As I alluded to a couple of posts ago, I have a family member in the hospital. It’s one of the closest hospitals to where I live, in foot or bike range, but I wanted to get there for a visit before their afternoon “quiet time” began, so I decided to drive. But it turned out there was construction slowing down traffic on McMillan Avenue, so I decided to try a detour to get to Auburn (where the hospital is) and so turned down Vine Street. The street I was planning on using as a shortcut was a) closed off by more construction and b) a one-way street in the wrong direction anyway. So I had to keep going down Vine to try to find another way to get over to Auburn. There didn’t seem to be any, and eventually I found myself nearing downtown. Okay, I thought; I’ll just go left and get over to the place where I knew I’d be able to get back onto Auburn. But at the place where I planned to turn left, there was more construction prohibiting it! I had to keep going down Vine in search of a place to turn left. And every cross street I came across either had a No Left Turn sign or construction blocking it. By this point, it was too late to get to the hospital in time, so I started to consider just doubling back and going home. But when I tried to turn right in order to loop back up for home, I found the street blocked on the right side! Aaaaaaaaaaah! It was like one of those nightmares where you can’t find a way to get to where you want to go no matter how hard you try.
Okay, so going to the hospital was out until later in the day, so I decided that as long as I was in the area, I’d go to the Kroger on Vine Street (the first Kroger grocery store ever) and pick up a few things I needed. At first, I was a little confused about where I was and thought I had to go over a block to get there. Then I happened to glance to my left and there was the Kroger right beside me! I signaled for a left turn, but none of the oncoming cars would pause to let me through. So I gave up and had to keep going down Vine until I finally got to a place where I could turn — except it was a place where I had to turn because Vine became one-way at that point! So I was still being funneled in a single direction with no choice!
Anyway, I finally got turned around, though the lights were against me and it took several minutes. And I got to the store and bought stuff and came home and here I am. And I’m just wondering why the city apparently felt it necessary to do every road maintenance project along Vine Street at the same time and thus make it so hard to get there from here.
A little while ago, I decided to walk over to the local organic foods store to restock on chips, and when I got there, I saw there were a couple of people evidently playing with a kitten in the corner of the parking lot. Once I got closer, though, I saw they weren’t playing. The little orange tabby had broken its leg and was weak and struggling. A young woman — whom I later learned was Nadia, an employee of the food store — was trying to give it water from an eyedropper and get it to eat something. She told me she’d called the SPCA but didn’t know when they’d come. I told her where the nearby animal hospital was, but she didn’t have a car. I regretted that I’d walked there instead of driving.
But after a bit, once it became clear there were no other options, I told Nadia I’d jog back home, get a cardboard box, drive back to the store, and take the kitten to the vet. I did this, though I was slowed down a bit when I went right to the car and forgot about the box, so I had to re-park and go get one.
By the time I got back to the store, though, that corner of the lot was empty. I got out and looked around, and another store clerk recognized what I was looking for. He had the kitten in a box and told me he was fairly sure it was dead. I took a look at it and couldn’t get any response or feel any breathing or pulse. I was too late. Although given how quickly the kitten passed, I would’ve still been too late even if I’d had my car there in the first place.
The clerks were wondering what to do with the body, and I told them they should call animal control or the sanitation department or somebody. Which reminded me I needed to wash my hands, which they let me do in the store’s washroom. But when I checked in with them after I did my shopping, the male clerk told me that the kitten’s owner had shown up and claimed the remains. I didn’t get the whole story, but they’d left the kitten somewhere while going to the nearby Starbuck’s. I don’t want to rush to judgment without knowing the whole story, but I have to wonder where they would leave a kitten that would end up with it lying in a parking lot with a fatal injury.
Well, best not to dwell on that. They have a loss to deal with now, a loss I can sympathize with all too well. I’ve lost too many cats lately, too many in my lifetime, and I was hoping I could help this one. But by the time I got there, it was already too late. At least the kitten wasn’t alone at the end.
Some stuff has been going on pertaining to family and medical issues (not mine, but requiring my involvement), so that, along with my efforts to refocus on DTI, has been keeping me occupied. In short, there’s not much going on with me right now that I can talk about publicly. Some people don’t mind blogging about personal, family stuff, but I don’t think the family member involved would appreciate that.
I’ve been slightly concerned that this situation might have to take priority over attending Shore Leave, but everyone involved is assuring me that’s unlikely. So I will probably be at Shore Leave in two weeks’ time, but I can’t absolutely guarantee it. I hope I’ll make it, not just since my bus ticket is nonrefundable, but since I’m looking forward to getting to see my friends and colleagues again as well as my fans.
Let’s see, what’s been going on that I can talk about? I saw Syfy’s The Phantom miniseries on Sunday, and it was much better-written than I expected and fairly well-cast (especially the love interest), but its attempt at an “improvement” over the classic Phantom costume was hideous and needs to be changed if this goes to series — which I hope it does, since it would be a nice middle ground between the goofy comedies of Eureka and Warehouse 13 and the heavy space dramas of Caprica and Stargate Universe.
Also, Futurama is back! The first two new episodes of the season debuted last night on Comedy Central. The first, “Rebirth,” was excellent; like the best Futurama episodes, it was driven by strong science-fiction concepts and strong character dynamics in addition to the jokes and spectacle. It had moments that were moving and heartfelt and plot twists that were startling, and was quite a ride. The second episode, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela,” was less enjoyable, since I’ve never been fond of Zapp Brannigan, finding him more annoying than funny. And he sank to new depths here. Still, it had its fun moments, especially the cheesy black-and-white-serial dream sequences and the alien death sphere that managed to be a parody of Star Wars, “The Changeling,” and Star Trek: The Motion Picture all at once.
I put off doing my laundry until yesterday evening, so I was trying to take care of it and watch primetime TV at the same time, which would’ve worked okay except that one of the washing machines took forever to get out of the soak cycle. I actually realized I was putting the whites and colors in the opposite machines (in my apartment building’s laundry room) from the way I’ve always done it in the past, so I shrugged and figured, what the hey, let’s give it a try. I’ve always found the one I usually use for colors to take too long on the low setting, so I thought I’d try the other one for a change. And it took something like three times as long. Eventually, when it had been sitting there buzzing for an hour with no change, I just took the waterlogged clothes out, did a halfhearted job wringing them out during a commercial break (and during the next act of CSI), then flung them in the dryer, on high rather than permanent press to compensate for the excess moisture. They came out hardly dry at all, so I had to spend extra for another drying cycle, this time on permanent press, and they still weren’t entirely dry then, but it was the best I could do. (I used the bedroom ceiling fan to finish drying off the bedsheets, which meant I had to stay up late to give it time to work.) And in my haste I accidentally put some of the whites in with the colored, wet laundry in the dryer. With the upshot being that my mismatched white pillowcases now nearly match the blue sheets. Although a brown hand towel is now more of a bluish-brown.
The new issue of Star Trek Magazine is reportedly out, and it announces some new information about Pocket’s ST publishing schedule for 2011. Among the information are two new bits of info about Star Trek DTI, one of which I knew already, one of which I didn’t.
The thing I knew already, because I thunk it up, is the book’s subtitle. It’s not just Star Trek DTI, it’s Star Trek DTI: Watching the Clock. I haven’t announced it because I wasn’t sure whether to use it. If the title was Star Trek DTI: Department of Temporal Investigations, then adding the subtitle would make it unwieldy, and if we left off the Deparment of… part, would that be too vague? I figure DTI:WtC is the best way to go, though.
The thing I didn’t already know is that a release date has been scheduled. It’s now lined up for May 2011.
So now that you know when the book’s coming out, you can begin… umm… perusing the, uh, chronometer. Or something like that. I know there’s a better phrase for that, it’s right on the tip of my tongue…
In my first-season overview, I said that the season started out more interesting than it ended up, gradually settling into a formula where the early variety of storytelling and substantive characterization were downplayed. Overall, the second season displays the same uniformity in spades. The team composition rarely varies, the characters are complete ciphers, and the missions almost never go significantly off-plan. As a result, the season overall is rather disappointing, though it rallies toward the end.
There were only three episodes this season that I’d rank as excellent: “Echo of Yesterday,” “The Town,” and “Trial by Fury.” Notably, one of those, “The Town,” was the season’s greatest format-breaker, abandoning the usual planned-mission premise altogether, while “Trial by Fury” was a departure in that the mission depended more on improvisation and personal confrontation than playing out a well-planned, clockwork scheme. Episodes I’d count as good include “Trek,” “The Condemned,” and “The Phoenix,” with “The Survivors,” “The Emerald,” and “Recovery” counting as decent. Most of the rest was mediocre to weak, with “Charity,” “The Counterfeiter,” and “The Killing” being the weakest. It’s worth noting that the majority of the best episodes are toward the very start or the latter half of the season; however, two of the three weakest are in the back six.
