Last year, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Monkees as a band by counting down our top 50 Monkees songs. Now, we’re celebrating The Monkees TV show by profiling each and every episode — exactly 50 years after it first premiered.
Tonight’s episode: “The Card Carrying Red Shoes” (Season 2, Episode 9)
Air date: November 6, 1967
I was skeptical when I signed up to review this episode of The Monkees – coincidentally, almost exactly a full year since the first time I saw the show… and my first review for our Every Monkees Episode column. My last experience wasn’t a particularly good one, between the episode being objectively bad and finding out the hard way that Monkees fans get real sensitive about the “Monkees didn’t play their own instruments” thing. (As Allison, our Editor-in-Chief, said at the time, “It’s been a big day for David.”) Suffice to say, I came into this with some reservations.
Turns out that “The Card Carrying Red Shoes” isn’t just a watchable episode of The Monkees, it’s pretty clever and, at times, even subversive. It’s not exactly Monty Python, but it plays on the Cold War-spy genre as well as a vaguely generic riff on American thoughts on the Soviet Union of the time.
The Monkees (sans Mike Nesmith, who is conspicuous in his absence from this episode) are hired to perform music for the Druvanian (henceforth referred to as the Not-Russian) National Ballet. There they encounter ballerina Natasha (Ondine Vaughn), who immediately falls in love with Peter due to his pretty face. (He is referred to as “Face” for much of the rest of the episode.)
Her dancing partner Ivan (played by Vincent Beck of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians fame) and her choreographer Nicolai (Leon Askin) are planning to sneak microfilm over the border in the tip of her ballet shoes — a terrible idea, because BALLERINAS SPEND A LOT OF TIME ON THE TIPS OF THEIR TOES, but here we are regardless. Natasha gets tired of the Not-Russian’s bullshit and sneaks out of the ballet in the Monkees’ equipment case.
The Card Carrying Red Shoes stands out from many other Monkees episode in one key way: The girl doesn’t fall in love with Davy this time. Davy even takes exception to this, pointing out that he’s a Pretty Boy Who Deserve Treats. Peter responds completely deadpan: “Can’t be you every week, Davy.” I find The Monkees is at its best when it takes a sledgehammer to the fourth wall — if you’re going to be absurd, go all out. This is a prime example.
Almost immediately after, Natasha tries to threaten Davy and Micky with a gun, before Micky (who is absolutely the MVP of this episode) gives a heartfelt speech convincing her that guns are the coward’s way out. She disarms, gives him the gun, and then he does a quick gangster impression before stating, “Not bad for a long-haired weirdo, huh, America?” right at the camera.
Eventually the central conflict is introduced — Natasha wants another chance to stay in America and the Not-Russians want the microfilm back. A trip by Davy and Micky to the Not-Russian ambassador seems fruitless on their end but triggers them coming to the pad to kidnap Peter. Hijinks ensue.
The color red appears a lot in this episode, between clothes people who are Not-Russians wear and the setting. Besides being an obvious Not-Russian signifier, I suspect they chose that color because deep red is known for translating well to black and white. Either way, it’s a striking design choice that works well.
The climax of the episode sees the Monkees do everything in their power to disrupt the ballet, including Davy trying to stop the cymbals from clashing (the Not-Russians plan to shoot Peter as the cymbals clash to cover the gunshot) to Micky dancing around the stage in a chicken costume kneecapping everyone he can. It’s an amusing enough scene, but it repeats itself and often introduces new characters to chase scenes in a way that’s less “absurd” and more “hard to follow.”
The actual end of the episode — where Natasha admits she isn’t in love with Peter because, even though she loves “Face,” they don’t share a common background and responds by wheeling out a Not-Russian named Alexei who looks exactly like Peter — makes up for it.
Far and away the best gag in the episode is the least expected. Micky and Davy show up in disguise at the ballet, talk to a dancer, and claim to be looking for “a prisoner, possibly being held against his own will, who at this very moment may be in front of a firing squad named Peter Tork.” The dancer smiles, says, “Just a second,” and walks into a back room where a blindfolded man is standing in front of a uniformed Not-Russian firing squad.
The dancer asks the blindfolded man if his name is Peter Tork, which he denies. The dancer says, “Sorry to bother you,” and the blindfolded man nonchalantly states, “It’s alright” and faces the firing squad. As the dancer leaves and closes the door, we hear gunshots. He shrugs, and says, “My error.” That is an remarkably intricate piece of dark humor in a show about a bunch of goofy, horned-up musicians. “Throwaway gallows humor” is not what I expected going into this.
I’d like to give a shout out to everyone’s haircuts in this episode. Peter is rocking a full Will Byers from Stranger Things, and Micky is Eraserhead Chic. Davy is Davy.
The only song in the episode is a variation of “She Hangs Out,” played at the very end. It marks Mike’s only appearance in the entire episode, and he spends it dressed like Bruce Campbell in Bubba Ho-Tep. The music is fine and catchy, but it bears no relation to the plot. Davy also looks confused while singing it, looking nowhere in particular and just kind of aimlessly wandering around. The rest of the band are now playing their instruments much more realistically, so you’ll hear no mention of it here.
“The Card Carrying Red Shoes” is a perfectly pleasant episode of television. It doesn’t get as much play as other episodes in the series, but does a decent job playing up Cold War Intrigue and giving someone else besides Davy the reigns for an episode. The only question I have left: Where WAS Mike?