God in Fiction: I Spy

God in Fiction: I Spy

How Two Spies Can Remind Us of God's Love for Humanity

ABC News


Last week I discussed my plan to write in-depth about various fictional stories and how they reflect God’s relationship with man. I’m excited to start with the 1960s TV show I Spy, because I’ve been watching and researching it lately and it is a high-quality show.

As I said in my last article, each of these shows focus on a relationship between two people that, I find, strangely reflects the unconditionally loving relationship God has with man. Usually one person leans toward God’s position, and one toward sinful man’s. In I Spy’s case, these two people are Kelly Robinson (played by Robert Culp) and Alexander Scott (“Scotty,” played by Bill Cosby). Both are spies for some never-named U.S. government agency during the Cold War; Kelly poses as a professional tennis player and Scotty poses as his trainer. Both are equals—which was groundbreaking for this time period (mid- to late-1960s), as Cosby was obviously black and Culp was obviously white. Yet race did not play a big part in the show, because both agents were equals, and both actors were very good.

Kelly and Scotty’s relationship reflects God’s love for man in the way Scotty cares for Kelly despite Kelly’s physical and mental setbacks. Kelly cares for Scotty as well, but it is Scotty’s stability that makes him the rock and thus the more God-like of the partners. His love can be seen in many episodes as well as in a million little looks and scenes, but I am going to focus on a few episodes specifically to prove my point.

Alexander Scott, from Philadelphia, is a quiet, brilliant linguist who speaks a ton of languages and is generally comfortable with himself. He is very good at keeping a blank face and staying cool, although when his emotions do boil over they really boil over (especially in anger).

Kelly Robinson, on the other hand, is from Ohio, the son of an Army lawyer, and was sent to boarding school after his mother died when he was eleven. Though he is just as intelligent as Scotty, minus the linguistic talent, he is less grounded physically and mentally. He is not as comfortable with himself; he is plagued by seemingly never-ending guilt. This is obvious in several episodes, and plays a key role in why Scotty helps Kelly the way he does.

I must point out that the pair’s initial meeting does not reflect God’s love for man: upon meeting during training (as shown in “Anyplace I Hang Myself is Home”), both men aren’t very fond of other, but gradually come to respect and like each other. God, of course, comes to man open and loving; Scotty is not this way initially to Kelly, but he does open up to him eventually. And from there the partnership grows and strengthens.

I will take each episode in chronological order, even though it doesn’t much matter because Scotty’s devotion remains the same throughout the series.

Season 1, Episode 2: “A Cup of Kindness” and Kelly’s Guilt

This episode brings in a former mentor of Kelly’s, Russ, who wants Kelly to help him get back a special component that he released to the enemy under torture (though the Department says he sold out and wants Kelly to kill him) so he can stay alive. Both men eagerly greet Russ, Kelly especially, but when he decodes a message Russ himself brought that says to kill Russ, he and Scotty both become morose. Once Russ reveals that he knows about the message, and Kelly that he is reluctant to kill, Kelly’s guilt kicks in, and he ends up agreeing to help Russ get the component back to hopefully save Russ’ life. Needless to say, they get the component, but Russ is really a double agent and nearly kills Kelly and Scotty by forcing them over the edge of a cliff.

Except he doesn’t. Scotty hangs back quietly during much of this episode, watching Kelly and Russ interact. When Kelly finally appeals to Russ’ integrity and Russ says, “Sorry,” without any sign of repentance, Scotty whirls in anger. “What’s the matter, Russ, you got no guts? What kind of a man are you anyway? When you sell out you really sell out, your country, your friends, yourself.”

“That’s the name of the game, Scotty,” Russ says, and Scotty lunges, only to get shot in the leg. Kelly of course is right behind, and in fighting to get the gun from Russ accidentally launches Russ over the cliff to his death.

Before we get to Kelly’s guilt, let’s think about why Scotty did what he did. Kelly was thrilled to see his former teacher, only to be let down by Russ’ status as a traitor. Then Russ appeals to Kelly’s giving nature: “I could have run, but I came to you for help.” Of course Kelly is going to help him, because Russ genuinely needs help.

