Assassination for political or military reasons, unpleasant though it may be to think about, is a tool of statecraft and strategic practice. Nonetheless, assassination is murder, and it exacts a moral toll on those who practice it.
State sanctioned assassination of course occurs in real life, but certainly not with the frequency we see in espionage fiction. In fiction, the morality of assassination takes many forms, as seen in the contrast between the James Bond of Fleming’s novel, who sees his job as a distasteful if necessary task, and the License to Kill, almost casual murders of the 007 films.
Assassination, especially in fiction, is an exploration of “the greatest game”; man hunting man. The suspense is often heightened when the hunter becomes the hunted. Weighing the moral implications of assassination adds even more spice to spy drama.
In the Top Secret episode “Unknown Mission” Baroness Karin Geza receives orders to take “Action Seven” against a French Duke visiting Rome. It is known that the duke is collaborating with the Nazis through Vichy, but she is given no other reason for the assignment, but the Action needs to be accomplished as soon as possible to prevent the duke from carrying out his assignment. The audience is let in on the Duke’s mission- to assassinate the Baroness!
They meet at the nightclub where Karin works (a special treat of this episode is getting to hear Ilona Massey singing), and a rendezvous at the Duke’s stable is arranged for the next morning. The Duke’s assistant makes a device to deliver poison through the saddle. When the time comes, the Duke is so enchanted with Karin he cannot go through with the poisoning. During their ride, they spend time at the top of the cliffs near the villa. The Baroness has a perfect opportunity to complete her mission, but she hesitates because she still doesn’t know the reason for her assignment, and she is becoming enchanted with the Duke herself. There are other attempts, but finally, realizing he cannot kill her himself, the Duke’s assistant devises a bomb in the Duke’s car, and loans it to Karin for a picnic. In the end, Karin does learn that the Duke has been given the mission of killing her.