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U.N.C.L.E. article

by C. W. Walker

In the episode The Nowhere Affair, Mara, a THRUSH scientist, explains to an amnesiac Solo that THRUSH "... is the antithetical organization to U.N.C.L.E." That seems to be a pretty simplistic, perfunctory description on the part of the scriptwriter, but, in a very real sense, that's exactly what THRUSH is. Symbolically, if U.N.C.L.E. stands for social responsibility, dedication to mankind, and keeping peace and order in the world community, THRUSH stands for absolute self-interest: the personal acquisition of greed and power with total disregard for everyone and everything else, and the utter misery and chaos that will inevitably result. Remember the Gordon Gekko character played by Michael Douglas in the movie, Wall Street who maintained that "greed is good?" He would have made a perfect THRUSH villain.

Like the U.N.C.L.E. organization itself, THRUSH was invented by Sam Rolfe. In the beginning, it was presented as something of a mystery. In the pilot film, To Trap a Spy, [which later became the first episode, The Vulcan Affair,] Solo explains to housewife Elaine Donaldson (Pat Crowley) that U.N.C.L.E. doesn't know what THRUSH (then called Wasp) is, exactly. "THRUSH might be a man or a woman," he says, "or a committee that heads a secret international organization --- very powerful, very wealthy. THRUSH has no allegiance to any country nor to any ideal. It will embark on any undertaking in its own interest."

Later, Solo tells Elaine to be careful with this rather chilling warning: "They [THRUSH] kill people the way people kill flies --- a careless flick of the wrist, a reflex action."

By the time U.N.C.L.E. made it to the air, Rolfe and the other writers had begun to work out the concept. A 1964 promo books for the series describes THRUSH in this way: "If you were to examine the globe carefully, you would not find THRUSH's name engraved anywhere on it. Yet time and time again, as you passed your hand over country after country, you would have placed your fingers (unknowingly) on territory under the domination of THRUSH... THRUSH is a supra-nation [whose] inflexible purpose is to dominate the earth."

For those who are fans of spy fiction, THRUSH is obviously reminiscent of Ian Fleming's SMERSH and later SPECTRE, arch-enemies of James Bond. Nevertheless, THRUSH is interesting in its own right. As the concept developed over the first two seasons, it was clear that the creators of U.N.C.L.E. were trying for something bigger and more insidious than a mere copy of Blofeld's notorious gang of international criminals. Pitting U.N.C.L.E. against THRUSH conjured up a Manichean vision --- a quasi-religious battle of the forces of Light vs. the forces of Darkness.

THRUSH was organized. Policy was made by a Supreme Council made up of men and women superintellects. THRUSH was bureaucratic. While the local THRUSH leaders (called "satraps") often acted autonomously, they lived in constant fear of THRUSH Central. THRUSH scorned failure. Villains who weren't destroyed or captured by Solo and Kuryakin often met their fates at the hands of colleagues. Retirement from THRUSH meant a gold watch that exploded (The Arabian Affair) . Most importantly, THRUSH had the Ultimate Computer --- a nearly infallible thinking machine that guided THRUSH in developing and planning projects (The Ultimate Computer Affair) .

Stated in this way, THRUSH is a pretty unsettling idea. Fortunately, despite its considerable intellectual, financial, political and personnel resources, THRUSH also carried the seed of its own downfall. With so many self-interested individuals, treachery was endemic and inevitable. That's why Solo and Kuryakin, who often made mistakes during the missions, might lose battles but always won the war.

During the run of the series, THRUSH plots generally fell into three categories: (1) attempting to take over a small nation, usually a small one (The Vulcan Affair; The Dove Affair, The Fiery Angel Affair, etc.) or gain control over important members of large ones (The Candidate's Wife Affair, The Green Opal Affair, Her Master's Voice Affair, etc.); (2) developing a device or harnessing nature to wreak catastrophic havoc and thus hold the world hostage (The Love Affair, The Arabian Affair, The Cherry Blossom Affair, The Bat Cave Affair, The Concrete Overcoat Affair, The Project Deephole Affair, The Man From THRUSH Affair, The Sort of Do It Yourself Dreadful Affair, etc.), or (3) executing an offensive against U.N.C.L.E. itself, often targeting specific U.N.C.L.E. personnel (The Vulcan Affair, The Brain Killers Affair, The Nowhere Affair, The Discoteque Affair, The Waverly Ring Affair, The Off Broadway Affair, The Birds and Bees Affair, The Summit Five Affair, The Survival School Affair, The Maze Affair) . Occasionally, U.N.C.L.E. would make preemptive moves of its own (The Odd Man Affair, The Deadly Decoy Affair, The Fiddlesticks Affair, The His Master's Touch Affair) . And finally, there were episodes in which THRUSH was a minor player, competing with U.N.C.L.E. for whatever was at stake (The Yellow Scarf Affair, The Deadly Games Affair, The Gurnius Affair) .

Along the way, we met a number of high-ranking THRUSH members. Some, like the two Victors (Gervaise in The Never Never Affair and Marton in The Foxes and Hounds Affair) were sophisticated and charming, but often they were depraved and downright scary. This was particularly true of the female THRUSH, characters like Mother Fear (The Children's Day Affair) Miss Diketon (The Concrete Overcoat Affair) and the perversely seductive THRUSH operative Angelique (The Deadly Games Affair) . Also, it was not incidental to THRUSH's villany that the organization often preyed upon and even recruited children (The Children's Day Affair, The Deadly Toys Affair, The Her Master's Voice Affair, The Test Tube Killer Affair) which probably made quite an impression on the large number of young viewers in the audience.

THRUSH had the makings of a truly powerful and formidable enemy. There were aspects, such as the City of THRUSH (glimpsed in The Five Daughter Affair) , and the organization's origins (hinted at in The Adriatic Express Affair and theorized by David McDaniels in his Ace novels) that, unfortunately, remained underdeveloped. Even worse, in The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.'s wacky third season, THRUSH became little more than a plot device, its villains descending into broad comedy.

Although the fourth season episodes, particularly The Summit Five Affair, restored THRUSH to its former malignant glory, the damage done by ridiculous character like the Sweet brothers (The Hula Doll Affair) remain in viewers' memories. It's no wonder that many fanfic writers often ignore the concept of THRUSH in their stories.

Personally, I think that's too bad. THRUSH predicted the terrorist activity, both random and organized, that we see today. It functions wonderfully as a political metaphor for facism; as a philosophical metaphor embodying the Nietzschean superman, and of course, in the most obvious sense, as a physical representation of Evil incarnate.

One wonders how, in this postmodern world, THRUSH might fare in the 90's. Certainly, the struggle against the minions of THRUSH would be more subtle, more complicated, with U.N.C.L.E. less assured of success. Presenting a mature, multi-shaded version of that struggle is the challenge that faces fanfic writers today. Should we dispense with THRUSH? Perish the thought! As Mara so wisely observed, U.N.C.L.E. and THRUSH are locked in eternal opposition, like yin and yang. But then, should we treat it seriously? Absolutely. Greed, cruelty and corruption never goes out of fashion. And besides, the Devil should always get his due.

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