In Praise of Spies: Napoleon Solo/Illya Kuryakin (The Man From UNCLE)
Personal Website: shayheyred
Welcome to the hellzapoppin' world of the Sixties! The era of Carnaby Street…Pop Art…the Beatles…
…the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The Iron Curtain.
Miniskirts and paranoia. Vietnam and LSD. Go-go boots and Khrushchev. Confusing, much?
But damn, I miss those days. In an age of uncertainty and distrust, there was danger in the air, and some of that danger was darkly arousing. Secret agents! Intrigue! Spies! Lots and lots of spies.
Foremost among the ranks of mysterious spies were the suavely handsome American, Napoleon Solo, and his enigmatic Russian partner, Illya Kuryakin. The Men from U.N.C.L.E.
The Man from UNCLE was my first fandom, and that of many girls my age, and quite a few of us are still involved today -- it had that intense an effect on our formative years. (Hell, I studied Russian in college because of Illya.) For many of us, the sophisticated Solo and inscrutable Illya were our first intense crushes. We sat, rapt, week after week, fairly drooling in pre-adolescent joy. Napoleon! Squeeeee! Illya! Squeeeee! I was in love with Illya before I knew how to spell Guh. Back then you had to choose one or the other; I was an Illya girl, so my friend Carol had to love Napoleon. Those were the rules.
Thirty-five years passed between that first flush of UNCLE love and my rediscovery of MFU. Little did I know there was a flourishing fandom during that period, years of zines and discussion groups and cons and lists and finally the internet.
Why didn't anyone tell me? Sheesh. All that wasted time.
But guess what? Napoleon and Illya still intrigue. They're still compelling. But now, as a real live grownup, I understand what my child's eyes did not make sense of before.
There's something going on between them.
Come, take a look with me at a pairing that was in many ways the template for all the media slash pairings that were to follow. (No matter what the Star Trek folks say, UNCLE was there before them...by at least two years.) So come back to the Sixties. And The Man From UNCLE. . .
You enter UNCLE through a tailor shop in the East 40s in New York City, not far from the U.N. And there you see them for the first time: Napoleon Solo, resplendent in a perfectly cut suit, gracing you with his devastating smile.
Conversely, Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin peers at you above large tinted glasses, his off-the-rack suit rumpled, his hair askew. He scowls.
Two spies – two men who are physical, temperamental and political opposites. They work side by side to rid the world of villains, most notoriously their fiendish arch-enemies THRUSH. But as they conquer the baddies -- and simultaneously conquer the women they routinely involve in their missions, you begin to see there's something else happening. There's something unusual about them, something that draws the eye more than just their looks. Wait. . .is that electricity between them more than mere camaraderie? More than professionalism? Might those smoldering glances from Napoleon's compelling eyes and the brooding stares from under Illya's blond bangs imply that theirs is, shall we say, more than a simple working relationship? Are the red-blooded American and the ruthless Red trying to melt the Cold War. . .personally?
I'm pleased to report that I have the answer to those questions.
Luckily, after months of time-consuming, arduous research sifting through the files of the now defunct THRUSH organization – and don't ask me how I got them, or I'll have to kill you – I have uncovered the following shocking dossier. I submit it for your consideration. Read it, and then destroy it. Better yet, swallow the evidence.
That's not what I meant, so get your mind out of the gutter.
Remember: it's Eyes Only.
You've been warned.
TOP SECRET! / THRUSH CENTRAL DOCUMENT / TOP SECRET!
TO: Victor Marton, THRUSH Central
FR: Agent 10748ANGLQ
RE: Subjects NS and IK
Having completed surveillance on UNCLE Agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, I believe I finally have uncovered the proof you demanded to support your theory about the two men. I have compiled a dossier on them and hereby present it for your approval.
Background: Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin have been paired for several years as agents for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement (UNCLE). Solo is currently Chief Enforcement Agent (CEA) for the organization.
Kuryakin: It is not known for certain, but is assumed, that Kuryakin may be the first Soviet (read Communist) to be employed by UNCLE. Verification is pending from THRUSH Eastern Europe. By the way, lately they've stopped referring to him as Russian. His accent is becoming more British, too. Those Americans are so afraid of the Soviets, they daren't let him appear to be what he really is! Thank goodness we don't care about that in THRUSH, where it's one for all and all for the domination of the planet.
Kuryakin began as one among many enforcement agents, but moved up quickly – perhaps surprisingly quickly -- to become Solo's regular partner. His early life is a mystery, though there are hints of a childhood in Kiev. One wonders why a man with such an impressive academic background as Illya Kuryakin, a.k.a. Dr. Kuryakin (as he holds a doctorate in Quantum Physics from Cambridge) would be content to be one of the expendable cogs in UNCLE's machinery. Why doesn't he strike out on his own in a more lucrative field? There are rumors that in the past he has been a gymnast, circus performer, KGB operative, Naval officer. . .even a cat burglar. Frankly, I wouldn't put anything past him. One must wonder for what compelling reason. . .or compelling person. . .he remains with UNCLE.
