") in terms of accents, but there have been some who were better than usual—John Hollis in "The Superlative Seven" and Ronald Radd in "Mission: Highly Improbable." Another possibility might have been to give the Russians English accents, as they did Julian Glover in "The Living Dead."
The direction is a little tedious, with a good car chase in the middle, and some rather spooky scenes in the children's park and in the Ministry to liven things up. There is almost no action besides a dumb fight between Mrs. Peel and Elena Vazin. For the majority of the second half of the episode, things become quite tedious—ironically making the caption, "Emma is put to sleep," grimly literal.
Warren Mitchell dominates most of the show as Brodny, but he's not that funny. The most amusing characters on the program were always the subtle eccentrics, while Brodny comes off as some writer's idea of a "funny Russian." Heck, the "Mad Russian" on The Eddie Cantor Program is funnier than Brodny.
But why dwell on the bad all the time? What about the good? Well, Roy Kinnear is hilarious as Ernest Quilby, and Jonathan Elsom gives an excellent reaction shot as Ackroyd. I do love the central idea that this is all a fraud, but the plotting is too filled with holes to make that seem true.
So how might we improve things? Make it a real invisible spy with a mission to destroy or assassinate. Something evil. Then we'd have a first-rate suspenseful episode, instead of this bottom-of-the-barrel outing.
The See-Through Man
Is Brodny thoroughly silly? Da. Is the episode a total basket case? Nyet, at least not for me.
"The See-Through Man" is hardly one of the stronger episodes, but it is not without some merit. Roy Kinnear is too funny as the bumbling scientist Quilby. Don't you love his eyes? I love it when he darts them back and forth in wide-eyed bewilderment. I like all the scenes between Steed and Mrs. Peel, as usual, as they planned their next moves. I even liked the scene between Brodny and Steed. What a horrible teaser Steed is! The Beatles reference is cool, too, though, as someone correctly pointed out, they had stopped touring by the time this episode was filmed. And it's interesting to look back at these old Cold War episodes just for their historic value. We painted the Soviets/Russians in such a horrible light, making them at once idiots and simpletons while at the same time fearing them as schemers who might conquer the world. Paranoia and schizophrenia are close bedfellows.
The plot is not the strongest, however. As sophisticated as Elena and Vazin appeared to be, it seems odd that they would trust Brodny to do anything right, even betraying a "secret" that wanted betrayed. He's so over the top that Steed or Mrs. Peel or anyone would see right through him (no pun intended). The fight scene between Elena and Mrs. Peel is one of the weaker ones. Though obviously they tried to portray Elena as a serious agent who knew how to fight, it came out almost like a "girlie" cat-fight scene, which certainly isn't in keeping with Mrs. Peel. And there's the matter of the payment for the formula. They can't seem to make up their minds. Is it £100,000 or is it £250,000? The figures were used interchangeably, which I found vaguely annoying.
Overall, it's a two-bowler affair. Amusing enough to watch as a pleasant distraction, say, while eating lunch alone (like I did this afternoon), but not strong enough to rate much higher. And for the record, I fast-forwarded through the long scene featuring Brodny when he discovered the "invisible" Major Vazin. Brodny is best in small doses.
The See-Through Man
Plot: Excellent. I would have given this a "good" rating, but the twist at the end of it not being an invisible man made it fairly believable.
Humour: Good. Steed's visit to see Brodny was the highlight of the episode for me. Although I did prefer Brodny in "Two's a Crowd," he was likeable here, but at times he does grow a bit old at times. I foresee this episode as not having much re-watchability to it because of him.
Direction: Very Good. I enjoyed the picture blurring out when Emma was drugged. Some nice shots when Emma and Elena fight.
Acting: Good. Nice performances from Warren Mitchell and Roy Kinnear.
Music: Good. An interesting piece plays when Steed arrives at the park to meet Ackroyd.
Tag: Very Good. A nice touch of the absurd.
Miscellaneous: You'd think the Russians would have learned from the events in "Two's a Crowd" to not mess with Steed and Emma. I wish that, at the end of the episode, Steed had talked into the microphone and pretended to be invisible. If the Major had been invisible, then when he was sitting in the chair and so wouldn't he be nude? One thing they did not explain was how they got a camera into the ministry of whatever to knock out that man in the introduction and steal those files, because as Steed and Emma pointed out in the beginning, there was a lot of security there.
Overall Rating: 7/10
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