And then it turns out that Russ was right; the component really was in the safe like he thought. So Russ appears trustworthy, and Kelly has no reason to doubt his intentions now. But then Russ lets Kelly down again, in an even crueler manner than before.

Scotty knows Kelly is a generous person, a person who cares little for himself when it comes to helping others (we learn this as the series progresses). Scotty has been watching all this and cannot take it. Kelly gets screwed over and over because he wants to help people—because of his goodness.

But for all his anger, Scotty gets shot in the leg. It’s not a very severe wound, but it’s still a shot.

And now we get to Kelly. He’s just accidentally killed his mentor, a man who betrayed him and tricked him but also taught him much of what has kept him alive. He’s probably still somewhat attached to Russ. He never meant to kill him.

The grief, guilt, and horror on Kelly’s face as he looks over the cliff at Russ’ body is evident: What have I done? (A similar situation will occur in “Home to Judgment.”) But he has to push that aside to tend to Scotty—which brings more guilt.

Kelly, naturally, blames himself for Scotty getting shot. He can’t even look Scotty in the eyes, he seems so shocked and shamed by the bullet wound: “I’m sorry,” he says to Scotty’s leg. “I’m sorry,” he says again, in a more plaintive tone as if he has to convince someone he really is, and Scotty says, “So am I. Don’t worry about it.” Finally Kelly looks up at Scotty, and with a positively guilt-stricken face, says, “I’m sorry.”

Scotty just nods, pats him on the shoulder and says, “Don’t worry about it.”

Kelly helps him up, and then we cut to the tag, where Scotty is trying to get Kelly to tell him a story in an effort to cheer him up. Kelly is languishing in guilt, as is obvious by his slumped posture; low, monotone voice; and style of speaking. His face is drawn, and his, “You really wanna hear about that, huh?” speaks volumes. He genuinely doesn’t think anyone cares that much about him. This guy has some deep, deep issues.

But Scotty never gives up on him. Kelly finally stops talking when Scotty asks a question, and then a girl comes in and of course Kelly’s magically “cured.” But there’s a sense that he’s really not—the girl is just a way to distract himself from the guilt—and Scotty knows this. Hence the guilt—and Scotty’s efforts to alleviate that guilt—continue.

Season 1, Episode 10: “Tatia” and Kelly’s Denial

Classic boy-meets-girl-but-girl-is-an-enemy-spy story. But there are some very interesting points of note here.

First of all, Scotty and Kelly know a lot about each other. Scotty knows just how Kelly starts his day, shaving and then brushing his teeth. He also sees that Tatia, a supposed photographer, is bothering Kelly. And Scotty’s mom sends not only Scotty but Kelly letters. They both call her “Mom.” In essence, Kelly has been adopted into Scotty’s family. Sound a bit like God adopting us? Scotty has no qualms about it and neither does his mother, it seems. (In “Cops and Robbers” Kelly calls Mrs. Scott “Mom” several times—an old friend of Scotty’s does too, but clearly because he also was once so close to Scotty as to be considered family—and Mrs. Scott calls both Kelly and Scotty her “boys.”)

Tatia is taking lots of pictures of Kelly. After hearing about three agents being murdered on the way to Asia, including one in their current city of Tokyo, Scotty is concerned. When a visiting agent is killed in their hotel room and Scotty finds out the three other agents’ pictures were taken by a Tatia Loring, he becomes very protective of Kelly, and puts up a great fight (literally) to prevent Kelly from going to see her for dinner again. Kelly eventually caves, agreeing to question her and get her arrested. He even walks away from her as she cries “Kelly!” over and over—which, knowing Kelly’s helpful nature, is very difficult for him to resist.