Of course, despite his talents, Kuryakin is about as unpleasant a man as it has been my misfortune to encounter. In my opinion, he is grim beyond measure, insufferably insulting, and is constantly brooding or complaining. He does brood prettily, true. Although he may in fact be Solo's subordinate, Kuryakin rarely shows deference to his partner, and is instead usually quite sarcastic and cutting to him. His ongoing banter with Solo is filled with critiques of Napoleon's clothing, cleverness, creativity and concupiscence.
Which leads me to an interesting observation: Kuryakin's seeming need to comment on - and become involved in - Solo's romantic life. To this observer, he takes what amounts to an unnatural interest in his partner's affaires du coeur.
I know from personal experience as one of those affaires (The Deadly Games Affair) that Kuryakin tends to hover around Solo. He behaved vilely toward me during that mission, probably sensing that Solo and I had engaged in sexual activity on a previous occasion (and, yes, sir, it was all in the name of THRUSH, though I must say Napoleon is the most indefatigable lover I ever. . .but I digress). Kuryakin seemed to be everywhere, snooping, scowling, interfering, and most significantly preventing me from achieving Solo's death. A perfectly unpleasant little man, that Kuryakin!
Fact: When I commented on his partner's annoying behavior around me, Napoleon said "He's jealous."
!!! Clearly he's not jealous that I've slept with Napoleon rather than him. Though I have absolute faith in my power over men, Kuryakin has never been the slightest bit interested in me, and frankly, the feeling is mutual. He's much too ascetic. Obviously he's jealous that Napoleon slept with me, rather than with him.
Fact: Solo encountered a former lover while in Rome. (The Terbuf Affair) Why were he and Kuryakin in Rome? Were they on a mission? No! They were on vacation together.
Fact: Kuryakin insinuated himself into the matter and accompanied Solo back to the woman's homeland, despite the fact that as it was not an UNCLE mission, there was no reason for his presence. Once there, he gave off waves of disapproval towards the young woman. When Solo's renewed romance shattered, Kuryakin was the one to pick up the pieces.
I was fascinated by this turn of events.
Further behavior from Kuryakin that I have labeled as "suggestive":
Fact: He has a habit of invading Napoleon's personal space, especially when Solo is talking to a woman.
Fact: He has a tendency to pout or glower when Napoleon shows interest in anyone other than himself. (see photographic evidence here. Scroll down to photo of Solo with several blondes and one annoyed blond.)
Fact: He flirts shamelessly with Napoleon, under the guise of mocking him. One recent example, reported by our mole inside UNCLE: Left alone with Solo after a woman abandoned Napoleon, Kuryakin twirled his fingers in his hair, swung his foot flirtatiously and purred "Don't worry, Napoleon. You still have me." (The Cherry Blossom Affair)
Fact: Observed via secret closed-circuit THRUSH-o-vision: Kuryakin, leaning over Solo, smiling, saying sweetly: "After all, you said you liked blonds." Solo jumping up, challenging Kuryakin to a fight over those remarks. . .was that real, or an act for the woman present? What ensued after she left, I can't tell – the camera ran out of film, alas. (The Girls of Nazarone Affair)
Fact: You may remember, sir, that during your recent conflict with UNCLE, when a mind-reading machine was fixed on Kuryakin, it revealed he was thinking about Solo. (The Foxes and Hounds Affair)
There are hundreds of examples such as these. Clearly Kuryakin is obsessed with Napoleon, and invested in preventing Solo from forming liaisons – at least those of a lasting nature – with females. And just as clearly, he is making his own interest known.
Solo: I should like to point out that this behavior is not one-sided. Although Solo does not flirt with Kuryakin in exactly the same way, and in fact seems to bristle at these flirtations when Kuryakin initiates them (perhaps dear Napoleon needs to be in charge, no?), the reality is that he is extremely solicitous of his partner, which is fortunate for the nasty little Russian, as Kuryakin is not very adept at escaping capture. We've had him in our clutches many times, and Solo has moved heaven and earth to rescue him. Despite his knowledge that both of them are expendable, Solo seems unwilling to let his partner remain in captivity.
Napoleon Solo is in many ways more difficult to read than the Russian. Outwardly he is charming and suave, seductive and kind to women, gracious and well-mannered. But we at THRUSH have seen first hand how relentless he can be, how willing he is to doff his amiable façade to reveal the cold, calculating and ruthless killer beneath. I'm sure that's what makes him such a devastating lover. It's also what makes him so dangerous when Kuryakin is in peril.
Fact: During one mission he actually demanded that Kuryakin be handed over to him by using this significant phrase: "You have something that belongs to me." (The Secret Scepter Affair)
Oh, Napoleon, Napoleon! How terribly obvious!
Fact: From the same mission:
Solo: “There’s a little matter of a man named Illya Kuryakin.”
Woman: “You’d risk the whole mission for one man?"
Solo: “Yes, I know it’s unprofessional of me. But I’m not perfect.”
No! He's not perfect, and evidently Kuryakin's not just any man to Napoleon, is he?
