location: Secret Agent AKA Danger Man: The Complete Collection, disc 1
airdate: 25 September 1960
NATO opening: no
NATO openings so far: 1
NATO-less openings so far: 2
Vacation spoiled: no
Vacations spoiled so far: 1
We begin with a blast of sound and a flurry of colourful floats – a carnival, or indeed Carnaval, atmosphere. Then we shift to a woman at a piano, playing the Fantaisie Impromptu – not the opening allegro agitato, but the succeeding moderato cantabile, as though to emphasise the contrast between the frenzy without and the calm within (a boundary that will shortly be broken). We realise she is blind when she reaches forward to touch her braille sheet music. A man arrives; she invites him to let himself in (the doors aren’t even locked against what lies without). As they chat pleasantly, he takes a gun from his jacket, a gun she cannot see ....
Our episode is set in the city of San Pablo, in an unnamed country in Latin America. (Though we’re not told so explicitly, it seems likely that San Pablo is the country’s capital. Most Latin America countries have a San Pablo, but in no case as the capital – so unlike last time there is no obvious candidate for the unnamed country.) Drake is here quite explicitly as a representative of the U.S., speaking of “my government” and “our embassy” in connection with it – no talk of NATO this time. (Yet he pronounces “lieutenant” the British way – a mistake on the actor’s part, probably, but it contributes nicely to the ongoing vagueness of Drake’s identity.) And he has come to San Pablo to identify an assassin, in order to prove that the assassination was not a U.S. plot.
So, a forward-looking subject matter, since the succeeding decade would be an especially fertile period for CIA assassination plots in Latin America – though the 1954 Guatemala coup (inter alia) would have been a relatively fresh memory, even if the extent of U.S. involvement was not as widely understood at the time as it would be later on. Of course the notion of the U.S. trying to prevent a right-wing military coup, and to avenge a slain left-wing politician of whom Drake admits his government disapproved, is a little hard to swallow, even in 1960. At least the regime that Drake is helping to prop up is not portrayed in too rosy a light; though the police chief (appropriately named Segur, as in seguridad) is Drake’s ally and thus presumably a good guy, he tells Drake matter-of-factly that he will arrange to have a pliable judge hear his case.
All the same, in this episode we see little of the moral ambiguity that pervaded “Time to Kill.” Here Drake is the good guy, and America is the good guy too; both are framed for crimes of which they are innocent, and both are vindicated.
Nevertheless, since my aim in this project is to read Danger Man through the lens of The Prisoner, it’s worth pointing out that although Drake evidently believes that the U.S. is devoid of complicity in the killing of Ingres’s brother, we have no proof that he is right; that Cortez committed the act hardly settles the question of whom he was ultimately working for (“Who is Number One?”), and so we can just as easily view Drake’s mission as one of covering up a U.S. plot rather than disproving one. Cortez himself might well not know the identity of his ultimate masters, and so might be perfectly sincere in telling Drake he wants Americans to butt out of his country’s affairs, even as he has been their useful idiot all along. If the killing has led to more anti-American agitation than had been anticipated, the real fear of Drake’s superiors might be the potential success of the agitators, rather than (as they claim) the army coup the agitation might provoke. Drake can thus be seen as a useful idiot in his own right, a cleanup man sent to defuse a left-wing threat while being led to believe he is defusing a right-wing threat. (Imagine if Drake were to find this out later. One can almost picture him striding angrily down a hallway and into a government office, to resign ….)
Apart from the political aspects, the episode’s main plot concerns an attempt to spook the suspected assassin into giving himself away by convincing him that the sole earwitness to his crime is also an eyewitness – a tricky job, since the witness in question, Josetta Ingres, is the blind woman with whom we opened. (So, another pairing with a woman, though again no romance – other than the slight hint of it in the way Drake kisses Ingres’s hand at the end, though that can be read just as easily as congratulations on a job well done.)
The idea that a blind person’s recognising a voice (and scent) is less reliable evidence than a sighted person’s recognising a face is of course absurd; but it’s not the show’s absurdity (the episode makes a point of showing, more than once, that Ingres’s hearing is more discriminating than that of a sighted person), but rather a plausibly realistic absurdity of the legal system.
Ingres feigns sightedness by having Drake watch her from a distance and relay instructions to a speaker in her ear. I worry that in reality, especially with so little opportunity to practice, this would work about as well as Leonard Read’s flyswatter game, which Rose Wilder Lane describes as follows:
Leonard ... has devised a parlor game, in his effort to get the definition [of liberty] into another head .... The game requires two persons, one fly-swatter and a fly. One person holds the swatter, but can move only as the other person tells him to move; the object of both is to swat the fly. This cannot be done, of course. (The Lady and the Tycoon, p. 31)
But it works well in the story – and (probably inadvertently) doubles as a metaphor for the American style of imperialism: not direct conquest, but the illusion of autonomy, with vigorous direction behind the scenes. Thus the real Drake personifies the private face of American foreign policy, just as Drake’s amusing impersonation of a wealthy, feckless, clueless gambler personifies its public face.
Be seeing you!