The team composition is far more consistent than in the first season, with the same team on virtually every mission, even when they served little purpose or when different specialists would’ve been better choices. Jim Phelps and Rollin Hand were in all 25 episodes. Barney Collier and Cinnamon Carter were in 24 episodes each, sitting out “Echo of Yesterday” and “The Condemned” respectively. Willy Armitage was in 22 episodes, sitting out “Trek,” “The Money Machine,” and “Trial by Fury.” So every episode featured at least four of the five regulars, and 80 percent of the episodes featured the entire regular team. The core team was joined by additional team members or assistants in the following episodes:
01 The Widow: Dr. Premel (George Tyne)
02 Trek: puppeteer Bob Field (Jack Donner)
04 The Bank: reformed bank robber Paul Lebarre (Pierre Jalbert)
05/06 The Slave: slave trade expert Akim Hadramut (Steve Franken)
07 Operation “Heart”: Dr. Owen Siebert (Robert Karnes)
08 The Money Machine: Ghalean finance minister Paul Giroux (Rockne Tarkington) assists
09 The Seal: Rusty the trained cat
11/12 The Council: plastic surgeon Dr. Emerson Reese (Stuart Nisbet); gangster Jimmy Bibo (Nick Colasanto) grudgingly assists
14 Echo of Yesterday: a team of movers
15 The Photographer: magazine editor Fran Williams (Kathleen Hughes) assists
20 The Counterfeiter: Dr. McConnell (Noah Keen)
24 Trial by Fury: Red Cross worker Valesquez (Edmund Hashim)
So it looks like they were initially trying to keep up some vestige of the original concept of recruiting specialists for each mission, despite the increased focus on the regular team. But by the back half of the season, the formula settled on the established team with only infrequent assistance, usually in minor or peripheral roles. The ones who played the most integral roles were Hadramut, Valesquez, and Rusty the cat. (Seriously. Rusty was the linchpin of that whole mission, and the others’ tasks were merely to get him into position and provide distractions.)
And yet in terms of the storytelling, it seems the producers and writers quickly settled into a rut of mediocrity. Fortunately, as the season wore on, they began to mix it up a little and add some freshness and variety, breaking the monotony and raising the level of their game, if inconsistently so. I wonder if the improvements and experiments in the back half of the season were a response to criticisms of the first half.
Ten episodes featured at least some original music: 3 by Gerald Fried (the third with very little original music), 2 by Walter Scharf, a 2-parter by Robert Drasnin, a 2-parter (mostly part 2) by Jerry Fielding, and 1 episode (“Echo of Yesterday”) by a composer who wasn’t specifically credited; I’m tentatively assuming it was Lalo Schifrin because his theme-music credit did appear. (I’m confident the music in that episode is original rather than just something I’ve forgotten from the first season, because the cues are used in their entirety and match the action onscreen.) That’s four fewer original scores than in season one, and only five of the first six episodes feature scores consisting primarily or exclusively of new music, with the rest being a mix of new and stock cues. The episodes with original music were #1-7, 11-12, and 14; as with S1, all but one are in the first half of the season. First-season stock cues were absent for the first half or so of the season but became more commonly used toward the end. The best scores of the season: “Trek” (Fried), “The Council Part 2″ (Fielding), and “Echo of Yesterday” (Schifrin???).
Of the season’s 25 episodes and 21 distinct, official missions, 12 featured new tape scenes. Seven of those used the standard reel-to-reel tapes in one form of player or another. Two used vinyl records, one used an 8-track in a car dashboard player, one used a standard cassette tape in a portable player brought by Jim, and one used a miniature reel-to-reel tape or wire player. As the numbers indicate, 9 of the 12 sequences were reused. At least two of the sequences featured the phrase “Please destroy this recording in the usual manner” (actually quite unusual) instead of the familiar “This message will self-destruct in five/ten seconds.” Two episodes featured off-book missions or unplanned adventures with no briefing. Of the 21 official missions, 20 had dossier sequences, though no more than half of those really needed them. (This translates to 23 episodes with tape scenes and 22 with dossier sequences, since the 2-parters repeated both in the part-2 recaps.)
So that’s the second season of Mission: Impossible. Right now, I’m wondering if I’m going to bother reviewing the third. The second season had few highlights and the later ones I’ve seen were similarly routine and flawed. Assuming the third season isn’t a great exception, it seems it would be pretty much more of the same from now on. So is there really any point in continuing to do detailed reviews of such a formulaic series? Is this a mission I should choose not to accept?
I don’t have to decide right away; I’ll probably rent the third season from Netflix eventually, just to satisfy my completist impulses, but not too soon. Perhaps I’ll only review the standout episodes. Or perhaps I’ll do briefer reviews instead of the detailed recaps. In any case, I don’t think the rest of M:I really warrants the level of effort I’ve been putting into it.
In my last post, I talked about the interactive Google Maps thingy at the end of “No Dominion” on its DayBreak Magazine page. It occurred to me that “No Dominion” is the only one of my published original works that could have a Google Maps page, since it’s the only one that’s set even partly on Earth. And the first draft of it was set on a habitat in Earth orbit! In fact, of my five published original stories, only the latest two, “The Weight of Silence” and “No Dominion,” are even set in the Sol System. ”Aggravated Vehicular Genocide” and “Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele” are set within ten parsecs of Earth, respectively en route to and at Gamma Leporis. ”The Hub of the Matter” and its upcoming sequel “Home is Where the Hub Is” are set near the center of the galaxy, 40,000 light years from Earth, and at various other locations within a volume 300,000 light-years in radius around that point.
What can I say? I like space. It was Star Trek that introduced me to science fiction, and the original show never went to Earth except in the occasional time-travel story. And space is just so much roomier than Earth. The tastes of the prose SF community turned away from “space opera” for a while, though that’s somewhat reversed itself by now, but I never lost my preference for it.
Ironically, my first published Star Trek tale, SCE: “Aftermath,” was set primarily in San Francisco and, I believe, pretty much entirely within the Solar System (other dimensions notwithstanding). However, I think the only things I’ve written since then that are actually set on Earth (at least from the perspective of the viewpoint characters) are a few pages toward the end of The Buried Age and the briefing in the first chapter of Greater Than the Sum (although the prologue of Over a Torrent Sea opens in orbit of Mars). My upcoming Star Trek DTI novel will probably spend more time on Earth than any of my other Trek fiction, although it features quite a lot of other locations as well.
I was going to say “than anything I’ve had published to date,” but then I remembered my X-Men and Spider-Man novels, both of which are set entirely on Earth (alternate timelines notwithstanding). However, my original idea for the Spidey novel had Spidey travelling to another planet; I liked the idea of getting him out of his comfort zone (and, admittedly, more into mine). It was decided it was too much of a departure for the character, but I’m still hoping I’ll get a chance to tell that tale someday.
Over on the TrekBBS Trek Literature forum, where we occasionally also discuss non-Trek literature by Trek authors, I’ve been having an interesting discussion with a poster called David cgc about “No Dominion.” He saw the story very differently than I intended, but those can be the most interesting replies. The discussion begins with this post and continues from there.
It can really surprise you the way people interpret what you write sometimes. After my very first published story, “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide,” I got a few letters from people assuming that what I’d presented as a just and necessary outcome was in fact a gross miscarriage of justice and should serve as the trigger for an interstellar war.
Meanwhile… I think I made things tough for editor Jetse de Vries with “No Dominion.” The stories on the DayBreak Magazine site all feature an interactive Google Maps window at the end of the story, showing the key locations… but I didn’t really specify where Onogoroshima, the artificial-island arcology setting of the story, was located, beyond “in the Philippine Sea.” He ended up placing Onogoroshima in the Bonin (aka Ogasawara) Islands, about 200 km north-northeast of Iwo Jima, placing it right on the edge of the Philippine Sea. I guess that counts. And it’s reasonable to put it close to Japan, seeing as how it’s named for the first island in Japanese mythology.
The other “No Dominion”-related location tags on the interactive map thingy are the University of the Philippines (in connection with the Filipina character Rosa Manzano, who could’ve been an alumna of that institution, though I didn’t specify), Brisbane Airport (for the origin point of DCI Craig’s flight to Onogoroshima), and Pittsburgh, for Charles Trendler’s hometown. That’s thorough.
I don’t know if there’s a way to link directly to the map; just click on the link above to “No Dominion” and scroll to the bottom.
Seeing the locations from all the different DayBreak stories together on the same interactive map makes me wonder how many of these stories could actually fit together in a common reality. Generally that’s not a likely proposition unless the writers or their editor consciously arrange it, since there are so many different ways of imagining the details of future technology, chronology, society, politics, etc. Still, it’s an interesting thought. Surely, in an anthology dedicated to optimistic futures, there would be some common threads.
“Recovery” is the finale of the 25-episode second season, and it finally does something that should’ve been done much sooner: ditching the dossier scene. With a few rare exceptions, Jim’s team has consistently been Rollin, Cinnamon, Barney, and Willy, rendering the scenes of Jim going through dossiers and picking his team entirely redundant. Finally, in the last episode of the season, we go directly from the (stock) tape sequence to the briefing scene in Jim’s apartment, with the episode credits then being shown over the next scene. This becomes pretty much standard for the series in subsequent seasons.
