“The Play”: Jim’s contact in the opening is a woman whose kids are playing on a rooftop swingset and slide. She directs him to a ladder to the upper level, and he helps the little girl up onto the slide as she goes by (but in the next shot, she’s just starting to approach the slide). The tape on the rooftop tells him to stop Kuro (John Colicos in the second of his three M:I appearances), Minister of Culture in an Eastern-bloc country called the UCR, from undermining the pro-American Premier Vados (Barry Atwater, so it’s Kor vs. Surak in Star Trek terms) with an aggressive anti-American propaganda campaign. Jim destroys the tape “in the usual manner” of tossing it into the adjacent chimney that’s been blowing smoke in his face the whole time. (Then Jim notices that the little girl heard his secret briefing, so he has to throw her off the roof. No, I made that part up.)
No dossier sequence, since it’s just the standard team, minus Willy (that’s two in a row with less than the complete cast). The apartment scene involves testing a “Cone of Silence”-type gizmo that somehow uses “radar” to block sound from outside and ensure the person under its influence hears only what’s transmitted through the gizmo; this is tested by firing a gun next to Rollin’s ear while he’s under the Cone of Silence, which is kind of mean given that he was almost deafened in that exact same way back in the first season’s “The Frame.” But then, since when did this show have continuity?
Cinnamon portrays an American playwright who’s written a play that a crowd (of actors hired by the team) denounces as anti-American. Jim and Rollin are her actors, playing the US president and UCR premier. The plan is to convince Kuro to put the play on in his own country, something he thinks will score a propaganda coup, an anti-American play written by an American, and painting Premier Vados in an unflattering light. But the team hits a major snag when Kuro insists on casting the UCR’s top actors in the leads instead of Jim and Rollin. And this is what makes it such a cool episode. Instead of the usual crises that get resolved in 30 seconds, this time the team has to spend most of the episode trying to get their plan back on track. First, Rollin goes to one of the two great actors, Enzor (Michael Tolan), and tempts him with a deal to play Lear on Broadway. After convincing Enzor that it isn’t a test of his loyalty, he switches identities with Enzor, who, being an actor in the M:I-verse, is naturally an expert at making totally convincing masks (though he doesn’t do voices, apparently). Then Rollin takes on Enzor’s identity and makes such a jerk of himself that the other actor storms out of the production, leaving Kuro no choice but to bring in Cinnamon’s preferred actor, Jim. Cinnamon and “Enzor”/Rollin go to the premier and warn him that Kuro’s changes to the play paint him damningly, so he’ll come to the theater and hear a rehearsal. The Cone of Silence, which Barney has installed over the premier’s seat, feeds him the fake, prerecorded lines, which are phrased to fit the mouth movements of the actors reading the normal lines that Kuro is hearing. Basically it comes down to the subtle distinction between satirizing Vados, which the open-minded premier is fine with, and outright slander such as accusing him of having a mistress and embezzled funds in a Swiss bank. Kuro gets dragged away, bewildered at this turn of events.
This is an enjoyable episode because it’s refreshing to see the team’s clockwork plans thrown off track and require them to struggle to fix things. It creates an element of suspense that’s too often missing. The episode also benefits from a very nice original score by Robert Drasnin, who does clever and novel things with the familiar Schifrin themes and adds a lyrical leitmotif for Enzor. And it features one of Barney’s most awesome gadgets ever, which I can only think to call a U-turn screwdriver — it uses a head with a couple of gears in it to let him turn a screwdriver head pointing backwards, so he can undo the screws on the outside of a grate from the inside. That’s utterly brilliant.
What bothers me about the episode, though, is that it basically depends on the team quashing the freedom of expression in another country. They get Kuro removed from power simply because he engages in anti-American propaganda. Which seems pretty hypocritical. On a less philosophical note, John Colicos’s character here is not nearly as rich and interesting as the previous character he played (in “The Reluctant Dragon”). A lot of the dialogue writing is rather heavy-handed.
“The Bargain”: Jim gets the briefing in the office of a roller-skating rink, as though a guy in a 3-piece suit walking through a skating rink would somehow be inconspicuous. The mission: deposed dictator Neyron (Albert Paulsen in the third of his five M:I appearances) is making a deal with mobster Layton (Warren Stevens) to finance his counter-coup to return to power in exchange for legalized gambling in his country. Naturally this must be stopped, and for the first time in three weeks we have the whole regular team doing it. Neyron’s Miami estate is impregnable, so Barney, Cinnamon, and Willy have to get invited in as his new chef and his assistants, after the team convinces his old chef to quit (off-camera). Meanwhile, Jim and Rollin check into Layton’s mob-owned hotel and convince him that Rollin is a wealthy recluse who seems to want to buy the hotel but is secretly making another kind of deal.
Now, here’s the bizarre part: the plan involves using various tricks and drugs to make Neyron think he’s come down with a rare disease that grants the power of precognition. Yes, you heard me, they made him think he came down with a bug that lets him predict the future. This culminates in showing him a pseudo-”holographically” projected film of Layton (actually Rollin in disguise) confronting him over a deal gone wrong and shooting him. Meanwhile, Jim and Rollin convince Layton that the wealthy recluse is horning in on his deal with Neyron, so he goes to Neyron’s home to take back the bonds he paid him — and coincidentally says and does almost exactly what Rollin did in the film, so Neyron will pre-emptively shoot him. And Jim calls the cops so Neyron will be arrested (though you’d think an investigation would reveal that the cops got the call before the shooting happened).
Okay, so, seriously — making a guy think he’s precognitive? That’s really reaching. And it’s totally unnecessary to the story. They could’ve done it without any of the fake disease/psychic power stuff, just taken the bonds from Neyron’s safe and done the same sting with Layton. That might’ve ended with Neyron shot instead of Layton, but then the cops could’ve arrested Layton, or else Neyron’s bodyguards would’ve dealt with him. Either way, the mission would’ve been accomplished.
So a mediocre and unbelievable episode, and one with no new music to interest me (though it used some worthwhile stock cues, including a lot from “The Contender”). My favorite gadget this week was an inflatable case that could change from looking like an attache case to looking like a doctor’s bag, so Jim could switch identities quickly.