Season 1, Episode 10: “Steele Trap”
Original airdate: December 20, 1982
Muskan: Following the burst of puns and suggestive remarks that marked the beginning of our discussion panel on the “Hart to Hart” detective series, I must confess I had reservations about delving into another show that appeared to share the same fondness for witty wordplay, evident right in its title.
Without a doubt, “Steele Trap” featured its fair share of more audacious elements, thanks to its leading character. From Remington’s carefree demeanor while posing as Dr. Alfred Bellows* (“He’s a proctologist.” “An intriguing field!”), the excessively flirtatious Randi and Cindi dropping innuendos at him every chance they got, the string of ironic deaths that befell the party attendees, and his unabashed encouragement of the palpable romantic tension with Laura, ensuring they were accommodated in the same room.
*I can’t be the only one of us who had serious I Dream of Jeannie flashbacks for the majority of this episode courtesy of that alias.
However, this was only a fraction of the episode, and when considering the entirety of it, I’ll be more straightforward than usual in these discussions: Wow, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Remington Steele.
I had such a great time with this episode that I even bent my typical rule for these roundtable discussions and watched a few more episodes before sitting down to write this post.
“Steele Trap” proved to be a delightfully entertaining hour of television, offering a fresh take on the timeless murder mystery concept reminiscent of “And Then There Were None” (a connection that Remington himself points out).
As the guests at the Devil’s Playground party meet their demise one by one, the suspense builds masterfully. Enough clues are dropped along the way to maintain an air of mystery, although I must admit that I found the resolution a tad too convenient given all the build-up (disarming the villain in just five seconds? Really?).
Nevertheless, this didn’t diminish the enjoyment of what had unfolded prior.
Similar to “Hart to Hart,” Remington Steele relies heavily on the charisma of its leading actors, and in this regard, there’s an abundance. In one of his most notable roles before taking on James Bond, Pierce Brosnan delivers a fantastic performance.
In every scene, you can sense his self-assuredness, even though he often seems to think, “I look quite dashing.” However, it’s this very confidence and quick thinking that makes him a substantial leading man rather than a mere empty facade.
His fascination with cinema adds an extra layer of charm, as evidenced by lines like, “Your plan is brilliant.” “Of course it is, it’s from a movie!”
On the other hand, Stephanie Zimbalist brings a delightful equilibrium to the character of Laura Holt.
She effortlessly manages to lead the investigation while not hesitating to call out Remington when he pushes the boundaries with his teasing, such as the “Myrtle Coggins” jabs.
(And yes, I’ll admit to being slightly biased because Laura dons a fedora, and Remington sports a three-piece suit, but no need to point that out.)
What sets Remington Steele apart from Hart to Hart (aside from differences in production values and writing) is how the two main characters inject genuine stakes into their relationship.
The Hart marriage exuded an unapologetic lack of friction, contributing to its appeal. However, Remington and Laura find themselves entrenched in the “will they/won’t they?” territory—a dynamic complicated by Laura’s limited knowledge of Remington beyond the fact that he deceptively assumed the nominal leadership of her agency.
I was particularly impressed by the bedroom conversation between Remington and Laura, where they delved into the topics of commitment and honesty.
It struck me as a remarkably mature approach for a show primarily known for its thrilling action and clever dialogue.
In this instance, it’s not the plot contriving to keep two people apart; instead, it’s two individuals acknowledging very real obstacles that stand between them.
Funny, serious, and exciting—a great hour of a detective show. If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to marathon a few more episodes.
Nirajan: Like Les, I, too, was enthralled by Remington Steele almost from the get-go. Full disclosure: I watched the pilot episode before watching this one since I had no idea Pierce Brosnan did a TV show before becoming James Bond.
One notable aspect that distinguishes Laura and Steele in “Remington Steele” is the fact that Steele begins as a con man when we first encounter him.
Consider other TV series like Castle, where Stana Katic’s charming Kate Beckett is a detective while Nathan Fillion’s Richard Castle is a writer. In Bones, Temperance Brennan works at the Jeffersonian (a fictionalized Smithsonian), and Booth is a former Army sniper turned FBI agent.
Even in Veronica Mars, Veronica’s dad was a sheriff before becoming a private investigator. However, in Remington Steele, Pierce Brosnan’s character starts off as an unnamed con man before adopting the persona of Steele, while Laura Holt is a private investigator who has created a fictitious male boss to operate her detective agency.
In other shows of this genre, the characters typically already possess some basic knowledge of their partners’ backgrounds, as at least one of them is involved in the business of apprehending criminals.
But for Laura and Steele, there are layers of their personalities yet to be uncovered.