The mission: An American bomber has gone down behind the Iron Curtain, and its fail-safe device has failed (imagine that) to self-destruct, putting it in enemy hands. It’s not explained what a fail-safe device is, perhaps for deliberate vagueness, or perhaps because it was a familiar concept in the ’60s. If I recall from Dr. Strangelove and the like, a fail-safe device in a bomber would be a way for the crew to confirm that orders were authentic. So if the enemy got hold of such a device and analyzed it, they could send false commands to bombers, which would be Bad.
Anyway, the device is designed to blow up if it isn’t disassembled in exactly the right way. But the enemy has an asset on their side, a brilliant American defector named Dr. Paul Shipherd, played by Bradford Dillman with an effective, hesitant delivery suggesting a keen intellect carefully deliberating every word and thought, but with an undercurrent of boyish petulance. The team’s mission is not only to prevent Shipherd from disarming and analyzing the device, but to retrieve it intact (so the US can evaluate why the self-destruct failed) and to bring Shipherd back to the States.
Rollin and Cinnamon go in as a married couple touring central Europe, a wheelchair-bound scientist and his M.D. wife. Meeting Shipherd at a reception, they let slip that they’re from Minnesota and that Rollin works on a top-secret government project. It’s a tense exchange. Later, back at the institute, Shipherd deduces a way to open the first layer of security on the device; the computer suggests a certain, logical procedure, but Shipherd knows the Americans will have anticipated that, and orders the use of an alternate procedure, which is simply using a set of waldo arms (I wonder where they got the props) and a microphone to crack the combination, so I don’t see what the big deal was. Shipherd knows that the next stage will require slow and complex analysis, so he’s pleased when it’s learned that the bomber pilot has been captured and brought to his office for an interview before being released to the US Embassy. When the pilot gives his name, rank, and serial number, we recognize the voice, and the camera reveals it’s Jim, with black, puffed-up hair and a swarthier complexion. He’s hardly recognizable except for the voice. Jim insists he doesn’t know how to disassemble the device, and Shipherd might as well send a letter to the folks in Duluth who made it. Shipherd remembers his US geography and makes the connection: the fail-safe must be the secret project Rollin was working on!
Of course, it’s all very convenient the way they’ve let this information slip, and Shipherd wonders if he’s been deliberately put onto this lead. This excited me. Were we finally going to get an episode with an adversary smart enough to see through the manipulation and cause the plan to fail, generating real danger and requiring improvisation? Alas, though, his suspicion that he’s being manipulated is never referred to again.
The episode manages to generate effective tension in another way, though. Shipherd arranges to have Rollin invited to the institute, accompanied by a State Department representative from the embassy (Barney in a very snazzy brown suit) while his wife Cinnamon is touring the national art museum (Rollin is careful to let Shipherd know where she is). At the institute, Shipherd reveals that he has the fail-safe and needs Rollin’s help to disassemble it without blowing it up. Rollin refuses to help — until Shipherd shows him that Cinnamon has been captured and is seated right next to the device.
So Rollin has no choice but to disassemble the device with Cinnamon as hostage. This was genuinely tense, because this was no fake peril. The device was real, the bomb inside it was real — but Rollin was a fake and so was his expertise. Would he be able to do this without killing Cinnamon? Sure, the IMF is always as super-prepared as Batman on his best day; Jim said in the briefing that he and Rollin had been over the fail-safe device’s manual a hundred times. But come on, the dude’s an actor pretending to be an expert in this system, and he’s had barely two days to learn this procedure. What if he screws it up? You can really believe that the sheer terror on Rollin’s face as he holds Cinnamon’s life in his hands is absolutely genuine, as is the more muted fear on her face.
Meanwhile, Barney is waiting in Shipherd’s office, supposedly unaware of what’s going on below. He stages a distraction allowing him to drop a metal thingy down the garbage chute, jamming the central shredder that all discarded documents are sent to for security. The repairmen are called in, and Jim (now looking like himself again) and Willy waylay them and go in their place. Jim goes inside and begins crawling up the disposal chutes, wearing a mike and leaving a speaker behind so he can convince the guard with Willy that he’s still at the bottom working on the shredder. Once he reaches the chamber where Rollin is disassembling the device, Jim sticks a wire through the chute door to let them know it’s time. Rollin fakes a heart attack and Cinnamon insists that as his doctor, she’s the only one who can save him. So everyone leaves the room, letting Jim come in and finish disarming the device. He’s briefly interrupted by a returning scientist, but luckily he lives in the ’60s TV universe where any opponent can be rendered thoroughly unconscious by a single karate chop to anywhere in the vicinity of the neck, shoulders, or (in this case) upper back.
Meanwhile, in the infirmary, Rollin “dies” under Cinnamon’s care. I felt sorry for the poor nurse who showed compassion for Cinnamon’s grief, unaware that it was all an act. Anyway, Barney asks to speak to Shipherd alone. Once everyone’s left but Shipherd and the IMF agents, Barney knocks Shipherd out (going for a blow to the gut and a neck chop) and Cinnamon drugs him. While Rollin pulls out a pair of masks to disguise Shipherd as himself and vice-versa, Barney lowers a line to Jim and uses it to retrieve the device, which he secures underneath Rollin’s (now Shipherd’s) wheelchair. Rollin-as-Shipherd (Dillman with his voice electronically lowered, sounding a lot like Landau) convinces the other bad guys that it will avoid an international incident if Rollin’s demise is said to have taken place elsewhere, so he escorts the “corpse,” Cinnamon, and Barney away while repairmen Jim and Willy leave in their truck.
All in all, a fairly routine episode that could’ve been really something if they’d followed up on Shipherd’s hint of awareness that he was being played. Still, it achieved moments of genuine and effective tension.
Season overview to follow.
“The Phoenix”: Stock opening as usual. The mission: a former Eastern European security minister, Stefan Prohosh (Alf Kjellin, an actor-director who directed “The Bank,” “A Game of Chess,” and “The Condemned”), has been demoted to minister of culture and head of the national art museum. Wanting to get back in the game, he’s stolen a sample of a valuable metal alloy (presumably something with defense applications) and hidden it in a new steel sculpture arriving soon in his museum, a sort of abstract tree of metal rods. He intends to trade this McGuffin metal to “one of the major Red nations” in exchange for backing in his return to power. The team must retrieve the metal and scuttle Prohosh’s return to power.
At the museum (whose exterior is the same backlot facade used in “The Bank”), the team sets up a fake assassination attempt on Prohosh, a tyrannical, paranoid sort who refers to himself in the third person. He even soliloquizes to his gun (yes, he talks to his gun) about how his enemies have never been able to bring him down. Rollin allows himself to get caught as the shooter, while Cinnamon plants a trail to lead the guards to her as the hidden accomplice when the time is right. Rollin is interrogated and refuses to talk. Jim, Barney, and Willy arrive as the investigative team, who must act quickly before the Chairman arrives for the sculpture’s debut. Jim investigates and “finds out” that the rifle had no line of sight (it was fired through a stained-glass window, actually broken by a charge planted by window-washer Willy). It must’ve been pre-aimed and fired on a signal from an accomplice inside the museum. He calls for a search that leads to Cinnamon, and Jim gets Rollin to talk by roughing her up a little. They claim they’re brother and sister, survivors of a massacre Prohosh ordered during his days as security minister — no doubt a real one, or he’d know it was a lie. Prohosh’s total lack of emotion, casually taking a drink as this tale of his brutality is related, is rather chilling.
Meanwhile, Barney and Willy use their roles as security agents to slip into the hall containing the new sculpture. This is the really cool and clever part. To remain hidden while working on a sculpture that’s periodically checked by a guard, they borrow a trick from bunraku puppetry. They angle the base lights of the sculpture forward and strip down to all-black suits, so that if the guard comes in, they can hide by standing still against the black curtain behind the statue. Barney has a motion sensor hidden in an ashtray outside to warn them if the guard is coming. First they identify the McGuffinite rod hidden among all the others in the sculpture and mark it for later reference. Then they take welding torches to the thing and weaken and rearrange it. Yeah, it stinks that their plan requires vandalizing a work of art, but it’s still cleverly handled. Their plan is endangered by two of the funniest obstacles I’ve seen on this show. First, the maid empties the ashtrays, so Barney’s motion detector goes bye-bye. They have to chance continuing their work, so they’re caught off guard when, well, two guards come in to look at the sculpture. They’ve just worked a big piece of the sculpture loose, so Willy has to hold the heavy piece perfectly still while the guards engage in some impromptu art criticism that threatens to go on forever. Finally the guards leave and our guys are able to finish their work, retrieving the McGuffinite and planting a small explosive charge. (I surmise they had to weaken the sculpture so that it would fall apart in a way suggesting a larger explosive, and rearrange some pieces to minimize the danger to spectators. But that isn’t spelled out.)