But Kelly is understandably devastated. Scotty apologizes and is very attentive; as they walk down the hall together he continually glances down at his feet and then back up to Kelly’s face, and his body leans toward Kelly. “Listen,” he says, “how’d you like to punch me in the mouth?” What a beautiful response—he knew he had to deal with Tatia, but he still is in pain because Kelly is in pain. He knows that Kelly is upset. Scotty even jumps in front of him, whistling and egging him on until Kelly finally swings—but Scotty, knowing Kelly too well, ducks and catches him. Yes, he actually catches him: wraps his arms around Kelly’s torso, then pulls down Kelly’s jacket, dusts it off, and adjusts Kelly’s tie and collar.

If that isn’t pure compassion and care right there, I don’t know what is.

Season 1, Episode 15: “The Tiger” and Kelly’s Suicidal Mission

A brilliant episode in which Kelly, still recovering from some wounds on a prior mission, is asked/ordered by the Department to go into Vietnam to recover an agent and her missionary father.

The first few minutes of this episode reveal a lot about Kelly and his relationship with Scotty. Russell Gabriel, the pair’s boss, first tells Scotty about this new assignment, and Scotty is none too happy. He threatens to use his now-unnecessary arm cast as a way to get a new partner, because Kelly hasn’t had enough time to recover yet. Actually he’s using the cast to try to keep Kelly from going on the new assignment, as he figures if he isn’t going Kelly won’t go.

Scotty says he taped Kelly up right after the doctor removed the tape from his ribs. This implies that Kelly has a level of trust with Scotty that he does not have with anyone else; he hides his pain from his doctor, but he can at least somewhat admit his pain to Scotty. Why Scotty? Certainly because Scotty’s his partner; but also because Scotty knows Kelly extremely well, and wants the best for him, and Kelly has come to trust him.

Gabe can’t fathom what’s still wrong with Kelly after two months. Scotty explains, “We blew an assignment, he lost a best friend, and he blames himself. And ever since that, every day it’s been the same way, pushing himself, whipping himself. Blames himself. . . . You send him out there, he’s gonna be reckless and careless and I don’t know what else, because he’s guilty. Of not being perfect.”

“That’s not part of the profession,” Gabe says (what a line!).

“That’s Kelly,” Scotty says.

Scotty doesn’t talk much, but he sure does observe, as this commentary shows. He knows Kelly incredibly well, and will do anything to keep him out of harm’s way.

Also, I think many of us can identify with Kelly here. I know I can. To have someone like Scotty say “You don’t have to be perfect” would be wonderful—and actually, God has said that. Except I have such a hard time believing Him.

But this assignment is only for Kelly, apparently. Gabe, the epitome of compassion, says he’s not satisfied with Kelly’s condition but he’s “going to live with it” because only Kelly can complete this assignment, having a greater knowledge of, I assume, Vietnam. “You’re not necessarily expected to get out of this one alive,” he tells Kelly—and Scotty looks simultaneously sickened, nervous and annoyed.

Kelly though, as usual, is serious and ready to go, ready to walk into a trap, free its intended victims, and take their places.

Scotty won’t have this, so he takes off his cast, saying, “If you’re gonna go running around the jungle acting like Superman, someone’s gotta be there to carry you home.” Kelly’s shocked expression tells a lot: he doesn’t think of himself and he’s caught off-guard by Scotty’s words and plans. From this we can infer that he doesn’t value himself much and is continually shocked by any kindness towards him. His self-esteem is virtually nil unless he’s helping somebody.

So while Kelly parachutes into the jungle Scotty shoots at the agent’s captors from a helicopter, but he exposes himself too much and ends up getting shot himself. Kelly does too, and so in the end they’re equal again, both hurt, though Kelly probably the worse for wear. Regardless, it’s clear that Scotty cares a great deal for Kelly and doesn’t like to see him blame himself or hurt himself physically or mentally. It’s also clear that Kelly doesn’t plan on stopping those things any time soon.

Season 1, Episode 20: “Bet Me A Dollar” and Scotty’s Desperate Search

Classic and oft-reused storyline in which Scotty bets Kelly he can find him anywhere in Mexico within a week (this same plot can be found in Starsky and Hutch).