This ties in with the scene you mentioned later in the episode, where Laura and Steele converse about their policy of “not mixing business with pleasure… business,” as Steele aptly puts it earlier. Honesty proves to be a complex subject for both of them.
In this scene, Laura openly expresses her stance on it, while Steele, who has spent his entire life assuming different identities and evading commitment, possesses a well-developed disposition for dishonesty, making it challenging for him to connect with others, especially Laura.
This clash between their views on honesty and dishonesty injects a certain element of chaos into their relationship, making it enjoyable and thrilling to watch them week after week.
You’re never quite sure if Steele will sidestep Laura’s suggested alias in favor of something more “bland” and, therefore, “truthful.” In moments like when Laura locks herself in the bathroom while Steele talks to her, as happens in this episode, you can’t help but wonder if she might decide to slip out the window for a brisk walk to clear her thoughts.
Steele even stretches the truth about “Myrtle’s” status to ensure they end up in the same room together.
In contrast to shows like Castle or Bones, where the plot contrivances can sometimes feel like obstacles to the eventual union of the main characters, in Remington Steele, the contrivance is an integral part of the enjoyment.
It’s partly driven by Steele’s affection for cinema, a quality that likely resonated with the culturally aware audience of its time. Steele’s penchant for drawing parallels to films and his collaboration with Laura to stay ahead of the game adds an extra layer of intrigue.
It should come as no surprise that Glenn Gordon Caron, the creator of Moonlighting, a series widely regarded as a major influence on the will-they/won’t-they dynamic in today’s TV couples, was a writer and producer for the initial ten episodes of Remington Steele.
This show indeed lays the groundwork for iconic TV pairings like Booth/Brennan, Castle/Beckett, Charlie/Anita (from Numb3rs, a personal favorite of mine), and numerous other beloved television couples.
Another aspect that greatly impressed me about Remington Steele was the level of sophistication evident in its production. While this isn’t surprising, given that it’s an MTM Enterprises production, I couldn’t help but admire the… there’s no better way to describe it than the sheer smoothness of both the episode and the pilot.
(Michael Gleason authored both Steele Trap and the pilot episode License to Steele; in both, I noticed he possesses a certain knack for Brosnan’s witty remarks.)
Laura Holt embodies the spirit of characters like Mary Tyler Moore, and while a significant part of this show’s allure lies in its romantic comedy elements, it also functions as a polished private investigation series with a well-crafted mystery procedural at its core.
Watching her go along with Steele’s “improvisations,” I can’t help but imagine the pitch for Veronica Mars’s fourth season and how a mature Veronica Mars might share some similarities with Laura Holt.
Plus: fedoras! More fedoras on television, please!
Also Read: Team-Up Review: Felicity, “Pilot”
Astha: Like both Les and Cameron, I honestly, completely unironically loved Remington Steele. Besides knowing that pre-Bond Brosnan was in it, I didn’t know much about the plot.
So upon watching Steele Trap, I was beyond excited to learn that Laura Holt (Stephanie Zimbalist) is the brains behind the entire Remington Steele operation.
She is portrayed as super smart and feminist and rocks a menswear look flawlessly. Laura is basically everything that I had hoped Jennifer Hart would have been.
(And Cameron’s comment that a grown-up Veronica Mars could be similar to Laura Holt is perfect) And I loved that it called out the sexism that wouldn’t allow Laura to be her own private investigator.
The plot of Steele Trap centers around Laura and Remington’s investigation into the murder of a plastic surgeon, which leads them to assume the identities of the deceased and head to a resort called The Devil’s Playground.
Initially, I hoped that The Devil’s Playground would turn out to be one of the following—a secretive society exclusive to wealthy white men, a cult, or a swingers club scenario.
While it didn’t quite fit any of these descriptions, it did have an intriguing adult entertainment element that added an interesting dimension to the story.
Laura and Remington’s colleagues harbor suspicions about their trip, thinking it might involve some romantic encounters, although this notion seems to be mainly driven by Murphy (James Read).
It makes me wonder, even in those pre-Internet days, if there exists any Murphy/Remington fan fiction out there. Let me know. (Editor’s note: Surprisingly, no such fan fiction appears to exist.)
While the episode’s plot may appear rather contrived—where they find themselves all trapped on an estate owned by a “chewing gum magnate” with everyone meeting their demise one by one and no contact with the outside world—it manages to be quite captivating.
Surprisingly, it didn’t come across as overly dated and cheesy, which was a contrast to how “Hart to Hart” felt. While Remington’s film knowledge does contribute to solving the crime, Laura consistently shines with her quick-witted ideas.
They genuinely make an effective team, relying on each other equally, and, of course, the tension between them simmers intensely, as is often the case in this genre.