Jim manages to slip a duplicate detonator into Prohosh’s jacket before the Chairman arrives. The Chairman is kind of a sweet old gentleman (Charles H. Radilak), a bit oddly considering that he’s supposed to be the head of a Communist government. But I guess the idea is that Prohosh is the only real threat. If the Chairman didn’t come off as a nicer guy, it wouldn’t seem as if the team had accomplished anything by preserving the status quo. Anyway, Jim is concerned that Barney & Willy aren’t done yet, so he tries to stall the Chairman by claiming his father served with him — a plan that almost goes south when the Chairman asks his father’s name, but just then our boys come out, back in suits. They arrange to get Prohosh to go off and call his assistant just before the bomb goes off, making the Chairman suspicious. Jim finds the remains of the radio trigger and tells the guards to search for a detonator, which they find in Prohosh’s pocket. Jim walks off while Prohosh protests his innocence, and a couple of karate chops later, Rollin and Cinnamon are free and the whole team leaves. There’s no obvious reason why the Chairman should’ve suspected Prohosh — especially since Barney quite audibly called him away to the phone just a few feet away from the Chairman — but given how the Chairman smiles to himself as Prohosh is taken away, it’s clear there’s no love lost, and this guy did demote Prohosh to a minor job in the first place. Maybe he just seized the opportunity to get rid of the guy once and for all.
I guess the formula of this show demands that the villain be doomed at the end, and scripter John D. F. Black (formerly a story editor on Star Trek) effectively paints Prohosh as a monster whose return to power would be disastrous. But I have to wonder if it was necessary to frame him for an attempt on the Chairman’s life. All that would’ve been necessary was to remove the McGuffinite from the sculpture, so that Prohosh’s attempt to get back into power would’ve been discredited. I suppose it could be argued that he would’ve kept trying, but that’s too vague and abstract a threat to make it convincing. Usually in plots like this, the villain is on the verge of doing something immediately menacing and so arranging his death or downfall can be justified (at least by the harsh logic of a spy show). But as evil as Prohosh is, he doesn’t have any clearly established goals beyond restoring his political influence. True, if he became security minister again, thousands of people in his country would suffer. But how is that a grave enough threat to America’s security to justify sending in the IMF?
So all in all, it’s a clever and effective episode, but the underlying threat that motivates the story is too vague.
“Trial by Fury”: Oddly, this is the second episode in a row where the briefing scene begins with a closeup on Cinnamon’s lips (since in both episodes her lipstick is one of the gadgets of the week). The mission: In a totalitarian Latin American country, resistance leader Delgado (Ernest Sarracino) is being held in a prison camp, passing messages to the resistance through his follower Cardoza (Michael Tolan), who’s had himself arrested and been a model prisoner so he could become a trustee and thus gain access to Delgado. But his good behavior has made the hardened prisoners suspect him of being the informant who rats them out to the Commandante (Joseph Bernard, Tark from Star Trek‘s “Wolf in the Fold”). So his life is in danger. Barney asks why they can’t just break Delgado and Cardoza out, but Jim says they want to stay in prison, since it makes Delgado a martyr and a rallying point for the resistance. They need to go in and expose the real informant in a way that preserves Cardoza’s cover.
What follows is one of the most intense, intriguing M:I episodes to date, written by Sy Salkowitz, who also wrote the format-breaking “The Town.” It also features a strong guest cast anchored by the great Paul Winfield (known to Trek fans as Capt. Terrell in The Wrath of Khan and Dathon in TNG: “Darmok”) in one of his earliest roles, a prisoner named Klaus who rules the barracks along with Sperizzi (frequent M:I heavy Sid Haig in his biggest role yet) and Leduc (Victor French). The “Latin American” prison camp bears an uncanny resemblance to Stalag 13, since it was shot in the same part of the Culver City backlot where Hogan’s Heroes was lensed.
Rollin plays a military driver who brings in a new group of prisoners including Jim and Barney, who stage a fight right off the bat in order to get thrown in the barracks with the hardened prisoners. He asks Col. Klink — err, the Commandante — if he can stay until the next scheduled prisoner transfer since he doesn’t like the mountain roads. The next day, Jim and Barney get acquainted with the prisoners — after witnessing the brutal murder of a prisoner attempting to escape, since the informants tipped off the guards. Furious at the execution, Klaus and his cohorts become determined to kill Cardoza. But Barney, still new to the prison, happens to let slip to Cardoza that he’s planning an escape. Sperizzi and Leduc tell him of his mistake; Cardoza is sure to tip off the Commandante.
The challenge faced here by Jim and Barney is a great departure from the norm. Typically an episode of M:I is about the team playing out an elaborate, clockwork scheme revolving around manipulating people and events with assorted gadgets and tricks. They have every move planned in advance and the whole operation is a cold, intellectual exercise. But this is nothing like that. Jim and Barney are thrown into the barracks with no resources but their wits. They don’t know who the informant is and have to find out somehow. And most of all, they have to convince an angry mob of hardened criminals not to murder the man they’re convinced is their betrayer. Instead of tricks and gimmicks, Jim and Barney have to rely on their persuasive skills, and they have to do it without giving away their true motives.
That night, Klaus and Sperizzi kidnap Cardoza and drag him to the barracks. (Sgt. Schultz sees nothing.) Luckily for the team, they don’t kill him outright. First, they put him through a gauntlet that’s harrowing and compelling to watch, forcing him to make a walk of shame, enduring the chanting (“Walk! Walk! Walk!”), accusations, and abuse of the prisoners. Jim and Barney have to play along, and can only hope they’ll be able to prevent Cardoza’s murder somehow.
Meanwhile, Cinnamon arrives as a Red Cross worker, accompanied not by Willy (who sits this one out), but by Valesquez (Edmund Hashim), an actual local Red Cross representative helping the team. (I have a hard time believing the Red Cross would get involved in a spy mission like this; if anyone found out, it would jeopardize their neutrality.) They are nominally there to check on Delgado and the other prisoners, but the care packages Cinnamon delivers (while Klaus and Sperizzi are hiding Cardoza in the shower) include a couple of special packages for Jim and Barney. Also, Cinnamon’s job is to wait in the Commandante’s office until he gets a message from the informant, then find a way to get Jim and Barney the necessary info to expose him and clear Cardoza.
As the prisoners prepare to hang Cardoza, Jim and Barney try to delay things by confronting him themselves, asking questions that sound accusatory but give him the chance to speak, to give his side of the story. Cardoza asks what they’ll do tomorrow when he’s dead and the real informant tells the Commandante, and Jim argues that he may be right. Still, Klaus and the others aren’t convinced. Jim and Barney get weapons from Cinnamon’s care packages and threaten the others, telling them not to kill Cardoza until their escape the next day.
But the Commandante has gotten a message from the informant on a sheet of foil from a cigarette box. As it happens, Leduc had earlier been established with a habit of making animal figures out of the foil from empty cigarette boxes. Cinnamon and her Red Cross cohort arrange to get hold of the foil wrapper once the Commandante throws it out, then Cinnamon signals Rollin to come get it, and he contrives an excuse to visit the barracks, slipping it to Jim. Afterward, Klaus and Sperizzi overpower Jim and Barney and start to proceed with the hanging, while the ever-noble Cardoza offers to write a suicide note so they won’t be punished. But Jim calls for them to wait, claiming to have picked Rollin’s pocket and found the tinfoil message. Luckily, the prisoners don’t stop to question the convenience of this. It’s enough to tip them off that Leduc is the informant. At Jim and Barney’s request, the prisoners keep Leduc alive until after they make their escape the next morning. Leduc makes an attempt to speak to the Commandante, but Rollin prevents it. Then Rollin, Cinnamon, and Red Cross Guy arrange a collision of their respective vehicles as they leave, and Jim and Barney take them hostage in the confusion and use the Red Cross car to break out. Klaus and Sperizzi stab Leduc in the back, and the prisoners cheer on the escape.
All in all, a marvelous departure from routine, like Salkowitz’s previous script, but this time achieved within the context of a conventional mission. The trick was that this mission operated on a far more personal level, requiring the characters to use their wits, strength of will, and persuasiveness. And it forced Jim and Barney to spend the episode in a very dangerous situation where their control was minimal. Far from the usual episode where the plan goes like clockwork with only the occasional brief snag at the act breaks, this time the danger faced by the team is ongoing and palpable. This is the kind of story they should do far more often.
And yet I wonder if maybe this episode was conceived as a money-saving bottle show. It takes place mostly on a few backlot sets and is dependent more on drama and human interaction than action, gadgets, or effects. Such episodes often turn out to be dramatic high points of a series, such as “The Drumhead” on Star Trek: The Next Generation or “Duet” on ST: Deep Space Nine. In this case, with most of the story being a tense personal confrontation on a single set, the story has a very theatrical feel, in the best sense of the word.
