MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S3) Reviews: “Illusion”/”The Interrogator” (spoilers)
Last two of the season!
“Illusion”: The mission (in a stock tape scene): a rather Germanic foreign country has three contenders for the post of chief of security, one of whom is US-friendly, the other two of whom are rivals but both want to “turn the whole country into a concentration camp,” as Tape Voice Guy puts it. Naturally, the mission is to take out both the bad candidates.
Bad Guy #1 is Skarbeck (Fritz Weaver with a beard), and the team knows from a smuggled letter that he killed a lounge singer he once loved, Carlotta, but covered it up so that it couldn’t be proven. He’s violently jealous and prone to blackouts. Cinnamon and Rollin play performers who’ve copied her act — Rollin is basically playing the Emcee from Cabaret, while Cinnamon is basically playing Marlene Dietrich, singing sexually suggestive songs in a flat, rough voice (or maybe Barbara Bain is just a poor singer). This is to get Skarbeck interested in Cinnamon, and when he talks to her backstage, she tells the right lies to make him realize she’s playing him. She says she’s working for Bad Guy #2, Lom (Kevin Hagen from Land of the Giants), and is supposed to seduce and compromise him. She’s willing to play along and work with Skarbeck to spy on Lom in return. Meanwhile, Jim and Cinnamon convince Lom they’re willing to work with him to make Skarbeck unstable and ruin him, though Lom and his aide are secretly willing to kill Cinnamon and blame Skarbeck.
Barney slips a hypnotic drug into Skarbeck’s pill bottle and Jim leaves a post-hypnotic suggestion that he should try to kill Cinnamon when she confesses to cheating on him with Lom. There’s concern on Jim’s face as he basically turns Skarbeck into a lethal weapon aimed at his colleague. But Cinnamon’s protected by a ring with a knockout-drug needle, which makes Skarbeck “black out” just after he thinks he’s killed her (which he hasn’t, but Jim has to stop Lom’s man from shooting her afterward). They take Skarbeck to the cabaret while the good-guy candidate Trock (Martin E. Brooks, the third and final Rudy Wells from the bionic shows), who’s actually working with the team, brings the clueless Lom there while Rollin-as-Lom and Jim taunt Skarbeck, telling him they made him kill Cinnamon. Willy dims the lights to let Rollin get away, and when the lights come up and Skarbeck sees the real Lom, he shoots him, in front of the whole cabaret crowd, so he’s bound to be arrested. (It’s a bit disturbing that Trock, supposedly the good guy here, works with the team to kill off both rivals for the job he’s seeking.)
A decent change-of-pace episode, more driven by psychology than gadgetry. Devoting so much of it to Rollin and Cinnamon’s cabaret act was an interesting idea, though it would’ve been more successful with a better singer. (And the songs were original, and surprisingly ribald for 1969 TV, though not great otherwise.) Given that this was around the time that Martin Landau and Barbara Bain were having a contract dispute with the producers and threatening to leave, it seems to me that the writers were making a special effort to give them chances to show off and stretch their performance muscles, as if to give them an incentive to stay around. If so, it clearly didn’t work.
The only original music here is the trio of songs that Cinnamon sings; “Buy My Glass of Wine” and “The Lady ‘Bove the Bar” have music by Lalo Schifrin, and “Ten Tiny Toes” has music by Herschel Burke Gilbert & Rudy Schrager. The lyrics are by Bruce Geller and the arrangements by Marl Young.
“The Interrogator”: Paul Playdon returns to write the season finale. In a stock tape sequence, we learn that enemy interrogator Kruger (Henry Silva) has information on an impending attack his government plans to launch in two days, and has been captured by another hostile government whose chief interrogator Spindler (Gunnar Hellstrom) has been trying without success to break him. They want the information for their own ends, but they won’t share it with the US if they get it. So the team must get Kruger away from Spindler and get the info from him. But Kruger knows all the tricks himself and can’t be broken. (We get a dossier sequence to show that Jim’s using the Hartford Repertory Company to play bit parts in the scheme. Amusingly, their pamphlet shows them already wearing the military uniforms they’ll wear during the caper.)
