Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Steed and Emma, Meet Michael and Fiona

I knew I liked USA’s Burn Notice last year when it premiered, but with the roll out of the second season I realized a big piece of that like is this: Michael and Fiona are the updated, newly corporeal spirits of John Steed and Emma Peel. They have same panache, intelligence, elegance, and chemistry that once set the Avengers apart on the tv landscape.

The duo dynamics are different with similar premises: most fans agree that Steed and Mrs. Peel had a romantic time somewhere in their past. We know that Michael and Fiona did. Most fans believe that Steed and Emma were then “just good friends” to quote from “Escape in Time,” although there are hints of “with benefits”—from the trip they take for her birthday at the end of “Who’s Who,” to her after midnight appearance at Steed’s apartment with a bottle of champagne in “Dead Man’s Treasure.” Ditto Michael and Fi’s relationship. We’ll have to see tomorrow where the second season finale leaves them.

Steed and Michael are the “top professionals”; Mrs. Peel and Fiona are talented women outside of the profession of spying.

Anyone who met Mrs. Peel in the sixties, or the reruns in the seventies was blown away by the independence of this female partner. Especially in the second, color Mrs. Peel season, when Diana Rigg came out from under the black-and-white shadow of leather-clad Honor Blackman into sleek, colorful, soft outfits by Alun Hughes. Which is why I was surprised to read in several interviews with Diana Rigg that she was always baffled that viewers thought Mrs. Peel was so revolutionary. Dame Diana thought Peel was very unliberated, always just doing what Steed said to do.

Now that I see Fiona, I understand what Rigg was saying. (And Diana Rigg herself has lead a highly personal, independent life, so she knows whereof she speaks.) Fiona is the truly strong, independent character. She partners with Michael to help his cases. And she’s in love with him. But she insists that he meet her in the middle—she is not going to give in to his insecurities and fears of intimacy. It’s shared terms or no terms.

Michael and Fiona are a joy to watch—they embody the spirit of male/female at its best: playful, purposeful, skeptical, foolish, and loving. If you can’t find it in real life in happily ever after, it’s at least nice to see once a week on tv.


Christopher Campbell-Howes said...

We're treated to 60/70s b/w Avengers every evening on Arte (a Franco-German TV channel) in French, Chapeau melon et bottes de cuir. Having something so English dubbed into in French changes the basic concept somehow. A couple of evenings ago we had Mrs a sort of slinky black leotard cavorting with a python among a crowd of Regency bucks. Nothing lost in translation here: Ooh! and Aah! and Fwooar! stand side by side in both languages.

M.A.Peel said...

Ah, A Touch of Brimstone. The French title certainly distills the series to its roots. I love Arte. We occasionally get some of their great documentaries over here.