Well, that didn’t take long. ”No Dominion” is now up at DayBreak Magazine. Here’s the direct link:
Readers of my Power Rangers review posts should be aware of my deep and abiding crush on Amy Jo Johnson, the original Pink Ranger on Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. In my opinion, she is not only the most gorgeous and sexy Power Ranger ever, but the most talented and charismatic actor in the history of the franchise. I always expected she’d have a brilliant career ahead of her and achieve great fame, and it always surprised me that that didn’t happen. Still, she’s had a pretty active career in TV with a lot of series gigs, but somehow I’ve managed to miss most of them, alas. I guess that as a rule my viewing habits are too narrowly focused on SF/fantasy and I often overlook shows in other genres.
Anyway, I did discover recently that she’s been a regular on the Canadian series Flashpoint, and that CBS has been rebroadcasting it. And starting with the current season, I’ve finally managed to catch it. I’ve seen two episodes so far, and it’s an interesting show, about an elite team of Vancouver cops who deal with special cases and use all sorts of cutting-edge technology and forensics to figure out a case at high speed, sort of a cross between SWAT, the CSI version of a forensic team, and, ohh, Starfleet security or something. It reminds me of an unsold Gene Roddenberry premise I read about once, The Tribunes, that would’ve been about cops using futuristic, high-tech methods to solve crimes. Except it’s a lot faster-paced than that would’ve been. I like it so far; in addition to AJJ, it features Enrico Colantoni (Galaxy Quest, Veronica Mars) as the team leader, and he’s always fun to watch. And though the characters are tough and almost military in their attitudes, the show seems to have less emphasis on gunplay and more on peaceful crisis resolution than a typical US cop show, at least in the two episodes I’ve seen. I like that.
But my main interest is Amy Jo. And she is still just as awesome as ever. I mean, she was 38 when the episodes I’m seeing were made, and she’s still just as stunning as she was 17 years ago. Not sure about the figure, since she’s usually wearing heavy tactical gear, but the face is virtually unchanged from her early 20s. And her voice is as sweet and lyrical and lovely as ever. And she’s gotten even better as an actress. She didn’t have too much to do in the first episode I saw, but in the one that aired this past Friday, she had a very emotional speech at the climax about dealing with the recent death of a teammate, and I was just utterly enraptured. She was brilliant. I’m reminded of how impressed I was by her acting back in the Power Rangers days, particularly an episode where the Rangers were watching in horror as their giant battle robots got destroyed by the bad guys (not to worry, they got new ones an episode or two later), and Amy Jo put such anguish and poignancy into her reaction to this silly, fanciful thing that it totally sold it as something tragic. You’d think she was watching a friend die. That’s how good she was at making you care, at making you believe. I always found her sincerity utterly captivating. And she’s only gotten better. Dang, I’m getting misty-eyed just thinking about that Flashpoint scene.
Anyway, an incredible actress, nowhere near as acclaimed as she deserves. Although I read she did get a Gemini Award nomination for Flashpoint, which is a step in the right direction.
I’m sure my legion of loyal fans (all 5 or 6 of you) are wondering why “No Dominion” didn’t show up on DayBreak Magazine on its scheduled debut date of June 11th. Apparently there’s been a bit of a delay, but I can tell you that the process is underway; I’ve been working with the editor on the final copyedits. So I expect it should go live soon. Once it becomes available, I’ll post the permalink to the story’s page. And of course there will be the usual website update with “behind-the-scenes” discussion and annotations.
I came upon the DVD of Terminator Salvation at the library, and decided that since it was free, I might as well take a look at it in the name of completism, despite having read a lot of negative reviews. I don’t intend to add in-depth to that catalog of reviews, but I figured I’d write down a few thoughts.
Basically, the reviews were right. This isn’t a good movie. It might make a good video game, since it puts all its effort and attention into action and spectacle, but has little interest in character, dialogue, or story. The first half-hour or so of the film is almost monosyllabic, as if they were paying the actors by the word and trying to cut costs as much as possible. It got somewhat better in this regard later on, but it sure as heck wasn’t a film driven by dialogue.
The film failed to do the most important thing it should’ve done, which is to make John Connor convincing. Christian Bale’s Connor is just plain unsympathetic, and the film never showed me why anyone would follow him. It’s like they just expected us to buy him as the leader because he’s John Connor. Which, okay, is exactly what Terminator fans would expect, but what about the characters in the movie? What’s their reason?
The one really engaging performer here is Anton Yelchin as the young Kyle Reese. Despite the limitations of the dialogue, he manages to come off as the kind of charismatic, natural leader that John Connor should be. This performance just underlines for me what a terrific casting job they did on Abrams’s Star Trek. Yelchin was the most effective cast member here, just as John Cho was on FlashForward.
Given that Sam Worthington was the star of the film, I don’t really have much to say about him. He was there, and he yelled a lot. Moon Bloodgood did okay, but her character had no real personality; she was just The Girl, and she developed an insta-rapport with Worthington’s Marcus because the script told her to. Michael Ironside was wasted as the one-dimensional obstructionist cliche in charge of the resistance. Bryce Dallas Howard was… there. Helena Bonham Carter was… briefly there, then briefly there again as an avatar created by Skynet to provide convenient exposition to Marcus. (Why would Skynet bother to talk to one of its own drones? Having it communicate in a human way at all really diminishes the basic inhumanity of it and is really cliched.)
And could that stuff about Marcus’s “incredibly strong heart” have been any more contrived and silly — and any more predictable, once Connor was injured in the climax?
Basically it felt like going through the motions. They threw in all the lines, “Come with me if you want to live,” “I’ll be back,” “No fate but what we make,” without regard to whether they fit. They threw in the basic bits, Sarah Connor, Kyle Reese, the birth of the T-800, and it felt more obligatory than inspired. After a year and a half of The Sarah Connor Chronicles, this just feels lifeless and shallow by comparison. It is kind of a wild idea doing a story that is simultaneously a sequel to Terminator 3 and a prequel to The Terminator, but the execution doesn’t live up to the potential.
One thing I will give it: in the 7-11 sequence with the big harvester thing, they managed to avert a few tiresome action-movie tropes, at least to an extent. The action-movie cliche is that any time a gas tank is hit by a bullet, it instantly explodes — something that essentially never happens in real life, as the Mythbusters showed, unless you use tracer rounds and the tank is already so full of holes that there’s enough air and gasoline vapor to allow combustion. But here, Marcus shot at the tanker truck’s detached tank repeatedly and got no explosion until the little mute kid gave him a flare to ignite the trail of gasoline. Now, here’s where a mythical action trope didn’t get averted, because the tank really did blow up, rather than just burning as it more probably would have. But allowing for that conceit, they got the next part right, which is that a liquid-fuel explosion isn’t very powerful, so it didn’t really do any substantial damage to the harvester. All in all, a surprising bit of credibility in the way the sequence was handled, allowing for a certain amount of poetic license.
Although in the rest of the film, physics was pretty much on vacation, as you’d expect in an action flick. Connor was unharmed by impacts that should’ve shattered his spine and explosions that should’ve perforated him with shrapnel. And the whole “blowing up the nuclear fuel cells” thing at the end was wrong on so many levels.
So now I’ve seen Terminator Salvation. And it just made me appreciate The Sarah Connor Chronicles that much more.
“The Town”: As usual, we open with Jim driving his big blue convertible, but wait! There’s music and onscreen credits! And instead of finding a tape somewhere, Jim pulls into a small-town gas station just off the freeway and starts chatting with the attendant. In the first season, this could’ve been an exchange of code phrases prior to getting the message, but that hasn’t been done (at least not audibly) in this season, and it goes on way too long. This time, it’s not spy stuff. Jim is on vacation, heading up to the mountains to do some deer hunting with a friend. He goes into the pharmacy/diner to get a bite to eat, and a good-looking young couple, Jan and Marty (Brioni Farrell and Robert Pickering), come in to pick up something the (very cute) clerk has waiting for them. Jan trips and falls, causing a gas gun to fall out of her bag and spew bright blue smoke like something out of a Batman episode. Jim helps get her and everyone else out into the fresh air, but is surprised when the local lawman pulls a gun on him. It seems everyone in town is in on something nasty. They take Jim captive and escort him to Doc (Grandpa Walton himself, Will Geer), who’s leading a briefing about an upcoming assassination which will send a message to “other defectors.” While Doc discusses the matter of Jim with his henchman, the gas station attendant Williams (Eddie Ryder), the briefing is continued by an assistant (William O’Connell, who played another spy in Star Trek‘s “Journey to Babel”), and Jim overhears some important code phrases. Apparently the idea involves making the target’s death look like a fatal fall in the tub; it’s unclear where the gas gun comes in. It seems this is a whole town of implicitly Soviet agents who’ve successfully infiltrated the States. Since Jim was going to meet a friend, Doc decides they can’t just kill him. He has another plan…
Up at the lodge, we see that it was Rollin whom Jim planned to meet, and he’s troubled that Jim’s late and hasn’t called. Backtracking, he comes into town just as Jan and Marty leave and recognizes Jim’s car at the gas station. Doc tells Rollin that Jim has had a stroke, is unable to speak, and is likely to die. They’ve actually got him paralyzed with curare, but Rollin doesn’t know that yet. Martin Landau’s performance as a Rollin who really thinks his friend is dying is superb, full of much deeper emotion than he ever shows when he’s playing Rollin playing someone else. In short, Martin Landau is a better actor than Rollin Hand.
