Main cast: Ute Lemper (Jacqueline), Daniel Craig (Barry), Gayle Hunnicutt (Ellen), Denis Lawson (Frank), Paul Freeman (Alistair Touchstone), and John Kassir (The Crypt Keeper)
Director: Mandie Fletcher
Interesting how a younger Daniel Craig looks like the present day version, only with fewer age lines. Do you think he was born looking like a preserved prune? At any rate, he isn’t given even third billing in Smoke Wrings, his name coming up only after two people who spend a total of three minutes in this episode. He has the last laugh, of course, as he’s James Bond while the rest of this cast are… doing something else these days, but something tells me he’s not going to list this one down as one of the proudest moments of his career.
This unnecessarily convoluted episode takes place in Touchstone, an advertising agency run by Jacqueline. She needs a new advertising executive, and so far all she gets coming in through the door are weirdos that bore her witless. Then in walks Barry, who has no portfolio, only a kind of swagger that borders on hubris. Still, there is something about him… she hires him, and is delighted when he humiliates the creative director Frank by pointing out how bad Frank’s proposed chocolate wrapper designs for a client, Ellen, are. Indeed, as Frank sputters and demands for Barry’s termination, Jacqueline and Ellen seem amused, even charmed, by him. It seems like Jacqueline’s gamble on Barry is working when the man whips out a device that can influence people, via sound waves “that permeate the subconscious” (as per Alistair), to desperately crave something – if this device works, Touchstone will have clients swarming to hire the agency.
Actually, Barry has a secret. He is hired by Alistair, who founded Touchstone only to be later booted out of that company by his then-portégé Jacqueline. The old man wants vengeance, and while he doesn’t share the full details of his plan with Barry, that man forces Barry to do whatever he is doing at Touchstone or else Barry will once again be thrown back into the slammer. It’s not clear how Barry ends up in service to that old man, but then again, many things don’t make sense or add up in this episode. At any rate, the device he carries is Alistair’s own design, and you can bet it won’t lead to anything good for Touchstone.
There are quite a few twists and turns in this episode, but by the time the episode comes to a close, the whole thing remains a pointlessly confusing muddle. There is no need for Alistair to be so Skeletor-level melodramatic in light of the ultimate twist, for example. Interestingly, I feel that they could have still salvaged matters by making a simple change in the script. Just keep Alistair out of the final twist – make just Jacqueline and Frank be the puppet masters that ultimately do Barry in. We can say that these two are aware of Alistair’s plot all along, and have invented an upgraded version of Alistair’s gadget, which they proceed to test on Barry even as he and his master believe that they have the upper hand. There, a lot of the confusing mess would have been avoided if we have used this as a twist instead.
Still, this one attempts to escalate the camp and comedy to make up for the complete plot breakdown, but even then, it only half succeeds. Ute Lemper and Denis Lawson are just perfect as the ball-breaking tyrant and the seemingly-meek subordinate that is nonetheless plotting something, and the two of them actually make for an amusing and surprisingly adorable couple. Their comic timing, deadpan delivery of lines, and all are just right.
On the other hand, Daniel Craig looks like he is uttering every word while suffering a heinous toothache, and Paul Freeman overacts to such a ludicrous degree that I feel embarrassed on his behalf.
Smoke Wrings is saved by the presence of the dastardly Jacqueline and Frank, but even then, the whole thing is kind of pointless at the end of the day.