What better way to show a partner’s care for another than make the one partner intent on hiding when he’s unknowingly ill. In the beginning of this episode, Kelly is hurt in a knife fight, and after meeting up with his new girlfriend and Scotty at the hospital, proceeds to brood about the girl (I think because he doesn’t want to get involved with her for some reason). He is knocking back shots like no tomorrow, and tells Scotty he’d like to “lose [him]self for about seven years.” It’s a concerning statement, but Scotty knows Kelly: “Uh-huh, right, for about two hours, and that’s all you’d be able to take. You’re one guy that can’t lay back in no bed doing nothing with your hands behind your neck.”

So Kelly shortens it to a week, going someplace where no one can find him. A brief look of concern passes across Scotty’s face, and he proposes to make it “interesting.” He says, “I could.”

“You could what?” Kelly asks.

“Find you!” Scotty says, as if Kelly’s really dense.

Kelly is sure he won’t be found, but Scotty is even surer: “I’ll give you twelve hours and I’ll find you anyplace in Mexico.” The resulting look shared between them is poignant: Kelly is shocked, his eyes asking, Really? and Scotty is one hundred percent certain: Yes.

Of course, he isn’t counting on anthrax.

It’s a rather far-fetched plot, but hey, it makes for a great story. Turns out the knife that cut Kelly had anthrax on it, and Kelly is going to die if not treated in 24 hours. Kelly teams up with a shoe shine boy, Ramon, who helps him hide from Scotty, even as Scotty sees Kelly multiple times and tries to catch him. He can’t. And Kelly is completely oblivious even when Scotty yells, “Kel, man, you’re sick!” When several police cars pull up near Kelly, Kelly says, “Stealing seconds again, he’s got the whole police force looking for us,” and takes off with the Ramon. It would be funnier, if not for the fact that Scotty is dead serious. (No pun intended.)

For once Kelly isn’t feeling guilty at all—he’s having the time of his life. Scotty, on his part, feels guilty because of the “dumb bet” he made with Kelly. Over and over he calls it a “dumb bet” which shows just how annoyed at himself and worried he is. He travels with the police captain in his car and personally searches a bus to look for Kelly—because he knows Kelly better than anyone, and he feels it’s his responsibility to find him.

Of course, eventually Kelly is taken to a hospital and treated. Humorously, while Scotty and Ramon relax in Acapulco, Kelly (as Scotty finds out) is actually nearby, relaxing too. Ramon is bothered that no visitors have been allowed in to see Kelly at the hospital, and it sounds like he says “he,” which would mean that Kelly himself didn’t want any visitors. And now he’s out in Acapolco. Scotty must be ticked off, though we never know for sure.

Why would Kelly do this? Some speculate it’s because he didn’t want anyone—especially Scotty—to know how much pain he was in. This is consistent with Kelly’s character and I am inclined to believe it. And as Scotty has just revealed that he misses Kelly, we can be sure that once again Scotty is angry that Kelly continues to think of himself as a burden. If Kelly really was such a burden, Scotty wouldn’t have looked for him so intently. And when you love someone, looking for them to save their life isn’t a burden, it’s simply a necessity.

Season 2, Episode 21: “A Room With a Rack” and Kelly’s Mental Instability

There’s a lot of good stuff in this episode. Kelly is tortured by men intent on getting a metal process from him—which turns out to be useless anyway. For whatever reason the Department wants him to break and leak the information to hurt the bad guys. In this episode the Department and Kelly are really messed up, but Scotty rights the wrongs, mostly.

After Kelly is rescued from his torturers (who stretch him out on a medieval rack, hence the title of the episode), he spends several weeks in the hospital before the Department lets him out, although the doctor believes he is still mentally unstable, filled with crippling anxiety (and he is). Scotty comes to spring him; he somehow sneaks in with a fake potted plant, which he calls “Charlie” and underneath which he has hidden alcohol, a glass, bread, and some other items. Kelly is thrilled until a nurse comes in, when his smile disappears and he says, “Hey, this is illegal, man,” and puts the things back in the pot, apologizing twice until Scotty finally says, “Hey, listen, wait,” and tries to explain that he was caught and, apparently, let in anyway. Kelly closes his eyes, finally saying, “So it isn’t any federal case. I don’t know why I—you notice how I get—?”