To build suspense, the scenes in the town are intercut with scenes of Marty and Jan driving relentlessly closer to Los Angeles, accompanied by pulse-pounding Gerald Fried music from “Trek.” Really an awful lot of footage of a car driving along the freeway, but it’s surprisingly effective. Meanwhile, Rollin is keeping vigil over Jim, and reading a newspaper revealing that a prominent Soviet rocket scientist who’s defected to the US is in LA. We see that he must be the target, but Rollin’s still in the dark. Meanwhile, we hear voiceovers of Jim’s thoughts as, trapped in a paralyzed body, he struggles to communicate something to Rollin. It’s refreshing and effective to see Jim so helpless and desperate, Rollin so clueless. Usually the team is completely on top of the situation, with implausibly thorough knowledge of enemy plans and psychology and a strategy for every contingency. The obstacles they face generally crop up fifteen seconds before a commercial break and are resolved fifteen seconds after the break ends. It’s not very suspenseful that way, and sometimes the team is so completely in control that you feel sorry for the hapless people they’re scamming. But here there’s genuine suspense and distress.
Eventually, Rollin realizes that Jim is blinking an SOS. He asks the nurse to go get a cup of coffee and tells Jim to use Captain Pike code, one blink for yes, two for no. Once Rollin learns enough to know it’s a trap, he has to improvise a plan on the spot. He asks whether they’ve called Jim’s wife, and when it turns out they didn’t know he was married, he asks to contact her himself. Knowing the call will be bugged, he calls Cinnamon and asks for “Mrs. Phelps.” She catches on and answers in character. He tells her her “husband” is very ill and may not pull through. He asks her to come at once and hire a chauffeur, since she’ll be too distraught to drive. And he asks after her baby and says he looks forward to seeing “Little Willy” soon. Oh, and to bring some of Rollin’s “things” along with her.
So the team mobilizes quickly, figuring out what to do even with such little information. Barney arrives as the chauffeur hired by Cinnamon. Shortly thereafter, Willy comes in as a trucker who has a breakdown just outside Doc’s house. Willy fakes an injury trying to fix his truck (with some ludicrously bright fake blood), and Chauffeur Barney helps him over to Doc’s house. (I guess it’s reasonable that they could’ve deduced this was what they needed to do. Since Jim was being held by a doctor, they needed an excuse to get the whole team in there.) Once inside, the team overpowers Doc and his nurse, and Rollin can openly interrogate Jim using Morse-code blinks. Jim warns them that “Man woman killers” are heading to Los Angeles (why couldn’t he just blink “LA”?) to kill the scientist/defector. The team figures out that they have to stop the assassination and get Jim out safely even with the whole town against them.
Naturally, this being M:I, it involves Rollin impersonating Doc. Here’s where the plausibility breaks down. What Rollin said to Cinnamon about bringing his “things” seems to have been forgotten; instead, they MacGyver up a makeup kit from the gear in Doc’s office. (Well, Cinnamon does bring a wig and some white dye, but that’s it.) The most implausible part is that they melt down a clear plastic sterile sheet from the surgical bed, which comes out of the process as white latex, and then emerges from the plaster mold of Doc’s face as a perfect flesh-colored mask.
In LA, the assassins have arrived in their hotel, and Marty calls Doc (Great Scott!) for clearance to proceed with the assassination. Rollin, without even practicing first, pulls off a perfect Grandpa Walton impression and gives them the code phrase (courtesy of Jim) meaning to wait. Donning the completed Doc mask, Rollin tells Williams to let Trucker Willy leave town unharmed (though for some reason he phrases this as “Get rid of the truck driver,” and for some reason Williams understands that to mean “Let him leave safely,” in defiance of every tenet of Henchman English 101). Doc Rollie-day then fakes killing Jim and calls in a hearse to take him and the others out. Willy’s already called the cops in on Marty and Jan, and now they’re just waiting for the signal to move in on the town. Rollin calls a town meeting to go over their failure, which is really just an excuse to get all the spies in one place so the cops can move in on them, which they do in force while Rollin pulls off the mask and rejoins his team, including the recuperating Jim. The episode ends exactly as the series pilot did, with a zoom-in on the discarded mask lying on the ground.
Despite its credibility issues (which are no worse than usual for this show), this is just about the most interesting episode of the season so far. It’s a stretch that secret agent Jim Phelps should just happen to stumble across a spy ring while on vacation, but it’s refreshing to see the team taken by surprise and having to improvise like this. There was an attempt to do the same in “The Condemned” two episodes earlier, but it wasn’t as effective. It was also refreshing to see the team members showing some genuine emotion and being themselves in a crisis rather than just in the apartment briefing. That happened far more in the first season — the team members breaking character, letting us see them as they really were. Sometimes it was in extended preparation sequences as in “Memory” or behind-the-scenes out-of-character moments as in “Old Man Out.” Sometimes it was because the need for deception was past and the team confronted the enemies directly, as in the climax of the pilot. Sometimes it was because they spent more time interacting with fellow spies than having to role-play, as in “Elena.” But in the second season, it’s been almost unheard-of for us to see the team ever drop character in any substantive way outside the apartment briefing. That’s why it’s refreshing to have episodes like “The Condemned” and “The Town,” and no doubt why they did a lot more “non-mission” episodes like this in the seasons to come, but it makes the run-of-the-mill episodes rather flat and formulaic by contrast.
“The Killing”: And now, back to the flat and formulaic. In stock footage, Jim is assigned to the case of Bert Gordon (Gerald S. O’Loughlin), a mob assassin for hire, or rather assassin contractor. He never gets close enough to the killings to be linked to them, and he always gets rid of the bodies in his incinerator, or rather his henchman Connie (Roy Jensen, aka Cloud William in Star Trek‘s “The Omega Glory”) does, so there’s no hard evidence of the murders. The team must incriminate him and put a stop to his business.
Given that setup, the scheme is surprisingly domestic — and oddly unearthly. Gordon’s superstitious, so the IMF team sets up one of their patented supernatural scams. Somehow, Jim and Cinnamon arrange to move in next door to Gordon, playing a married couple, and invite him over for a get-to-know-you dinner along with Jim’s “brother” Rollin. (Whose character name is Douglas, but there’s a scene where I’d swear Cinnamon calls him “Dan” and “Danny.”) Jim’s a surly drunk, but the others are more concerned about the ghost of their dead brother Bobby, who shows up and poltergeists around from time to time, including during dinner. But this haunting is taken rather in stride, and once Rollin puts Jim to bed and leaves, Cinnamon gets seductive with Gordon, saying she knows who he is and wants him to kill her husband. Gordon sensibly denies everything, but Jim is outside taking pictures of their makeout session. The next day, he barges in on them in Gordon’s home and attacks Gordon, forcing Connie to stab him to death.
Not to worry, though; Jim’s wearing the latest fashion from the house of Collier, a heavy sweater with several layers of body armor and fake blood in the lining. Connie takes the “body” to the incinerator, and how a professional killer fails to notice that the corpse he’s carrying still has a pulse and respiration is unexplained. Just as implausibly, Connie throws Jim into the incinerator’s active flame, which must be hot enough to cremate human bodies completely, and yet Jim’s totally unharmed when Barney and Willy help him climb out the back.
Anyway, during dinner the previous night, Barney and Willy broke into Gordon’s house to gimmick it up. Now, using special-effects equipment, they fake wind, thunder, and lightning, and Cinnamon shows up at Gordon’s house claiming that Jim is haunting her, or rather hunting her down. Barney’s gimmicks fake spectral visitations in Gordon’s house. Willy breaks back in upstairs and makes noises, then knocks out Connie when he comes to investigate and puts a fast-dissolving Jim mask on him. They set it up so a spooked Gordon thinks he’s seeing Jim’s ghost, or Jim brought back to life, or something, so he picks up a rifle and fires repeatedly. The mask dissolves and he sees he’s killed Connie. Jim calls the cops and the team heads off as sirens wail.
As the quick recap shows, this was a pretty ordinary episode without much of anything noteworthy about it. The most interesting part was the glimpse of the device used to simulate lightning flashes in those days, a pyrotechnic thing that shot out a geyser of smoke and very bright flame, maybe some kind of magnesium flare. Otherwise a forgettable episode, and quite a letdown after “The Town.”