The sexual innuendos and euphemisms weren’t as excessive and absurd as those in “Hart to Hart.” But it does make me wonder if there’s something about detective shows that I might have missed.
I must admit I didn’t anticipate just how humorously sexual they could be. However, I would argue that in this show, it’s Remington who becomes the object of desire.
He’s continually objectified by everyone and treated as a pretty face. While he has his moments, he doesn’t excel in his job to the same degree as Laura does.
I found the conclusion of the episode particularly intriguing, with Randi, a woman who had been dismissed as unintelligent and promiscuous, revealed as the killer.
Admittedly, she did succumb to the common trope of divulging too much about her plan to Remington and Laura towards the end, although her motivations seemed somewhat justified.
However, I might have developed a liking for Randi because earlier in the episode, as she once again attempted to seduce Remington, she asked the pianist to play “something we can grope to,” a musical genre that happens to be my personal preference.
Additionally, I couldn’t help but entertain the idea that Remington’s secret past might involve him being a robot.
My reasoning for this is that a young Pierce Brosnan is just so incredibly good-looking. I might consider watching more of Remington Steele to see if there’s any truth to this theory. I’ll be sure to provide an update.
Kriti: Much like everyone else, I truly adored “Remington Steele.” After the pun-filled adventure of “Hart to Hart” last week, I was prepared for more of the same, but Remington Steele turned out to be notably more sophisticated, both in its dialogue and storytelling.
Although they employed the familiar “And Then There Were None” plot (a plot that still enjoys popularity today—I believe Syfy’s “Haven” has used it twice already), they executed it quite effectively.
The Devil’s Playground weekend wasn’t merely a straightforward case of the week; it served as a pretext to isolate Laura and Remington on an island, away from their colleagues, providing them with the opportunity to discuss their relationship.
Their straightforward discussion regarding whether to act upon the undeniable sexual tension between them was the aspect of the episode that made the most lasting impression on me.
As Cameron pointed out, you can draw a direct lineage from Laura and Remington’s will-they-or-won’t-they dynamic to the modern male-female partnerships filled with unresolved sexual tension that remain popular today.
However, based solely on this episode, I’m confident in saying that this series handles that trope better than any other I’ve come across.
In the case of couples like Booth and Brennan, they often spend years avoiding any acknowledgment of their feelings, much to the frustration of fans.
In contrast, Remington and Laura have known each other for just ten episodes, and they’re not only acknowledging their feelings but also engaging in a mature conversation about the potential consequences of acting on those feelings.
Who does that in the first season? By today’s standards, such a conversation might not even occur until the fifth season at the earliest.
I was also pleasantly surprised by how intriguing these two characters were on an individual level. While Pierce Brosnan may not be my top choice for Bond, I’ve gained a newfound appreciation for his charisma.
He portrays a roguish con man convincingly. What I found most appealing about his character was that he wasn’t infallible. With a character like Steele, there’s often a temptation to make him the unquestionably sharpest individual in the room.
Despite knowing that he was essentially assuming the identity Laura had constructed, I initially assumed he would still end up taking charge.
However, that wasn’t the case. He was outwitted by Randi, and he didn’t let his ego prevent him from admitting he was apprehensive about potentially walking into a trap (“I suppose this is one instance where ladies don’t go first”).
He’s a charismatic and humorous character, but he is also refreshingly devoid of superhero-like invincibility.
This brings me to Laura, who essentially was a superhero, with her superpower being sheer competence. If I had watched this series as a child, I probably would have spent the rest of my childhood wearing a fedora.
Even when the guests began meeting unfortunate fates one by one, Laura remained unflinching. She clearly excelled at her job and likely harbored resentment over the necessity of having a male front for her agency.
She was also self-assured, open about her emotions, and unafraid to confront Remington about his behavior. However, she didn’t fit the mold of the stereotypical flawless action heroine.
She had her insecurities (who could blame her for wanting to be Tracy Lord, though?), and Remington had a knack for getting under her skin. She came across as remarkably human. Both Laura and Remington did, and it was this authenticity that made the series far more engaging than I ever anticipated it could be, especially as a contemporary of Hart to Hart.
As a reminder, we’ll do a different detective series every week for the rest of the year. The schedule is below:
11/15: Columbo, “Double Shock” (season 2, episode 6); available through Netflix Instant
11/22: Off for Thanksgiving. Please eat turkey and discuss your favorite holiday specials until we return.
11/29: Murder She Wrote, “Deadly Lady” (season 1, episode 4); available through Netflix Instant
12/6: Miss Marple, “Murder at the Vicarage” (season 2, episode 3); available through Netflix Instant
12/13: Moonlighting, “The Lady in the Iron Mask” (season 2, episode 2)