Of course Scotty denies noticing anything to make Kelly feel better, but it’s obvious Kelly isn’t all right. Scotty finally gets him to smile again and convinces him to leave the hospital and embrace their thirty-day vacation.

Except the vacation isn’t a vacation at all. Right away Kelly sees the man who tortured him and loses his mind, as much as he will allow it; he jumps back, knocks over a tray of food, and literally cowers in the corner. Scotty looks back and forth carefully, probably to figure out just who Kelly is looking at and to see if anything is going to happen.

It seems like nothing does, because the next scene is Kelly and Scotty in their hotel room, Kelly again morose and half himself. Kelly doesn’t want to arrest the man, saying there is no proof that he torturing anyone (which is quite a lie). Scotty, having failed to get through to Kelly with reason, tries humor by practicing some very strange bending exercises, and earns a very faint smile from Kelly.

But then their host calls Kelly down to be a matador for a very fiery bull. Scotty thankfully tries to stop Kelly, but Kelly is convinced this will prove his masculinity and takes up the flag. Only to run and kneel behind a wooden plank on the bull’s first run.

Obviously this has done nothing to help Kelly’s self-esteem. Scotty travels to Madrid to talk with boss Mr. Anderson about Kelly’s failed vacation. Anderson guesses that Kelly is a goner and that Scotty wants a new partner, and assures him he’ll make that happen. Scotty expertly hides his shock and then his rage by punching a bag a few times. The Department actually wants Kelly to break and reveal information that—to Kelly’s mind—is important, but which really is not. This is incredibly deceitful and really awful, and Scotty is furious.

Meanwhile Kelly is kidnapped and tortured on the rack again, but Scotty comes, gives the process to the men, and frees Kelly. The process was the actual process, but was, astonishingly, useless; it would only hurt, not help, the enemy. Hence why Anderson wanted Kelly to spill the beans.

Thankfully Scotty and Kelly get their revenge on the Department later: Scotty hands out the verbal revenge, and Kelly proves his masculinity by actually punching his superior in the face. Scotty’s mini-speech shows his intense compassion and righteous anger: “I wanna tell him exactly the way it is,” he says to Kelly, and turns to Anderson. “First of all, we haven’t had a vacation or anything. You release Kelly, then you get Don Jose to send him an invitation to invite him down to the bull ranch. Now there’s nothing like a good old-fashioned bull ranch to let everybody know how scared this man really is, so then you tell everybody to come down so that they can grab him and get the metal process, the obsolete metal process.” Wonderfully, Kelly actually admits that “it wasn’t very nice, was it”—he isn’t wallowing in guilt this time, because he knows the Department was toying with him. It’s a great ending to a really screwed-up story. Scotty is ever-present, always fighting on Kelly’s side.

Season 3, Episode 14: “Home to Judgment” and Kelly’s Guilt Yet Again

Scotty and Kelly, on the run from a group of criminals who is their assignment, take refuge at Kelly’s aunt and uncle’s farm. Scotty pretends to be a wanderer looking for a job to sneak food to Kelly, who has with an infected leg and fever. When the two are finally caught by Kelly’s uncle, Kelly doesn’t reveal himself until he has to to stop his aunt from potentially setting off a bomb. Throughout the episode he is wracked with guilt, saying, “What have I done, what have I done” and swearing he will do all he can not to be a burden and bring guilt on his aunt and uncle’s home.

The criminals have locked a metal chain on Kelly’s ankle, which has become inflamed and given him a fever. Scotty covers him with his jacket and sneaks him food as well as a hacksaw to try to cut the chain off. This proves to be useless, but provides for an interesting conversation. Kelly is losing hope, but is determined to “lead [the criminals] as far away from here as we can get.” Scotty is more concerned about Kelly’s foot, but Kelly as usual is concerned with everyone else: “I won’t bring grief on this house. They won’t even know I was here. . . . We’re poison. Everything we touch. Anybody that touches us is contaminated, and it just goes on and on like that ‘til they run us into the ground.”