The headphones for use with my cell phone arrived a little while ago, so I made my first attempt to copy one of my CDs onto the memory card and play it on my phone. I went with my perennial favorite, Jerry Goldsmith’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture score, to start with. I wasn’t sure I had the necessary software to pull it off, or the necessary skill to use it if I did, but apparently Windows Media Player came with the rest of Windows, and it was a simple one-click operation to copy the whole album. It took longer than I would’ve liked; my PC runs rather hot, so I don’t like leaving CDs in there any longer than absolutely necessary. Once it was done, it took me a bit of time to figure out how to copy the files to the memory card, but when I did, it went a lot faster. I wasn’t sure the phone could read the .wma format of the files, because I thought it was supposed to be .mp3, but all I could do was try it and find out. So I took out the microSD card from its adapter, stuck it into the phone, and turned the phone on. It took a bit longer, and a consultation of the instruction book, to figure out how to access the music on the memory card. But once I figured out I needed the “AT&T Music” menu, it was easy to navigate to “Albums,” which gave me the whole album with the tracks in order. So I hit OK, and lo and behold, there was “Ilia’s Theme” playing on my telephone!
The audio quality isn’t perfect. The maximum volume is a little low and there’s disappointingly little bass. Other than that, though, the playback was nice and clean. And best of all is the convenience. I’ll be able to put a couple of dozen albums at a time on the memory card (in retrospect, I should’ve gotten the 4GB one instead of the 2GB) and listen to them wherever I go. This will be very handy for me when I go to the Shore Leave convention next month. In the past, I’ve brought along a CD player, two or three CDs, and spare batteries, but now I can just bring my phone and the headphones (and of course the phone’s charger), and have a much larger selection to listen to. And the lack of bass won’t be too great a problem since the sound of the Greyhound bus engine would tend to drown it out anyway.
There’s also the convenience of having a music player I can carry in my pocket. My portable CD player doesn’t have a belt clip or a strap or anything, so it hasn’t really been very portable. And it’s prone to skips and its audio quality isn’t great, with a constant hiss. It’s pretty old. Anyway, this should give me more flexibility in how and when I listen to music, which is something I don’t do often enough anymore.
Of course, I still have to copy all those CDs onto the memory card. And I’m sure there’s still stuff I have to figure out about organizing them, creating “playlists,” and so forth. But now I have the proof of concept.
I might end up leaving my camera at home and using my phone for that too. In the past, I’ve often forgotten I had the camera tucked away in my bag, and so it hasn’t done me any good to bring it anyway. And to be honest, I’m not really a big picture-taker anyway.
I’ve now reached the point where the 300-ish dollars I’d accumulated on my prepaid phone card plan has run out and I have to pay a monthly bill, after getting about half a year of “free” (or rather prepaid) service. Now I’m spending substantially more per month than I did on the prepaid plan. But the phone I have now is so much better equipped, so I guess it’s worth it.
Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of reading up on quantum physics, time travel, and so forth as preparation for Star Trek DTI. I want to ground my treatment of Trek temporal physics in as much real science as possible. So I’ve been reading articles and papers as well as hard-SF novels on time travel.
Today I finally got around to visiting the index of John G. Cramer’s “Alternate View” sciene columns for Analog Science Fiction and Fact. One of the columns I read there, “Quantum Telephones to Other Universes, to Times Past”, involved the concept of nonlinear quantum mechanics, an idea that, if true, might allow communication between alternate timelines, something that the conventional linear model of QM deems impossible. I figured this idea might serve a particular purpose in my book, though I hadn’t worked out the details yet and needed to do some more reading on the subject.
Then, just a little while ago, I did some reading in a book I’ve been working through all week, The Time Ships by Stephen Baxter, which is a 1995 sequel to H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine, written in the same style as if by the same narrator, but based on modern notions of physics including Many-Worlds quantum mechanics. And the part I was reading, in the “White Earth” portion late in the book, involved the main characters having a discussion of — get this — nonlinear quantum mechanics and how it might allow communication between timelines! And when I read about it in the terms used by Baxter, it clarified the idea further and let me realize that this tied into a key element of my time-travel model for DTI and might be the answer to tying some rather fundamental things together in a coherent way.
Then the fact sank in that I came across something so potentially important twice in the span of five hours. That was a “whoa” moment. Of course, I know coincidences happen. And given that I’ve been aggressively researching the theoretical physics of time travel from various angles for weeks, it was inevitable that I’d come across this idea eventually. After all, the number of ideas in theoretical physics pertaining to time travel is finite and the same ideas will be discussed in various different places. And since I’m reading up on so many of them in various sources within a short amount of time, it’s not really that unlikely that I might come upon one in two different sources on the same day. So I know there’s nothing special about what happened. My own choices created a selection pressure that increased the probability of such an event to a moderately high level.
But for such a moment of synchronicity to occur specifically when I’m looking into matters of quantum probability and causality violation… and for it to be something that might be an answer I’ve been seeking for weeks… well, it’s certainly a weird sensation. And the more fanciful side of my nature wouldn’t mind taking it as a good omen.
I made an appointment yesterday to bring in the car to the dealership for its regular (and probably late) maintenance, and it turns out I timed it very well. When I got into the lounge, there was one chocolate-coated donut left.
When I asked if they had wi-fi, the secretary didn’t recognize the term. But she did know what wireless internet was. Interesting.
“The Condemned”: For the first time in Jim Phelps’ tenure, the second time overall, we get an episode that doesn’t open with a mission assignment from the Secretary. And for the first time in the series, we get the opening credits shown over the action instead of over the dossier, since there’s no dossier scene. This is a personal mission for Jim; a friend of his, Webster (Kevin Hagen, who was the heroes’ nemesis Inspector Kobick in Land of the Giants), has been falsely convicted of murder in a south-of-the-border country (implicitly Mexico, given the quick travel time). For unexplained reasons, perhaps because saving the world keeps him so busy, Jim doesn’t arrive until the day before the execution, so he has very little time to find the real killer of the late George Corley. He calls in Rollin, Barney, and Willy, but tells them it’s strictly a volunteer mission with nothing at stake but the life of his friend. Naturally they all agree to help. It’s the first time we get any real inkling of Jim Phelps as a person or his relationship with the others. Nothing very substantial, but it’s a humanizing moment in a show that’s chosen to avoid them for the most part.
While Barney taps the phone of Webster’s girlfriend Louisa (Marianna Hill, aka Helen Noel from Star Trek‘s “Dagger of the Mind,” though she’s gone blonde here), who testified against him and apparently helped set him up for the crime, Rollin and Willy come to Webster’s cell disguised as priests, to administer last rites. In fact, Willy has some lightweight steel panels under his robe that match the walls of the cell. They erect a fake wall about a foot in front of the real one, and after they leave, Webster hides behind it, making the guards think he’s escaped.
Meanwhile, Jim searches Corley’s house and finds a hidey-hole containing a box filled only with shredded Greek newspaper. He’s surprised and captured by Constantine (Will Kuluva), who’s looking for a priceless antique crown stolen by Corley; he thinks Webster was Corley’s accomplice. Jim pretends to be a private eye hired to help Webster but suspecting a double-cross on hearing of Webster’s “escape,” and thus willing to work with Constantine to track him down.
Rollin masks up as Webster and goes to confront Louisa, who confesses at gunpoint that she set him up as a scapegoat for Corley’s murder. But she doesn’t know anything more, so Rollin leaves, “scared off” by the fake siren Jim and Willy set off. Louisa calls her partner, Warner (Peter Donat, who was Mulder’s father in The X-Files and the main villain in the 1993 series Time Trax), and the bugged phone gives Barney the number. Jim and Willy follow her to her meeting with Warner, who stole the crown but is unwilling to leave town until his face is “ready.” When Louisa confesses that she doesn’t trust herself not to spill the beans, Warner kills her. Spotting Jim, he prepares to shoot him as well, but rather ignominiously falls prey to a broken railing and plummets to his death with a very Wilhelm-like scream (though not the actual Wilhelm). With her dying breath, Louisa reveals that Warner was actually… George Corley! The murder victim had his face blown off, and DNA testing was a long way away (though the fingerprint issue wasn’t addressed). So Corley got away with faking his death and was in the process of adopting a new identity.
Willy finds the stolen crown, but just giving it back to the cops won’t clear Webster, since they can’t prove Corley wasn’t killed (at the time). So Jim needs another plan. He approaches the cops as an insurance investigator looking for the crown; he says he’ll put out the word that he’s willing to pay a million bucks for the crown’s return, no questions asked, and thus lure Webster in. He gets the cops interested enough to bug his hotel room — where he’s visited by Constantine. Meanwhile, Rollin is disguising himself as Corley — pre-surgery, so he’ll be recognized. He uses the recording from the phone tap to learn Corley’s voice, then calls Jim’s room to arrange a meeting. Pre-surgery Corley is a different actor (Jon Cedar), and oddly they just electronically deepen his voice rather than dubbing Donat’s over him. It’s weird. Yet Constantine, the partner Corley betrayed, recognizes it as Corley’s voice, and the cops hear him say so over the tap. Also, the team left a replica of Corley’s glasses (with a rare prescription) by Louisa’s body.
