The Town of No Return

Posted on January 4, 2012

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The Town of No Return is the first episode of The Avengers to air in the U.S. The episode opens with a closeup shot of fisherman on a beach, fiddling with his basket and nets, then cuts to a long shot of a blob emerging from the sea. The camera pulls in closer and we learn that the blob is actually a man encased in what looks like an oversized black-plastic garbage bag.

Homage to the opening sequence of Goldfinger? I have to think so.

Coincidence that this opening sequence is used in the episode that introduced The Avengers to an American audience? I don’t think so. Diana Rigg’s character, Mrs. Emma Peel, replaced Dr. Cathy Gale, John Steed’s female sidekick played by Honor Blackman. As it happens, Honor Blackman left The Avengers and immediately starred as Pussy Galore in Goldfinger.

Anyway, sly pop-culture twists like this are one reason I love The Avengers and never tire of watching.

Once we have established Little-Bazely-by-the-Sea as our place of interest, the opening sequence cuts to a shot of John Steed arriving at the apartment of Mrs. Emma Peel. When we first meet Mrs. Peel she’s wearing a black jumpsuit, featuring lots of leather. And she’s fencing. Within seconds, we learn that Mrs. Peel has just finished writing an article for Science Weekly. And that Steed doesn’t fight fair.

A feminine, brainy, athletic heroine: That’s why Mrs. Emma Peel has always been one of my role models. I just absorbed it as a kid. Even today, watching an episode of The Avengers can push my motivation and confidence up several notches.

Steed “invites” Mrs. Peel to join him on a visit to Little-Bazely-the-Sea. After more banter, we cut to a scene of Steed serving tea to Mrs. Peel on the train.

Something odd is going on in Little Bazely. Four agents who’ve been sent in to investigate never reported back. Presumably, the suit-wearing chap who arrived by sea in a plastic garbage bag was missing agent number 4.

Isn’t this the coolest beret ever?

Eventually, Steed & Mrs. Peel arrive in Little Bazely-the-Sea, in the company of a Mr. Smallwood, who has come to Little Bazley to visit his brother, Tom, whom he hasn’t seen in a very long time.

The trio’s first stop is the local pub, The Inebriated Gremlin. I just love that quirky, oh-so-very English name.

Steed and Mrs. Peel are undercover, of course, so Steed represents that he is the agent of real estate investors looking for property to develop (a device used several times in the series) and he pretends to have just met Mrs. Peel on the train. Mrs. Peel introduces herself as a new teacher sent by the national school authorities to teach in Little Bazely. The school headmistress, Jill Manson, just happens to be a patron in the pub and identifies herself as such. In particular, Ms. Manson seems taken aback by Mrs. Peel’s arrival, since that had “no word” she was being assigned to Little Bazely. The area school inspector, Mark Brandon, chimes in to assure Ms. Manson the school can find a way to use Mrs. Peel’s services: “Now you’re here, you must stay.” Of course.

After a couple of rounds of brandy, Smallwood goes off in search of his brother, Tom, the blacksmith. He’s followed by two nefarious-looking fellows carrying shotguns and we soon hear the sound of baying hounds.

“Badger hunting,” explains pub proprietor, Piggy Warren.

Steed and Mrs. Peel settle into musty, dusty, tattered rooms at The Inebriated Gremlin. It seems the rooms have not seen guests for several years. Towels have holes, no hot water, shutters are nailed shut, fly-paper flutters.

All is not well in Little Basely and Steed means to find out why.

With the sounds of “badger-hunting” continuing in the background, Steed tells Mrs. Peel he’s going to have a look around. “The cat in carpet slippers” returns a few minutes later, after having been caught by Piggy Warren and sent back upstairs with a bottle for his “nightcap.”

“Whatever happened to pussy-footed pussy?” Mrs. Peel asks on his return. As Mrs. Peel, Diana Rigg could insinuate a thousand possible interpretations into line of dialogue like that.

The next day, Mrs. Peel pays visit to the vicar and asks to look at Parish records, to learn more about the town and the families of her future pupils. The vicar obliges, but can’t explain why the pages for the last 20 years or so have been stripped clean from the dusty volume.

Mrs. Peel then decides to pay a visit to Tom Smallwood. When she arrives at the blacksmith’s shop, the man who identifies himself as Tom Smallwood, is most definitely NOT the Tom Smallwood in the picture Mr. Smallwood shared with Mrs. Peel on the train ride to Little Bazely. Mrs. Peel returns to the vicar to make inquiry about this and demands to know what’s going on. Turns out, the “choir” we hear rehearsing in the background is just a recording (reel-to-reel recorder, natch). The vicar has Mrs. Peel at gunpoint.

When Steed asks Piggy Warren about Mrs. Peel’s whereabouts, Warren says Mrs. Peel took the morning train back to London that morning. Steed points out there was no morning train out of Little Bazely—and notices Mrs. Peel’s suitcase just inside the pub office. Piggy Warren has some ‘splain’ to do.

Steed makes his way to the blacksmith’s shop, where he encounters the particularly nasty imposter. After a few close calls with a branding iron, Steed gets the vest of this villain.

Off-camera, we hear Mrs. Peel call out: “Will the winner please come to the unsaddling enclosure.”

Steed finds Mrs. Peel reined in, so to speak, by a saddle girth. Classic.

The story plot quickly from this point on. I’ll leave it to you, the reader, to watch the episode and find out what, exactly, was going on in Little-Bazely-the-Sea. Don’t want to spoil the plot for you, do I?
Here’s Part 1 of The Town of No Return. Parts 2-5 are also posted to YouTube:

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Posted in: Culture, Television