Scotty, looking concerned, says, “Unless we stand still and fight.”

“Not here, and not now,” Kelly says. “We could get these innocent people killed just by hangin’ around ‘til dark. . . . Maybe it’s our time.” Note his emphasis on “innocent people.” He is not included in this group. He is concerned solely with keeping his aunt and uncle safe.

“What do you mean, our time?” Scotty asks, incredulously.

“Pay our dues.”

“Pay our dues? Listen, we were born lucky, man, and we’re gonna stay lucky, and that’s that.” Scotty never loses hope; he is always optimistic even in the direst situations. This again confirms how much of a rock he is for Kelly. When Kelly is drowning in hopelessness, Scotty is always looking for options, for a way out, for both of them.

Kelly desperately doesn’t want to reveal his identity or the reason he and Scotty are hiding in the barn, but when he realizes the phone lines have been cut he says, “It was our job to keep it away. And we brought it with us right in the house.” (Meaning, trouble, and possibly death.) This makes his uncle even more suspicious of the pair. As they’re forced outside, Scotty says they still have time, to which Kelly replies, “What have I done. What have I done.” This is Guilt 101, taking all the responsibility for something you can’t control.

When Kelly’s aunt goes to start the car, Kelly finally says, “Uncle Harry you can’t use the car. . . . Auntie don’t touch it, get back.” His concern for his family’s safety causes him to reveal himself, although he still refuses to reveal his name: “It doesn’t matter. . . . If you remembered me at all it would be as a child, who doesn’t exist anymore.” It’s a very interesting comment, very deep and full of pain and cynicism—again, hopelessness.

But later Kelly is forced to reveal himself, and from then on everyone is on the same team, fighting against the criminals. Kelly’s guilt would seem to abate when he is able to kill the men trying to break into the house, but there’s no doubt he feels guilt that Scotty gets shot, and for all I know probably still feels guilt later.

So what does all this add up to?

Well, Scotty, like God, is comfortable with Himself; the only time he feels guilty is when Kelly is hurting. Scotty, like Christ, puts those he loves (in this case, Kelly, and in other cases his family) above himself, but only disparages himself when he lets one of them get hurt. Kelly, on the other hand, blames himself for things way beyond his control, and even when someone is simply in danger, not yet hurt. He is much more prone to hopelessness, despair, and depression than Scotty is, and much more prone to alleviate his pain with alcohol and sex. Scotty does not drink or smoke; he deals with his stress by brooding, which, while not entirely good, is much healthier than getting drunk. In other words, Scotty deals better with tough situations and is more optimistic; he acts with Kelly very much like God acts with man. While man loses hope and curses himself and maybe others, God comforts and saves him, even at the cost of His own life.

If you’ll allow me to get personal for a second, I’ll try to explain. I know I identify a lot with Kelly; I feel guilty at the drop of a hat, for any little thing, and am way too hard on myself. I am a perfectionist, for better or for worse. I know this. I also know I don’t have to be perfect; I know that God loves me. But sometimes that is so hard to believe. At some point He has to get tired of me making the same mistakes, right? At some point He’ll let me go, right?

Wrong. And Kelly is the same way with Scotty: he can’t fathom how Scotty continues to stay by his side; he knows he is guilty for everything that goes wrong. But Scotty repeatedly lets him know that it’s okay to not be perfect; he doesn’t love Kelly any less for it. He sticks by Kelly because he cares for and likes Kelly, and nothing ever is going to change that. It’s very hard for Kelly to believe this, especially something so simple—such that Scotty has to repeat this message in various ways over and over—but this is the truth.

God is just this way. He loves us because He does; He loved us before we were born. We didn’t do anything to earn that love. He just loves us. We can’t understand it and we can’t explain it, but it’s true.

Seeing Scotty reassure Kelly, comfort him and stand consistently by his side reminds me of God’s unfailing love—love that has nothing to do with what I’ve done, but who I am to Him and who He is. It really is that simple. Scotty never gives up on Kelly, and God never gives up on us.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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