Jim’s plan, therefore, is to get Kruger to “break himself.” It depends on the (alleged?) principle that the victim of torture comes to identify with the torturer, in this case the interrogator — i.e. to confuse one’s sense of self with that of the person in power. I suppose the idea is that since the whole point of the torture/interrogation process is to break down the victim’s sense of self and identity, that leaves the interrogator as the only one in the room with a clear identity and thus the victim sees oneself as an extension of the interrogator. So while Kruger is the one being interrogated, he’s in a compromised enough psychological state that Jim believes he can be convinced of a role reversal.
The team sabotages the car taking Spindler and Kruger somewhere and arranges to abduct them. (The abduction includes raising a wire in the roadway to knock a guard off his motorcycle, but the stuntman inexplicably flips forward off the bike instead of back.) First, they have to find out what Spindler has learned from interrogating Kruger. He wakes in a (fake) prison cell, with Dr. Rollin and Major Jim refusing to believe he’s really Spindler instead of a deranged accident victim. To get them to take him seriously, Spindler is left no choice but to tell them what he knows: that Kruger’s country has submarines in position to launch a nuclear missile strike on the US! It’s an effective way to end the first act, nicely escalating events. And it’s just nice to see a story where the team doesn’t miraculously know everything in advance and can be taken off guard by something.
Next, they inject Kruger with a drug that causes near-total amnesia and let him wake up in a replica of his home. Cinnamon is disguised to look like his redheaded wife and claims to be her; his memory is vague enough that he can’t tell the face is different. (His wife’s name is Anna, the third one Cinnamon’s played this season. Honestly, if Paul Playdon hadn’t written “Nicole,” I’d think by this point that Anna was the only female name he knew.) She says she’s leaving him, but when he reveals he has amnesia, she has second thoughts. Jim is now the doctor, and Kruger convinces him to help Kruger remember, particularly once his superior (one of the repertory players, though Vic Perrin dubs him for some reason) informs him he’s dead if he doesn’t break a certain prisoner in three hours (which is the deadline for the missile attack).
The goal is to confuse Kruger and blur the lines between the reality where he was the prisoner and the scenario now where he’s the interrogator. He’s taken to the prison (though how they pulled that off when the fake home and fake prison sets are in the same chalet is unexplained) and in a duplicate of his own cell in Spindler’s prison, he begins to question prisoner Rollin. It gets pretty surreal and psychological with all the confused memories. Kruger sees himself in Rollin’s place, and is stunned when he sees that the man “Anna” is running away with looks just like Spindler (which is the code name that prisoner Rollin confessed to using). Of course that’s Rollin in a Spindler mask at that point. Kruger begins to remember being Spindler’s prisoner, and Dr. Jim must convince him that it’s his mind playing tricks on him: having failed to keep his wife, he wants to be punished, so he imagines himself as the prisoner and his rival as his torturer.
As the deadline nears, Kruger questions Rollin one last time. Rollin pretends to break, but just silently mouths the location of the submarines — and then takes on the mien of an interrogator questioning Kruger, just to confuse Kruger a bit further, and to give Jim the opportunity to remind the audience of the principle of the questionee identifying with the questioner. Dr. Jim congratulates Kruger for breaking Rollin — he says the only reason Rollin would’ve snapped like that was guilt from spilling the beans — but Kruger must confess he didn’t hear the information. Jim convinces him that his desire to be punished led him to suppress the information, that it’s in his mind and he must remember it if he wants to live. It’s really quite clever, putting him in a situation where he wants to reveal the information buried in his mind. Just in the nick of time, he remembers where the submarines are, and Barney radios the Navy (I guess) with moments to spare. (Although really it’s hard to see what they could do in 20 seconds to prevent the missiles from being fired.) The team puts Spindler and Kruger back on the road in their truck as if they’re just awakening from the original accident, so nobody will ever know the IMF was there.
“The Interrogator” is an effective season finale, a case with very high stakes and a suspenseful ticking clock, and a surreal, reality-bending plotline reminiscent of an episode of The Prisoner. It’s a good high note for the season to go out on. As the swan song for Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, though, it’s less effective. Their roles are smaller here than in many episodes, since the focus is so heavily on Henry Silva as Kruger. Landau gets to play the long-suffering prisoner who suddenly morphs into the interrogator, perhaps an interesting acting challenge, but it isn’t as entertaining a role to watch as some of his other impersonations in recent episodes. As for Bain, she doesn’t seem to have her heart in it anymore, pretty much phoning in her final M:I role (perhaps she’s just sick of playing Annas).
Season overview to follow!