But this is just the setup. Jim and the cops are watching as Constantine arrives to meet “Corley” and kill him. Rollin-as-Corley gets the drop on him, knocks him out, and drives off; the cops set off in pursuit. But Barney’s rigged the car to run on remote control. Rollin gets out of the car and puts the real Corley’s body (which must reek by now — odd that Constantine missed it) in the driver’s seat. Barney drives remotely through an extended car chase — and his controller has much greater range than the ones the Mythbusters use. The chase is scored with two of the big action arrangements of the M:I theme, first Jerry Fielding’s from the elevator climax in “The Council, Part 2,” then Gerald Fried’s climactic car chase cue from “Odds on Evil” — one of the few reuses of first-season music in season 2, and a welcome return. Anyway, after dragging out the chase far too long, Barney sends the car off a cliff — and mercifully, the producers don’t assume that cars automatically explode when going off cliffs, since Barney’s remote has a “Destruct” switch to set off the explosion. This burns Corley’s body enough to hide the plastic surgery and the real cause and time of death. And the cops find the crown in the wreckage, in a Barney-designed blastproof case (though they don’t seem curious as to why Corley would’ve used such a container if he didn’t plan on being blown up).
So the team has used trickery and deceit to reveal the actual truth: Corley was a killer, Webster is innocent. All that’s left is for Jim to send a signal to an earpiece worn by Webster, telling him it’s safe to come out from behind the fake wall. That way, I guess, he doesn’t even get charged with the jailbreak, since he actually never left his cell. But the guard is in for quite a surprise.
“The Condemned” is an interesting twist on the format. For once, the team doesn’t have extensive knowledge and preparation up front, but has to improvise and figure things out as they go. It’s nice to see them flying blind like that, since generally they’re way too much on top of the situation. However, ultimately even their improvised scheme seems as elaborately prepared as their usual schemes. It couldn’t have been easy, for instance, to rig a car for remote control in 1968. And where did Barney get the blastproof container that so perfectly fit around the crown? So a nice idea, a nice attempt to depart from the formula, but ultimately not managing to be different enough.
This episode is noteworthy as one of the four original-series episodes remade for the 1988 revival series. In it, the role of Jim’s wrongly accused friend was rewritten as Barney himself, in the first of Greg Morris’s three return appearances. And according to IMDb, the remake included the whole team including its female member (Casey Randall, played by Terry Markwell), whereas the original lacked Cinnamon. I have a vague memory of the remake — I recall the scenes of Barney in prison, which were the first time I ever saw Barney Collier as far as I can remember. I needed my father to explain to me that he was a member of Jim’s original team. I remember the fake wall, but I think it was fabric or paper simulating a stone or plaster wall. And I think I remember that the impersonation of the “escaped” prisoner (Barney in this case) was done, not by their Rollin counterpart, but by team regular Grant Collier, Barney’s son (played by Morris’s real son Phil Morris). But I don’t remember what role Casey played. My understanding was that the remakes were pretty much exact, since they were commissioned during the ’88 writers’ strike and rewriting wouldn’t have been allowed at the time, but this one has new writer credits according to online references, suggesting it was given a substantial rewrite after the strike ended.
“The Counterfeiter”: Another rerun tape sequence dubbed over with a new mission. Again, it’s in the vein that became routine in later seasons, the team going after a domestic criminal that conventional law enforcement can’t stop. Raymond Halder (Edmond O’Brien) is a medical-clinic administrator making a fortune selling worthless, counterfeit prescription pharmaceuticals. (I guess that’s profitable because the fakes are far cheaper to make than the real things, but can be sold for the same price.) Apparently that’s just a misdemeanor, or was in 1968, so while the government can fine him, they can’t stop him from killing thousands. That’s where the IMF comes in, with help from Dr. McConnell (Noah Keen), a laser specialist, who helpfully asks the questions that let the team give the legal exposition in the apartment scene.
The main scheme is pretty straightforward. The faked drug in question, Dilatrin, is for treating primary vascular disease. The team uses various means to induce the symptoms of the disease in Halder: they switch out his glasses to give him headaches, use an ultrasonic beam to make him dizzy, sabotage his blood-pressure cuff to make him think his pressure’s dangerously high, and finally use a subcutaneously focused laser beam to cause a harmless blood vessel rupture in his head. Then they take him to one of his own clinics and try to give him his own fakes, so he’ll be forced to confess they’re fakes, with a handy tape recorder running in the drawer.
It’s unusual for me to sum up the whole key plot in one paragraph, but it really is that simple. The rest is largely padding. There’s a subplot where Cinnamon plays a drug company executive with the details on an anti-counterfeiting redesign scheme for the drug, making her someone Halder wants to get on his payroll so he can find out how to keep his counterfeits current. (Cinnamon plays this character as rather cool and understated, but she has a curly hairstyle that’s unusually flattering and in general she looks far more glamorous and seductive than she acts.) Jim and Rollin play corrupt cops who get her on a fake drug charge and offer to let her go in exchange for a payoff. Halder pressures her into giving him the design secrets in exchange for making the payoff. But none of this really contributes much to the “make Halder think he’s dying” scheme, beyond positioning him in the places he needs to be for the team to work their disease-faking mojo. I suppose that is important; they couldn’t have pulled it off if they couldn’t control his movements. But there ought to have been a simpler way to do that, and it just feels like an excuse to give the whole team something to do and fill out the hour. There’s more padding than usual in other ways too, like an interminable scene where Halder takes his blood pressure twice and every step is shown in detail.
There’s also a major plot hole in the climax. When Halder meets Cinnamon, he’s in the audience at a presentation where Cinnamon talks about the counterfeit Dilatrin pills and how to identify them. So when he’s in his clinic at the end, he shouldn’t have to confess that he’s the counterfeiter in order to reveal his knowledge that the Dilatrin is counterfeit. He could’ve just said “I was at this presentation and they explained how to tell it’s a fake.” So the premise that they’ve forced him into a situation where he had no choice but to confess his guilt is unconvincing.
Still, it’s a nice touch at the end when the entire team shows up in his hospital room, literally surrounding him, and confronts him face-to-face to tell him just how screwed he is. It’s more satisfying than the usual ending where they just drive off together with the villain none the wiser (or dead). And as a nice, ironic touch, when Halder scoffs that all they’ve done is gotten him on a misdemeanor, Jim says that he’s confessed not just to making the pills, but to selling them, which is unreported income and will get him sent up the river for tax fraud, Al Capone-style.
The music is stock, of course, but it’s a nice eclectic selection of cues from both seasons so far. There seems to be more first-season music getting tracked lately, especially in this episode.
By the way, whoever put the DVD menu together for the disc starting with “The Counterfeiter” made an understandable mistake. The image accompanying the menu is a shot from “The Money Machine,” another episode about counterfeiting. Easy enough to get them confused, I guess.
There was a time, not so long ago, when a title like “Pictures from my phone” would be sheer gibberish, or at best something out of science fiction. But I’m gradually catching up to the 21st century, technology-wise, and today I bought a microSD card that enables me to copy the photos I’ve taken with my relatively new cell phone and transfer them to my home computer. And I can then transfer them here, so I’m going to do that just because I can.
(I actually got the card so I can transfer my CDs onto my phone and use it as an MP3 player. I still need to buy the special headphones that go with its particular type of jack, and I’m annoyed that LG didn’t use a standard headphone jack so I could use a set I already have. But buying the SD card and the headphones are still cheaper than buying a separate MP3 player.)
First off, an amusing thing I saw up on the corner. The Friar’s Club building that’s been there for a long time, and all the houses around it, just got demolished to make way for… I have no idea what. After the last major bit of demolition, I saw this (click to enlarge):
A perfectly intact doorway and wall section (aside from a torn canopy) leading into a pile of rubble… awesome. I wonder how far you could get inside? Not that I’d recommend it. Either you’d be underneath a bunch of unstable debris that might collapse on you, or you might find that this door leads to… The Twilight Zone!
Next, here’s a photo of a couple of cats I saw at the local park a while back:
They sort of followed me from in front as I strolled down the walk — staying ahead of me, with the striped one occasionally stopping and letting me pet her (?) for a bit. They pretty much maintained this relative distance from each other all the way down the hill.
On a more nostalgic note, here’s just about the last photo ever taken of Shadow:
I have a few seconds of video footage of Shadow on my phone, taken at about the same time, but I’m not sure they’re in a format playable online. Basically it’s just him sitting there glaring at me, like in the shot above, while I informed him that he was a pussycat. Which I think he already knew. But it bore repeating.
That’ll do it for now. Now that I have the means to transfer photos off my phone, maybe I’ll take more of them. Don’t expect me to post any Shore Leave photos until after the convention, though, since my laptop is relatively old and doesn’t have a port for the SD card adaptor. At this point, I can only copy between my phone and my (now-repaired) desktop PC.