Fact: Solo on at least one occasion has reacted strongly when he believed Kuryakin dead. "Solo had a terribly pained expression on his face, and murmured 'Illya' softly," our operative reported. Later, at Kennedy Airport, Solo broke into a radiant smile upon discovery that Kuryakin was alive and there to greet him. A bigger smile than he'd just bestowed on a winsome young lady, I must point out. (The Love Affair).
No doubt about it.
Please note, Victor, that this is a weakness that may be capitalized upon in future.
I am forced to admit they make a pretty pair, Napoleon so dark and smoothly charming, irresistibly sensual, perfectly attired. . .and Kuryakin – well, despite my antipathy for the man, I have to confess he is most attractive, with all that blond hair and that permanent pout, those icy blue eyes. All that sniping and competing between them is highly diverting and amusing -- protesting too much, are you, boys? And if, as of late, their affairs have become a bit silly and slapstick, what remains at center is a deep, strong connection between them that cannot be broken.
Believe me, I've tried.
All right, I admit it. They do belong together, despite their differences in temperament. They're not a matched set, but they're a perfect pair nonetheless. They've overcome ideological differences and become something greater than either. They're relentless. They're dangerous.
God, I hate them.
Logically, in our business, it is unrealistic for someone on Napoleon Solo's level to imagine settling down in any sort of traditional way, with a wife, children, a mortgage, the suburbs--
--which reminds me--
Fact: The two of them did set up housekeeping together in the suburbs! (The Suburbia Affair). Purpose? Unknown. But I like to imagine the Russian vacuuming and cooking, perhaps wearing his tie and a frilly apron. Just his tie and a frilly apron. . . Napoleon coming home with a briefcase, reading the paper, tossing it away, reaching across the table and the remnants of a deflated soufflé to grab Illya and throw him down while Kuryakin tugs at Solo's zip and they tussle together, Illya becoming the aggressor, both fighting for control, their coupling rough and desperate—
Mon dieu. Pardon, mon cher Victor, I needed a cigarette.
Frankly, that mission proves the point that it would be futile for either of them to seek a spouse, because, in conclusion,
They're married already. To each other.
But are they sleeping together? We've never been able to catch them in flagrante. If they are, they're being extremely discreet about their trysts, but then again, our line of work demands discretion. But it’s clear to me that Kuryakin's fierce invasion of his partner's personal life is merely his way of expressing his proprietary interest. And as for Napoleon, well. . .though I hate to see him give up women entirely, the time is coming. It's more than obvious now much he wants "his" Illya. Wants to own and possess him. Perhaps he just doesn't realize the depth of his feelings yet.
Or perhaps they've been doing it for years and are better at covert operations than I would have given them credit for.
Victor, darling, I suggest we attempt to bring them together, out in the open. Make them acknowledge what is already implicit between them.
Now, before you ask why I'd consider such an altruistic deed if they are not, in fact, already lovers, consider this: if we can get them into the same bed together, they'll be easier to wipe out once and for all. One well-placed bomb. That's all it would take, and UNCLE's best team will never trouble us again.
True, it would be a dreadful waste of male pulchritude, but c'est la vie. Hmm. . .Perhaps Napoleon would consider one last fling with me. . .
Sorry. Digressing again.
I await your orders, darling.
With love and venom, your dearest
Well, there you have it. Proof positive of what I've long suspected. For further evidence of this torrid, um, undercover romance, I suggest you visit the following: muncle's Live Journal; File 40 (visit the slash archive within it), and the most recent archive, The Chrome and Gunmetal Madhouse. This last is brand spanking new, and features some new arrivals (or returnees) to the UNCLE scene, like kelliem, meris_mfu, cordwainer_s, and, er, me, shayheyred (as "Shay Sheridan" - hey, a little plug never hurt). And of course, there are some terrific MFU writers who've continued to entertain us, like leethet and Jane Terry and Nyssa and Di T and Lyrebird and C.W. Walker (st_crispins) (who doesn’t write slash but who writes damn fine gen stories, IMHO). The works of these authors, and many, many others may be found throughout the archives. The best part is that there is an enormous surge of new fans – and writers -- to UNCLE. It's thrilling, really. There are too many fine MFU writers to list them all, but recs abound. Try Partner Mine and katyabaturinsky's sites for some great ones.
Edited to add: For the first time in about a decade, episodes are being shown, in chronological order, on Good Life Television, a cable channel available in some markets. Check your listings.
Great slash analyses of Napoleon and Illya's missions have been done by vysila on her Partner Mine website. Go – take a look. And if you ask, nicely, the fans with zines will lend them to you. That's what happened to me. I was one of UNCLE's First Cousins, as that first generation of fans is called, and here I am again, forty years after MFU debuted on television. Still writing and reading UNCLE slash. Still loving the snarky, funny, dangerous Napoleon and Illya, still together after all these years.
I'm sure you'll enjoy them. Thoroughly. Trust me.
No, really, you can trust me.
(Ignore the gun. It’s part of my cover.)
Closing Channel D.